Sunday, June 01, 2014

Ross Lewis at Front Line Contemporary

I met Ross Lewis, now exhibiting drawings with Chinese colleague Qiu Deshu at Front Line Contemporary, Shanghai, over dinner at M on the Bund with mutual friend Caitlin Reilly. What a delight to meet someone so fluent in, and passionate about, Chinese culture. Ross has studied Chinese language and painting since 1973, and is fluent in both. Here, he delivers a bilingual lecture on his work at the gallery. Link to Front Line Contemporary.

In the past few years, Ross jettisoned the brushwork and tropes of Chinese landscape (mountain, water, cloud, plant forms--what he calls the "ABCs for an internal language") in favor of rope and colorful mulberry paper as mark making techniques on rolls of Saunders paper. (Hence the name of the exhibition, Cracks and Ropes.) In the scroll-like drawings, human figures materialize as both fluid and geometric, defined by the rhythm of embodied call and response as rope intersects with color and shape. Cut edges and stencils urge movement through space in which Chinese landscape circa 1347, Long Island City, 2014, and the graphic aesthetics of the 1970s and '80s coalesce.  These works are filled with purposeful visual ideas, especially the various applications of rope impressed within the paper surface. 

To the right, Qui Deshu's rice paper work that uses the tear as one kind of line, Ross Lewis' work on left.

The computer shows the process of inking and impressing the rope on paper. Rope yields a surprisingly elegant and varied line. Anyone who has studied Chinese painting knows how challenging it is to master its rhythms and then challenge it with a method of one's own, so in Chinese painting, this is a breakthrough.

Dynamic works such as Vine, Precipice, Totem, Lieben Lied, and 3 Monkeys (2010-2012), at 9 by 5 feet, were too large to show in Front Line Contemporary's elegant and intimate space. They are included in a catalog at the gallery.

Flatline, 40 x 26 inches, 2010, reveals the transition from brush to rope.

Ross provided exhibition images and paparazzi shots. His friend Zhang, based in Brooklyn and China, was in town for the event.

Two artists : Ross Lewis and Qui Deshu.

Ross reminded me how rice paper layers and deepens the tone of the mark. Now working with the material, I recognize the challenges  both in understanding Chinese landscape inside-out, and finding a way to mark that is both sensible and resonant. Painter Shitao (Wikipedia) wrote eloquently about the holistic brushstroke, with capacity to hold form and function together in painting. This is not just romance: a brush mark with intention contains form, which requires extreme focus.

Patricia Lambert of Front Line Contemporary with the two artists featured at the gallery.

In addition to his studio work, Ross Lewis holds public commission to his credit (in New York, these include Belvedere Castle, NY Hall of Science, Queens, and PS.1 89) and workshops / demonstrations at the Met and elsewhere.  For more information visit

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