The story of a Perth-based pensioner, who survived a failed suicide pact with his wife Julie prompted Richard Lewer to draw and narrate their story in his latest work. Richard is a visual artist working across drawing, animation, performance and painting who explores themes of the everyday. He views himself as a contemporary social realist collecting and documenting, drawing patterns and connections from crime, sport and religion. The tragic love story is at the heart of Richard’s work titled Worse luck I’m still here exhibited in this year’s Adelaide Biennial Dark Heart. The animation is a portrait of the couple’s story which conveys the confronting though tender action of love and death. In it Richard uses old technology like an overhead projector and narrates the story himself giving the work a raw, intimate edge. Not wanting to be drawn into the debate of euthanasia, Richard is instead interested in the tragedy of the everyday. ‘The tragic everyday storytelling something that I’ve always gravitated towards’ Lewer says, adding that he has been overwhelmed by the response of people to the work. People’s immediate connection with the work generated discussion over mortality and other stories.
Whilst his works take on different subject matter and forms, one senses that Richard is as much interested in the person and their character, the process as much as the resulting work. For Melbourne Now in 2013, Richard worked with almost 26 others to draw Northside Boxing Gym Wall Drawing. For Richard the process of ‘gathering up of the stories from the gym walls’ was more important than the actual outcome. If you visit the work now there is little sense of this process and it is something that Richard wishes to revisit in order to communicate and explain the process of collaboration after the creation and installation period.
In preparation for his participation in the upcoming Basil Sellers Art Prize, Richard has invited a group of boxers that he coaches into his studios. He enjoys the excitement that comes with experimenting in a new field, the stories that come with new collaborators and the honest critique from outsiders. From the lonely sport of painting in a studio alone all day to working with a group of others, the crossovers allow for great potential. There is, however, a great struggle that comes with allowing others into the artistic process. Richard acknowledges a difficulty in making decisions, explaining processes and ‘letting that breathe’. About letting go of your work he says ‘you want to do that and it sounds good, but that’s the tricky part. You’re a control freak as an artist… Instead of me documenting them, I’m trying to bring them into my world.’ From boxers to miners and priests, Richard brings these diverse groups into his world. He also becomes part of their community and seeks to understand them. The artist speaks of ‘trying to understand what makes them, the women who cook for them, the idea of solace, discipline, belief,’ these ideas equally applying to priests and boxers, their mass and training. No doubt Richard will be applying the same discipline and training in his artistic practice this year as he prepares for Melbourne Art Fair with Hugo Michell Gallery, the Basil Sellers Art Prize and a solo show at Utopian Slumps.
Richard Lewer is a past recipient of New Work grants through Visual Arts. To learn more about Visual Arts grants go to the website.