Tony Lewis was born in 1986 in Los Angeles and currently lives and works in Chicago.
In an ever-expanding engagement with drawing, Lewis harnesses the medium of graphite powder to confront such social and political topics as race, power, communication, and labor. The material provides a literal and conceptual foundation for the artist’s work, as it is stretched, smudged, rubbed, spliced, and folded across a variety of handmade and found surfaces. Graphite powder is an inherently unruly medium, a substance that threatens to wander. Lewis nurtures this dispersal, allowing for the powder to build into a ubiquitous state that settles upon and indiscriminately marks paper surfaces; the graphite-slick studio floor becomes a “tool the same way a pencil is a tool.”
Early in his practice, Lewis developed a series of site-specific floor drawings that sought to further illuminate this relationship of his work with his chosen medium and the primary function of his graphite-covered floors. Lewis’s move from the floor to the wall was prompted by the discovery of the pocket-sized bestseller Life’s Little Instruction Book, a collection of maxims written in 1991 by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. The artist was initially enthralled by the book as an artifact of conventional American wisdom, a code of ethics that promotes a certain blind regard for authority and makes loaded assumptions of its readership based on gender, class, and race. Lewis began reproducing pages from the book as small drawings, soon expanding the series into large-scale works that would span entire walls. Rendered in black screws threaded with graphite-soaked rubber bands, these labor-intensive wall drawings expose the covert authoritarianism and aggression of American culture and society. In his latest series, what he calls a “stepping stone” to poetry, Lewis collages together altered cells from the beloved comic Calvin and Hobbes. In a process of erasing, editing, and reassembling words from their source, Lewis continues to push the boundaries of drawing, and expand upon the use of another medium central to his practice, the “material” of language.
Lewis’s work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2018); Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (2017); Museo Marino Marini, Florence, Italy (2016); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH (2015). He participated in the 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY and was the recipient of the 2017-2018 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. Recent group exhibitions include Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm, curated by Jacob Fabricius at the Art Sonje Center in Seoul, Korea (2022); Grain of a Hand, curated by Isabel Casso at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL (2022); In These Truths, curated by Edreys Wajed, Aitina Fareed-Cooke, and Aaron Ott at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (2022).
His work is held in notable permanent collections including Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; The Drawing Institute at The Menil Collection, Houston; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; and The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, among others.