Included in the exhibition: Echoes of Laocoön

“This is the clearest form of writing I’ve done to date, transferring authorship from Bill Watterson’s dialogue to a distinct writing process. Calvin and Hobbes was a literary and artistic savior growing up in the ’90s. By physically destroying it, appropriating it, editing it and rebuilding its narrative, I find new language and ideas that culminate with an intimate collection of poems.”

– Tony Lewis

Traditionally used as a preparatory medium for small studies, graphite has become Tony Lewis’ signature material and he has used it in drawings, sculptures and large-scale works on paper. His series of small-scale graphite drawings on comic book cutouts continues his interest in language, which is here appropriated from the famous Calvin & Hobbes comic books that Tony Lewis read feverishly as a kid. By covering the images with graphite and redacting the text in the speech balloons, the artist shifts the focus from the visual language to the spoken word, whilst highlighting passages that gain new significance when seen in isolation. 

Tony Lewis, Valleys of Fear and Frustration, 2014, Calvin & Hobbes, graphite at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia


Untitled (…And Valleys of Frustration and Failure), 2014
pencil and graphite powder on comic book cutout
image: 5.5 by 4 cm.   frame: 50.8 by 47.6 cm.

Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago
Private Collection, Europe
Private Collection, Europe

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Although his use of appropriated language is not dissimilar to dadaist poetry, in which randomly selected fragments from newspapers were used as source material, Tony Lewis’ practice also has a strong political dimension. For an African-American artist, a phrase such as ‘valleys of frustration and failure’ would resonate with the widespread experience of racial inequality, whilst highlighting the use of the derogatory term ‘sissy‘ in a children’s book draws attention to homophobia and discrimination in popular culture.

“The relationship betweeen language and drawing is the foundation of how I define drawing. I can’t write if I’m not drawing and I can’t draw if I’m not writing. They happen at the same time. So the way we understand images, the way we understand signs, for me is very integral to how to how a drawing is produced.”

– Tony Lewis

Within the medium specificity context, graphite is interesting since it has been of enormous importance to artists for centuries, yet drawing was for a long time not considered as an independent medium, but merely used for studies. By using graphite throughout different disciplines including sculptures and installations, Tony Lewis elevates the historically humble medium to something more important. 

Tony Lewis, Valleys of Fear and Frustration, 2014, Calvin & Hobbes, graphite at ILEANA Contemporary Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia

Tony Lewis was born in Los Angeles and lives and works in Chicago. His works have been featured in prestigious exhibitions such as the Whitney Biennale in New York, and despite his young age Lewis’ work has already entered the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, amongst others. In 2018, the Hirschorn Museum & Sculpture Garden in Washington staged an exhibition of Tony Lewis’ Calvin & Hobbs works, an installation of 34 drawings titled Anthology 2014-2016, which was subsequently acquired by the museum.

Selected solo exhibitions
2020 Massimo de Carlo, Milan
2019 Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
2018 Hirschhorn Museum, Washington
2018 Massimo de Carlo, Hong Kong
2017 Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago
2017 Rose Art Museum, Waltham
2017 Massimo de Carlo, London
2016 Marino Marini Museum, Florence
2015 Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland

Selected collections
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas
Hirschorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Washington
Studio Museum Harlem, New York

Selected group exhibitions
2020 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
2019 Alexander Berrgruen Gallery, New York
2018 Bowdoin College Museum, Brunswick
2018 Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago
2017 Modern Institute, Glasgow
2017 Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
2016 Bortolami Gallery, New York
2016 Galerie Lelong, New York
2016 Aspen Art Museum, Aspen
2016 HOME, Manchester
2015 Studio Museum Harlem, New York
2015 Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
2015 Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco
2014 Whitney Biennale, New York
2014 Arsenal, Montreal

View full list of exhibitions and collections