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The 1-54 Interview Series
with Nate Lewis

Nate Lewis at his studio in the Bronx. © Ike Edeani for The New York Times

While Fridman Gallery (New York, USA) has launched an online viewing room for Latent Tapestries, the first solo exhibition in New York by artist Nate Lewis, 1-54 had a chat with him about his practice in this very specific international context. Nate Lewis will be part of the 1-54 online edition on Artsy, available to all on 6 May 2020.

Latent Tapestries brings together Lewis’ application of medical diagnostics and its visual language, exploration of granularity of photographic images and paper, responses to the current political landscape, and appreciation of the critical role of sound and music, specifically jazz, as conduits for shared histories and futures.

Discover Fridman Gallery’s online viewing room here, and feel free to play the soundscape Nate Lewis created with tracks commissioned from 5 musicians while discovering the exhibition.

Nate Lewis, Probing the Land VI, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, 44″ h x 62″w, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery
Nate Lewis, Probing the Land IV, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, 44″ h x 62″w, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery

— You worked in a previous life as an intensive care nurse. How
does this affect your view/experience of the current situation?

Yes this whole experience has been hitting me in a few different ways. I’ve had a couple strong urges to go work as an ICU nurse in NYC. The fact that I’m capable and trained with experience compounded with the idea of looking at it like it’s my duty and responsibility in a way, being part of this collective response and effort. Also there’s a camaraderie that comes with working in healthcare. I felt it a lot working in the ICU because your job is to literally keep people alive. There’s no space for anything but being there for each other in our greatest efforts of continuing to let people live. So part of me felt like well if these people have to be out there then I should too. Also, I have this urge to be present with what is happening. To be in the eye of it all. I’ve found there’s no greater understanding of events then through being present with them. Life experiences change me. I also really enjoy working in the ICU. It’s dense, it’s intense, it’s visceral, and it’s intimate. I learned a lot about myself through my experiences working in the ICU. Working during this time would have stretched and tested me to new limits. I wanted to know what those limits were. With all that said, I did not go to work as a nurse again.

My father is also in healthcare. He’s a nurse anesthetist and working during this time, currently dealing with the way in which the CDC and hospitals are treating healthcare workers in this pandemic and it’s infuriating. The relaxing of protective standard guidelines. The punishing healthcare workers for bringing their own and better protective equipment. The viral loads with patients and with ventilators are much higher then being out in the general public. At this point I’m sitting this one out and directing that energy and urge into tapping into this time and creating.

Nate Lewis, Signaling XXIII, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, 28″ h x 41″w, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery

— Where is your studio? Can you give us a brief description of it and how
you currently spend your days in it?

My studio is in the South Bronx. I share it with my good friend and awesome artist Tariku Shiferaw. It’s rich to be in the studio with each other. We bounce ideas and suggestions within each other’s work regularly, we learn from each other. In addition Lucia Hierro, Dario Calmese, and Robert Pruitt are also on the same floor in the studio building. I’m fortunate to have all of these incredible people and artists as part of my immediate community.

Nate Lewis, Signaling XXII, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, 60″ h x 41″w, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery

— Can you tell us a little bit on the works which will soon be presented on
the online platform of 1-54?

They are figurative works in the Signaling series. It is the work that has been in progress for years. I first started doing sculpted inkjet prints in 2015 and since then I’ve been building a visual language and dissecting and constructing a new anatomy within paper through sculpting it and incorporating ink, frottage, and graphite. I look at them as drawing and sculpture.

The work starts with photographs of black figures in motion that I took of friends and others who practice within different disciplines of movement. Some ballet, others martial arts including capoeira. I think about movement and the different disciplines of movement as a metaphor for moving through time in history and also as examining the movement in a sociocultural anthropological context.

Nate Lewis, Signaling XXI, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery

— Music is an important part of your creative process and form. What are
you currently listening to?

Nicolas Jaar, Kassa Overall, Matana Roberts, Blacks Myths, Irreversible Entanglements, Ben Lamar Gay, Chassol, Oneohtrix Point Never, Melanie Charles, Jeff Parker, Cosima, a lot of 90’s and early 2000’s hip hop.

Nate Lewis, Signaling XXIV, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, 55″ h x 36″w, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery

— What are you currently working on?

l want to tap into the frequency of this time and I’m making work specifically about ideas and issues surrounding this pandemic. I opened my first NYC solo show at the beginning of March and in that show I made my first video piece, made sound compositions, and created a spatial sound installation using compositions from a handful of incredible musicians I commissioned to contribute to the piece. I extracted everything I wanted to into that show. I put elements of all of the big chapters of my life into that show. Creatively, I’m buzzing right now.

I’m not in my studio now and decided I wanted to pivot, learn, and dive into a new medium while in quarantine. I wanted to be able to switch my energy up during this quarantine. Let my mind tap into new places of thinking and activate areas in my sensibilities and understanding that haven’t been tapped much. I feel if I continued working in the same discipline prior to this quarantine I would have brought along those ways of thinking with me. There may be significant tectonic shifts in this country, in this art world. By diving into an unfamiliar medium I wanted to prime my thinking, to become more agile in navigating, for what is to come is uncertain. Also sound and music taps into the deepest sensibilities within me and I love it. So I’m teaching myself a sound/music software program and making pieces as I go along.

— What are you most looking forward to once the restrictions will be lifted?

I have no idea taking it day by day and really enjoying this pause.

Nate Lewis, Signaling XXIX, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery
Nate Lewis, Signaling XXVII, 2020, Hand-sculpted inkjet print, ink, graphite, frottage, Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery

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