Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ARTPAPERS review of Louis St.Lewis

Louis St.Lewis - Sex in the Garden
by Linda L. Brown, ARTPAPERS

In the 26 pieces in " Sex in the Garden", Louis St. Lewis populates a pluralist universe with a swath of familiar ghosts from art history and myth.  His oddly historical focus juxtaposes many images, construing a catholic crew, among them glamourous stars and models, astronaut Sally Ride, Julius Caeser, Pontius Pilate, the original Madonna, Apollo and Daphne, Bacchus, figure from Ingres, pop-art women in underwear, Warhols ubiquitous Marilyn, and others in this highly designed mixed media composite, placing them in a wild panoply amidst scattered sunflowers, feathers and flowers.

Whether drawing from Judeo-Christian or pagan sources, St.Lewis concocts a witches brew.  Indeed , the cast of characters in this symbol-laden jambalaya is as diverse as a politically correct committee. And this fecund garden is as redolent with signs as a Bangkok street scape.

Appropriating imagery from high and low art to populate his Eden, St. Lewis incorporates found objects and common symbols in the manner of the early Cubists, juxtaposing human forms with scraps of musical notes, ribbons of Asian calligraphy, and the image of an Ankh.  While some of these collages strive too hard to be consciously avant-garde,  others gleam with an intelligent irony that is hard to resist.  In the Nagasaki Annunciation, slivers of Asian calligraphy intermingle with feather and musical notes as they fan out like a halo around a western gods' head.

St.Lewis' obsessively detailed frames, gold painted and leafed, often with elaborate mats provide a setting that matches the atmosphere of campy decadence in the work itself, pungent with a sweet over-ripe fragrance, recalling pictures hanging in an Edwardian boudoir.

There is something vaguely promiscuous about this polyglot assortment of pagen and priest, modern history and ancient mythology. Isn't something lost when everything has the same level of importance?  On television, commercials for cars and detergent are transmitted at the same decibel level as news about suicide bombings.  In this display the face of 1950's icon Marilyn Monroe is places alongside a reference to Nagasaki.  Although some images evoke sublime or horrific moments, others are mundane and trivial, His world of icons is a democratic world, All is fetish.

Marcel Duchamp casts a long shadow over St.Lewis, and a strong flavor of Dada and Surrealism spices this work, with aftertastes of Ernst and Magritte. In his best work, witty in-jokes and visual puns enrich St. Lewis' well groomed iconic icons, but the weaker pieces don't rise abover very clever graphic design.

The canvases in Sex in the Garden, lack the disciplined sparkle and obvious genius of the smaller  pieces and seemed forced or hasty.  The smaller work is composed of neatly layered images with an eye to precision and detail.  Intimately scared collages such as the sensuous Sun King, range in size from 12" to 24" and generally sandwich layers of glass and acetate film as vehicles for photo transfers, etchings, painting and applied collage.  Images of feather, flowers, and wings on these surfaces overlap and interact with the faces and figures in unpredictable tableaux, creating an intimacy that does not translate as well to the large scale paintings.

With  playfulness as an ever-present undercurrent, St. Lewis resists plumbing the easy depth of Gothic horror, preferring to skate on the surface of witty decadence.  While the work could be easily criticized as being too decorative, there is a knowledgeable manipulation of symbols and images from art and literature which markedly increases the viewing pleasure.  In the cultivated manner of a tasteful dandy, St. Lewis pushes style to the extreme, teasing  rather than assaulting the viewers senses.