Incesticide is no-one’s favorite Nirvana album. Launched a yr after the triumphant success of Nevermind, it’s a sort of stopgap compilation of B-sides and outtakes, a way of stemming the move of bootleg recordings. In his essay “Oh, the Guilt”, Chuck Klosterman describes it as “guilt rock”: music made by a band that noticed itself as small changing into unexpectedly, and embarrassingly, enormous. Every portray in Spencer Lewis’ new physique of labor is known as after a unique observe on that album, and by doing so attracts a line between its noisy neuroses and his personal ambivalent channelling of portray’s wildest edges. The language of Lewis’ work—muscular gestural abstraction, let’s say—comes, like Nirvana’s personal music, already freighted with efficiency nervousness. What sort of prospects stay for that form of densely wrought, hard-won expressionism? Lewis’ work don’t reply that query. They ask it.
The jute surfaces of Lewis’ work present a way for his work to stage a sort of tussle with itself. The fuzzy pores and skin of unprimed jute does precisely what oil paint doesn’t need: it resists its personal erasure, intransigently remaining seen even in his work’ densest elements, just like the hiss and crackle of a foul recording. What the jute additionally calls to thoughts is a drop material laid on a studio flooring, though to learn this as a be aware of old style studio fetishism is to overlook one thing in his work that the Nirvana nods insistently deliver to the floor. Simple as it’s to see his work as straightforwardly inhabiting the territory of mid-century summary portray, to take action can be to overlook their play with its tropes. Lewis marshals the trimmings of modernist authenticity—massive, splattering paint strokes; wilful disregard for end, in each senses of the phrase; wild, unruly color—to not subvert them, as artists did within the 60s, however to prod them for indicators of life. And it seems there may be life there, only one perennially haunted, as Nirvana’s music was, by doubt. Lewis’ work, energised by that doubt, is a critical transfer within the lengthy endgame of modernist abstraction.
Which is uncertain in itself. Constant in Lewis’ work is their gestures’ honing-in on the centre of the help, like darts to a bullseye. It’s on this regard that the artist’s declare to portray in a principally figurative method feels true. These marks are increase in the direction of one thing: they’re getting ready to readability, sitting simply out of the attain of description. As their centres amass layers of ever-denser, ever-brighter paint, it’s like a gradual apprehension, a coming-into-focus. The stains and swirls they construct upon create an inner historical past for every portray, with every extra color standing for an additional second within the lifetime of the artist portray them and any viewer perceiving them. In that method, they’re like songs: they entice time and return it to us modified. And alter us, too. Lewis’ works discover one thing contained in the inherited odds and sods of portray’s previous, one thing about authenticity and selfhood, which is, as everybody is aware of, information that stays information.
Ben Avenue, September 2022
at Josh Lilley, London
till November 18, 2022