Artist Tony Lewis explores the practice of drawing in Anderson Ranch talk
Summer series kicks off Thursday at Snowmass Village arts center
Drawings by artist Tony Lewis hang in major museum collections and international exhibitions — but to Lewis, the practice exists outside of the art world more than within it.
“The longer I’ve been drawing, the less I believe it’s connected to art, and ‘art’ in the art context that I think a lot of us tend to participate in,” Lewis said in a June 30 Zoom interview. “It’s something that starts earlier in most people’s lives, and I think it hangs around longer.”
Lewis thinks about drawing with a certain intensity that influences what materials he’s working with, where he’s working, what size and scope he’s working within.
That intensity of thought about drawing has been a throughline in his creative process over the last several years — one Lewis said he’s looking forward to talking about with the audience at the kickoff to the Anderson Ranch Summer Series on Thursday at the Snowmass Village arts center. Lewis will be in conversation with the ranch’s curator-in-residence, Douglas Fogle.
It won’t be the artist’s first foray into the Roaring Fork Valley; he showed a few works at the Aspen Art Museum in 2016 for the exhibition “The Revolution Will Not Be Gray.”
Those pieces were larger, more installation-based and site-specific than, say, a sketch on a piece of paper. In the six years since (and even then), Lewis estimates that he’s created some “five to 10 new, different types of work.”
“The one thing from the last time I was here, that hasn’t changed up until this moment, is I almost exclusively think about everything I do in terms of drawing,” Lewis said.
It’s a strong kind of “linguistic and conceptual foundation” that gives Lewis a lot of room to explore in his work, he said.
Lewis uses graphite powder in an expansive practice of drawing that confronts topics like race, power, communication and labor, according to his artist biography on Anderson Ranch’s website, and many of his pieces are large-scale, spanning several feet in width.
Within that broad scope, Lewis still places a lot of value in doodling, which he considers one of the “first forms of drawing.”
“That, to me, is such an important definition of drawing, that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of credit, or a lot of attention, because it’s something that’s seen as something that’s a little bit more adolescent or a little bit more meandering, or something that a child would do,” Lewis said. “But to me, that exercise, that energy is essential to how I think about drawing.”
Which goes back to that idea of drawing existing outside of the realm of “art” in the context that most people most people think about art.
Doodling is a part of that notion; so, too, is architectural and engineering drawing, which Lewis sees as an examples of how drawing has “a clear place, sort of, in the reality of the world, outside of the art world,” he said.
“The way we understand plans for a city, that’s a very, very diagrammatic drawing — those are ways that drawing is literally implanted into the progress and building of society and thoughts and ideas to get something done,” Lewis said. “And to me, that’s also an absolutely essential way to think about drawing.”
Lewis said that “those two extremes” — doodling on one end, architectural and engineering drawing on the other — “and everything in between” are becoming a part of how he loves to think about the craft.
Drawing has had a “tough go of it” in the art world, with a language and history around it that is “usually not the most interesting,” Lewis said. “But at the same time, some of the best artists in the world … understand their work through drawing.”
So it can exist within the context of art, sure. But it also very much exists outside of it, Lewis suggested: A game of tic tac toe with a stranger on an airplane is part of the realm of drawing, too.
“It’s something that anybody can do. … It’s in there somewhere, even if it’s in a preliminary stage or preparatory stage,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t have to be the final product in everybody’s work, but it finds a way in everybody’s life.”
What: Anderson Ranch Summer Series: Featured Artists and Conversations with Tony Lewis
When: 12:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7
Where: In person at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village and online
Registration: Free (and required) at andersonranch.org/events/summer-series-tony-lewis
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