Tony Lewis (b. 1986), peoplecol, 2013. Pencil, graphite powder and tape on paper, 84 × 60 in. Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago. Photograph by Robert Chase Heishman
This is one project that is based off of a sentence, a made-up sentence, it’s sort of like an epigrammatic sentence that doesn’t really mean anything; it doesn’t really make any sense. But it brings together two phrases, one of which is “people of color” and the other one is “colored people.”
NARRATOR: Following a set of evolving rules that he generates himself, Lewis has worked with that sentence to make sixty or seventy of these large drawings.
TONYLEWIS: I was definitely interested in the relationship between the two of phrases, “people of color” and “colored people.” They’re quite close, but they mean different things at different times, and they refer to very different people. And so I kind of wanted to—I’d been looking at language for a long time and I wanted to see language, I wanted to see how they could work together or be put in the same space, more or less trying to take the two phrases and put them, quite honestly, in the same frame.
NARRATOR: The process of reworking the language has become a compositional force within the drawings.
TONYLEWIS: I’ve been able to get shapes that I kind of—I don’t think I would be able to get otherwise.
When I first started doing the project there was one thing I was trying to attack—the deconstruction of that sentence, or the breaking apart of whatever the meaning could have been. The motivation shifts from that to now being much more interested in the new language that I’m pulling from.