Simon Lewty

Anne Berthoud Gallery

In Simon Lewty’s new drawings the paper is so stained and ripped that it looks like old parchment. Near the edge of each sheet a “frame” has been drawn, and within it other black lines enclose irregular doodles. Perhaps they are bodies, since as they shift from cartographic projection to shallow three-dimensionality these blobs acquire a semblance of life. Baggy yet weightless, they occupy an equivocal, compartmentalized space where size, direction, and gravity no longer hold sway and images take precedence over (yet may be undermined by) language.

Invented words, which promise more meaning than they deliver, are scribbled over the surface and generate an undercurrent of energy: waithing, longuinish, elcx, sepession, stutorian. They connote a permanent realignment (neologisms are always assembled from existing parts of other words) and produce a singsong effect. Passages of spontaneous narrative, descriptions of situations and places, establish an equally hypnotic mood, maintaining a limpid tone and steady pace, achieving neither analysis nor closure: meaning occurs somewhere between the components. Lewty’s method of composition, in which a sheet of tissue is applied to other, heavier paper, leaves room for accident; he has no control over which elements are obscured. With each foray the outcome is different.

The two types of prose are at odds; the “civilization” of grammatic narrative opposes the sudden eruption of unique poetic particles. Similarly, as the contemporary and the antediluvian collide in the drawing itself, forces are summoned without being released. But what forces, exactly, and where does this struggle take place? Certain backdrops recur—a room, a yard, a darkened street—yet the abiding location is a landscape, with rivers, sheep, and sunsets. The palimpsest technique, with its overtones of geologic and archaeological investigation, also precludes any historical frame of reference. Instead there is a symbolic area where the deep past and the immediate present meet, where stretch-pants and rockabilly quiffs are executed in a style that alludes to medieval illumination, even cave painting.

Lewty’s setting is a dream landscape; his genre is the pastoral, in which dialogues between innocence and experience are conducted in rural surroundings, never far from the city The tenor of the dialogue is unusual; emotion is present but equivocal, and there is an undertone of deep sadness. Pain has been alleviated, certainly, but somehow in the process the right to its expression has been denied. How, then, are feelings assuaged? Partly by decoration (the governing of pattern and its placement)—and partly by isolation—drama is avoided because interaction seldom occurs: the protagonists enact their mimes of peril and distress in apparent ignorance of each other’s existence. For the viewer this makes their predicament all the more obscure.

In retrospect, the laboriousness of Lewty’s technique and his “accidental” disclosure of meaning invite a full-scale comparison between his art and psychoanalysis. The indeterminate force he battles is repression. The purpose of the game he plays with such ritual dedication is to reveal the operations of a censorship that separates the primitive from the civilized, the infantile from the adjusted, and (doubtless for one’s own good) keeps at a remove the preconscious self, which may be intuited but will never be properly encountered.

Stuart Morgan