Stanley Lewis has worked in two dimensions with painting and in three dimensions with sculpture. Tonight, he is going to talk about a third art form that falls between two: relief sculpture, carved on one side and flat against the wall on the other.
Lewis will discuss the relationship between these three forms at 7 p.m. today in the Hultquist Center.
“I’m going to show a series of famous relief sculptures throughout history,” Lewis said. “An Egyptian relief, some famous Greek sculptures. And then I’m going to show a series of paintings that, to me, are best understood through the ideas of relief sculpture.”
A recent show of Donatello sculptures at the Bible Museum in New York City inspired Lewis’ lecture. Among the sculptures was one that looked, from the front, like a fully 3-D sculpture, but proved to be quite shallow from the side.
“It was so interesting to see that the idea of experiencing what a three-dimensional person is does not come from reproducing them in space, necessarily,” Lewis said. “It’s compressed, close to relief sculpture, which is like painting.”
Lewis is mostly a landscape painter, but his paintings are highly constructed and layered, blurring the line between different forms of art.
“[Lewis] will move or add strips of canvas sections to his paintings then paste, staple or nail these swatches to an underlying piece of cardboard or canvas board,” Patrick Neal wrote in an article for the art blog Hyperallergic last year. “The paper becoming so stratified into layers as to resemble a sculptural relief.”
Lewis has been lecturing at Chautauqua Institution for almost 30 years, and a number of his landscapes depict the local area.
“I’ve gotten such a great deal out of Chautauqua and being able to paint around the lake,” Lewis said. “It’s been a big part of part of my summers for a long time. I appreciate the art school — fantastic students.”
Over this same time period, Lewis has also experimented with stone and wood sculptures as an alternative to landscapes.
“I tried to do sculpture for a while, because I could do the sculpture of the figures, [and they] came out better than my paintings,” Lewis said.
After an injury, Lewis had to stop carving stone and wood, but he still enjoys whittling.
“I’d be happy just to be whittling all day, because you’re always wondering how it’s going to turn out,” Lewis said.
Despite most of his serious work being paintings now, though, Lewis still finds sculptures fascinating and inspiring.
“I got a Fulbright, and so we took a trip to Florence for a month,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t say that’s the origin of my interest in sculpture, but Florence has fantastic sculpture everywhere.”
Lewis sketched many of these sculptures, translating between three-dimensional shapes and two-dimensional drawings.
“I want everyone to see that sculpture and seeing nature and drawing are all part of this continuum somehow,” Lewis said. “When you’re doing a painting, you wish there was more space. And when you’re doing a sculpture, you want to produce forms that will hit the viewer like a painting.”