014. James Lewis

James Lewis, The latest squeeze, 2013. Digital print on billboard paper; dimensions variable. Image courtesy of VITRINE.

A conversation with artist James Lewis, whose work can currently be seen in the group show ‘Push and Paint, Touch and Display’ at VITRINE Bermondsey Street, London. 


'Push and Paint, Touch and Display’ explores the device of still life in contemporary art making. How does this relate to your own work?

In 'Looking at the Overlooked’ Norman Bryson wrote that the still life “makes a strange rhyme between its gaze, and death… Living creatures are killed before this gaze – perhaps only the insects can survive it. Partridge, hare, fish, and mollusc: such things appear intact, but with the breath of their life snuffed out. This lifelessness is not only a matter of actual death. The power to immobilise, to petrify appearances and to objectify everything in the visual field belongs to the gaze of still life.”

Your photograph, 'The latest squeeze’, references a personal anecdote. Is it important to you that the viewer can access this narrative?

I use the device of titling work to emphasize, deliberately detract from, or play with a possibly conceived opinion of my work.

The terminology, “the latest squeeze” is also an informal phrase used to describe a recent lover. I use the device of titling work to emphasize, deliberately detract from, or play with a possibly conceived opinion of my work. In this case, using these words as a title hint that fascination and lust are to be considered when deciphering the work. Audiences of my work choose to extract what they will and although I try to pre-determine an audience’s reaction, ultimately they will take with them what they want. I hope that my work is sufficiently layered to give different possibilities to the audience and I always work to the motto; to get out, go in deeper. Like every story, whether told in a pub, lecture theatre or gallery setting, you extract and remember the parts which resonate with you.

How do you feel your work relates to the other pieces in the show?

The other works in the show play with the notion of the everyday and are all testament to how life infiltrates modes of production. They are all formally pleasing works and I relish the opportunity to talk to other artists who share similar concerns. During the install of 'Push and Paint, Touch and Display’ I had diverse, but equally thought-provoking, conversations with the other artists about The Simpsons as I did fossilized dinosaur shit and cat litter.


James Lewis, The Capital (from an ongoing series), 2012 onwards. Medium format polaroid; 27.5 x 22.5 cm. Image courtesy of VITRINE.

You are also showing pieces from a photographic series. Can you tell us a bit about these?

The series of medium-format polaroids 'The Capital’ document the impact of my hand touching and trying to shape a rock that I found on a beach in Brittany that had been shaped by natural forces. There is a hopeless, funny, absurd and romantic battle between time, natural and manufactured devices in this work.

This is the second group exhibition you’ve been in curated by Alys Williams, the first being 'mass . en masse. mass medium’ at CGP, London. How has your experience of working together been and how do you see the two shows informing each other?

I always work to the motto; to get out, go in deeper.

Alys is a pleasure to work with. Since graduating from the RCA she took an interest in my work and this was hugely encouraging for a young artist with the world, and its terrifying vast unknown possibilities, at my fingertips. I appreciate the opportunities she has given me because I love to exchange ideas and ambitions for work with curators, this exchange is a part of the creative process that I enjoy and find inspiring. The two projects that we have worked on are very different from each other and our understanding of each other has grown and strengthened over time. I think Alys has a strong grasp on what I am trying to say and I look forward to the opportunity to work with her and the incredibly diligent team at VITRINE in the future.

What is coming up next for you?

This year I haven’t had the opportunity to present a solo exhibition so I am currently discussing the possibility of this with a few independent curators. The project, which will hopefully happen in the middle of next year, will take inspiration from the contents of un-loaned books of a library collection and we are hoping to present works in the library outside of the normal opening hours. I think it would be an interesting experience to walk around a closed library and encounter works that underline questions and conflicts of this very blurry material that is memory. I have wanted to respond to the contents of a printed archive for a while and I find it positively contagious that centuries of thoughts and material lay dormant, waiting to fill the minds that encounter them.


James Lewis’ work can be seen in Push and Paint, Touch and Display at VITRINE, 183-185 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UW until ­­­­11 January 2014. 

For more information on his work, visit http://jmslwsjmslws.com