Wednesday 8 June 2016

Simon Lewty - The SIGNificance of Writing

The SIGNificance of Writing, by Simon Lewty, Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum.

Simon Lewty's large drawings and paintings often integrate text, image and maps. The works are on paper, stuck together into thick layers and coated in varnish so that they seem like ancient parchments, cracked, dirty and ragged at the edges: Lewty's use of ink and paint evoke the intricate illuminations of medieval manuscripts. Rooted in medieval illumination and map-making traditions, his works create a compelling dream-like reality that recalls forgotten worlds and explores the inevitability of the passing of time.

Before falling asleep each night, and immediately on waking, he records dream images and snatches of text as well as scribbled notes and explanatory maps and diagrams. These notes are transferred to scraps of tissue paper and then worked up with ink, crayon and black acrylic and form the basic vocabulary of the finished work, a combination of the carefully distilled and refined with the accidental. The result is a dense personal narrative that functions like a map of the artist's unconscious mind. Many of the motifs - dotted lines, arrows, etc. - look very much like the lines on a real map. His scripts are all woven into what he describes as 'a calligraphic skin', as echoes of inscribed speech. He describes his work as 'automatic, spontaneous' and promotes drawing as a form of 'primary visual thinking', with 'no planned final outcome'.

From 2006 most pictorial imagery has disappeared from his work. Recent pieces consist of short snippets of declarative writing - overheard conversations, bits of dream narrative - arranged into huge, neat blocks of text. I found it impossible to follow all of the hundreds of miniscule lines, yet, this tension between looking and reading became after a while, just as dislocating, and as dreamlike, as his pictorial works.

The exhibition includes early works displayed alongside work recently produced.

The Men Who Lie in the Road, 1991, (ink and acrylic on tissue paper)

Lewty describes this work as a compendium of his work, as it represents all the images that remerge in many of his paintings and drawings. The piece depicts Old Milverton, a village near Leamington Spa. The piece comprises a number of separate panels: a field;  running legs with no body on top, just a face; a horse and rider. Graffiti between and over the images adds further complexities.

Inscriptions Without Blame, 2002 (acrylic, photocopy)

 The Passage Towards Stone, 1983, (acrylic, ink  on paper)

Colour Sequence, 2003, (pigment and photocopy on paper

Repetition and Dream II, 2003 (acrylic and graphite on paper)

The Voice that Sung of the World, 2001 (acrylic on paper)

Beach,, 2005 (pencil, pigment on tissue paper)

Letter to a Dismissed Servant, 2011 (inscribed ribbon, acrylic, ink on cotton)

List: Train - Face, 2010 (typescript on tissue paper)

looking closer

Abstract Script (2), 2014 (ink and crayon on paper)

Abstract Script (1), 2014 (ink and crayon on paper)

Legend, 1974, (pen, ink on paper)

Passing Days and Nights of Oblivion Will Drain Reason Before the Strength of the Flower, 2008, (pen, ink on paper)

looking closer

looking closer.


  1. Thank you for refreshing my memory of this artist's work. Several of these pieces have inspired me anew, because in the past from time to time I added writing to images. I am going through a period of revisiting ideas and perspectives at present, so this post is most timely for me.

    1. I'm glad the post has been helpful Olga, and I look forward to seeing your work.