For his fourth exhibition at the gallery, Andrew Lewis presents a set of seventeen oil paintings that compose a form of pictorial documentary-fiction around the major innovations of the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly in the field of knowledge and telecommunications.
Andrew Lewis anchors the starting point of his narration in the post industrial revolution era, which sees the culmination as well as the first contestations of the positive idea of technical progress. Focused primarily on the Victorian era – with a few exceptions such as the Parisian subway map (Bienvenue Bleuet, 2017) and the John Hancock Center, Chicago’s iconic skyscraper (Otis Platform, 2017) – through the strange encrypted and extremely documented portraits of their inventors, the artist portrays a series of technological innovations, their applications and evolutions over the following centuries. For example, the conversion of the Crystal Palace site, originally built to host the first world exhibition of 1851 and then converted into a television and radio transmitter; the Geissler tube (1857) and the Crooks tube (1870s) whose applications revolutionized science and new technologies; or John Logie Baird (1888-1946), an engineer known for having invented the first system for the broadcasting of television images.
In spite of their mysterious character, Andrew Lewis’s paintings are animated by a great educational concern. Education and entertainment are the keywords. Halfway between technical drawings and the 1980s educational animations, they work with images and keywords to assemble the pieces of a puzzle. This is the case of Sir Christopher Cockerell’s “portrait” (Sir Christopher Cam Cams, 2017), whose life is traced through images of his inventions (including the hovercraft) and his biographical references listed on a keyboard, recreating a kind of painterly epitaph. Free from any space/time limit, the works of Andrew Lewis are like time machines. More than forms of homage to famous characters or inventions, they come to display and make visible, by means (and with the limits) of painting, some historical moments of transition.
However, far from being hymns to progress, these canvases are painted in an aesthetic both old and futuristic. Rather than conveying nostalgia for an era or past glory they display an ambivalent feeling of admiration and muffled anxiety, allowing Andrew Lewis to retranscribe the erosion of blind belief in technical progress.