London

Simon Lewty

Austin/Desmond & Phipps

In Simon Lewty’s show defacement becomes a full-blown practice of picture-making. The fact that words sometimes resemble, or can be made to resemble, pictures, and vice versa, informs a grim circularity—a stasis, in fact, not unlike the sort depicted in the high-Modernist drama of Samuel Beckett. But bear in mind that the void of meaning produced by excess can only be pulled off if you suspend your critical faculties of differentiation in the first instance; street signs in Arabic or Cyrillic look fascinatingly exotic until you learn to read them, and realize that they signify the familiar “restaurant,” “barbershop,” and “hotel.”

It is for this reason that I hasten to add that Lewty’s work, despite its claim of offering us a new, if not humanist, insight into the controversy of ekphrasis, remains turgid and inert. The imploded mass of self-cancellation that is Lewty’s pictorial field is densely populated with gaping maws, hybrid monstrosities, cavorting and gesticulating figures or parts of figures, more often than not obsessively (though tastefully) defaced with a variety of illegible runic calligraphy. The relative clarity of the work of the mid ’70s has given way to a dog’s breakfast, where the protocols of discursive engagement have (almost) been ignored for the greater good of a surrealism of language. The tonalities, figurations, and fussiness about materials found in these works speak directly to an audience hungry for humanist rubrics; as pictures they are less like the poignant existential maps they could have become, and more like the overly abundant and pretentious works of symbolism made solely for the purpose of flattering the intelligence of the patron. What seems to be absent from Lewty’s pictures is the possibility for either hiatus or reconciliation. For all their visual plenty, Lewty’s pictures seem absurdly ungrounded and generally uncertain of their status as pictures or illustrations. In a promising way, his Pointing Man, 1990, says as much. But the promise is rarely fulfilled in this body of work. Too much of it has the self-important look of antique manuscripts; only the facile, glossy surfaces of the drawings—tour de forces of tissue paper, PVA, pen and ink––rescue the work from sheer tedium; but only if you think of them as découpaged pages from the workshop of some suburban scribe.

––Michael Corris