Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, CA
Chicago-based artist Tony Lewis creates drawings using graphite, pencil, and paper, examining the relationship between abstraction and language. For Lewis drawing is many things: a work on paper, a mark in the world, a measure of disruption, and a way to reimagine the boundaries of physical space.
In CASUAL T, a site-responsive intervention in OCMA’s Avenue of the Arts Gallery, Lewis uses collage as a form to emphasize the blurred boundaries between art and writing, revealing words as objects laden with history. Building on the artist’s connection to Calvin and Hobbes—the influential and beloved comic strip by Bill Watterson about a boy and his stuffed tiger, which ran worldwide from 1985 to 1995—CASUAL T operates as what Lewis describes as a “stepping stone” to poetry. Clips from Calvin and Hobbes are edited, erased, and rearranged to create drawings that examine the presence and material weight of language. Paired with works created from Lewis’s ongoing exploration of graphite as a medium, individual pieces build on one another to create a larger installation, one that employs both subtraction—the stripping down of content—and accumulation—the use of layering—to ask poignant questions about the politics of visibility.
The title of the exhibition and Lewis’s new body of work comes from a childhood memory of his father listening to motivational speaker Leslie Calvin "Les" Brown. Lewis’s father would quote Brown frequently when making a point, often sharing the phrase, “If you are casual in life, you’ll be a casualty.” Through a slip of the tongue and a play on words, “casualty” becomes “Casual T,” operating as an evocative reminder of how language mediates the human experience. A series of kaleidoscopic riffs—poetic and playful, light and dark, familiar and uncanny—CASUAL T draws our attention to language as the material force by which we navigate the world, asking us to remember that stories give structure to life.
Tony Lewis: CASUAL T is organized by Courtenay Finn, Chief Curator, with Ziying Duan, Assistant Curator, Amanda Seadler, Collections and Exhibitions Director, and with support from the entire OCMA staff.