Saturday, December 15, 2018

exhibitions | New York: "Norman Lewis: Looking East"

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presents its fifth solo exhibition of the late American abstract expressionist Norman Lewis (1909-1979). The exhibition titled "Norman Lewis: Looking East" offers a less known aspect of Norman Lewis' work dated from 1948 to 1974, including paintings, works on paper and artist sketchbooks (on loan from the Norman Lewis Archive). The works, as well the thought process shown in the sketchbooks reveal the major influence of Eastern thought and art on Norman Lewis' art and life. 

The exhibition was important and for me extremely inspiring, in the transition between art involved with social themes to more abstract universal themes. The title itself "Looking East" seems to have a double meaning from the literal reference to Asia to perhaps East as the direction of sunrise. The calligraphy in pantings bears resemblance with particle physics diagrams, reminding me of Richard Feynman's diagrams depicting mathematical relationships of subatomic particle—perhaps not by coincidence, considering the profound relationship between contemporary physics and Eastern thought, which was explored in the sixties and seventies. The artwork seems also to add an aesthetic dimension to the investigation of language and archetypes. As stated in the MRG press release for the exhibition
Many avant-garde artists of Lewis’ generation looked to Asian thought and aesthetics “to forge an independent artistic identity that would define the modern age – and the modern mind – through a new understanding of existence, nature, and consciousness.”[1] Artists in Lewis’ circle, amongst them Mark Rothko, David Smith, Ad Reinhardt, and Adolph Gottlieb, drew ideas from Eastern religions, Zen Buddhism and Carl Jung’s theories on the unconscious.
The different type of work in the exhibition brought to the attention the thought and art process in Norman Lewis, The artist is better known as "the sole African American artist of his generation who became committed to issues of abstraction at the start of his career and continued to explore them throughout his lifetime. Lewis’ art derived energy from his vast interests in music – both classical and jazz - as well as nature, ancient ceremonial rituals, and social justice/equality issues central to the civil rights movement." Lewis' artistic commitment to social justice is renown as founding member of the Spiral Group, and his teachings in HARYOU-ACT, Inc. (Harlem Youth in Action) "an antipoverty program designed to encourage young men and women to stay in school."

Reminding Feynman Diagrams
Sketchbooks and books