January 2018 The kaleidoscopic horrors that Dale Lewis summons from his East London neighborhood provide an unsettling image of post-Brexit life. While their frantic anti-Trump counterparts continue to protest in America, Britain’s liberal remnants seethe. Such repressed tension boils up to the surface of Lewis’s impressively large figurative paintings, which owe their aesthetic to the AbEx gargoyles of Willem de Kooning.
Elaborately choreographed, the subjects of Lewis’s paintbrush bend over backward into quotidian scenes of family, friends, and sex. The labyrinthine intricacies of his compositions, such as Devil’s Juice, 2018, almost overshadow the violent orgy on display. With its mix of black and white bodies, Lewis concocts a wrought image of racialized sexuality that runs on the fumes of a bender. (Lewis often titles his paintings after party drinks and drugs.) Tiptoeing on the borderline between inappropriate and allegorical, the cruelty of Devil’s Juice stokes the flames of Britain’s waspy nationalist cavemen— if only to prove their eminence in the country’s psyche.
For Lewis, cruelty suffuses every corner of British culture; his wobbly, tumbling figures merely animate segregated society, consumerist excess, and gang violence. Unafraid of self-implication, Special K, 2017, pictures the artist’s family gathered at a picnic. Dexterously, he paints demons and bird-people onto the scene; they surround a woman in a wheelchair, whose smoking nurse sloshes a fried egg down her throat. The anarchy of this scene is contradicted by more formalistic elements: tables styled as graph paper, the hint of grids and preliminary sketching just below the paint. Controlled chaos by another name, but chaos just the same. We could say this of Brexit itself.
Dale Lewis: Fat, Sugar, Salt is on view through 10 March at Edel Assanti.