The latest an interview could possibly be? Call it guilt or inspiration, here it is: my interview with artists Alex Lewis and Edward Wallace who curated their own show together at Copenhagen Place.
Alex Lewis: “I make static objects and paintings, whereas Ed’s work has always been very dynamic.”
Ed. Wallace: “Yes Alex is static, he wears static t-shirts and I wear dynamic ones.”
Alex Lewis: “We collide when we go together.”
It is in reaction to this comment during my interview with Edward Wallace and Alex Lewis that Wallace finally snaps: “God this feels like Blind Date”. I am sitting opposite the pair and trying my best to find a conversational balance, generously switching between the two as I address each question.
My attempt to achieve interview-equilibrium is mimetic of Lewis & Wallace’s partnership for the exhibition Static Dynamic at Copenhagen Place, where a single collaborative work, a paint control system, linked their practices together. Running bright orange acrylic paint from the ceiling into the exhibition space it also threatened to disrupt their individual works. Sometimes the pair seem to be in perfect accord, but pitch a question in a certain way and instead of neutralising the awkwardness, a violent reaction occurs.
The question of when and how the collaboration between Wallace and Lewis began is a source of contention. Lewis begins a story about a studio visit which struck a chord of affinity, but Wallace jumps in and Lewis stands corrected: “I was watching what Alex was doing when making his work- at the time he was masking paint quite badly and making mistakes that I had made before I was taught how to mask properly. Then he started slickening up his whole process, but returning to those mistakes as I had done.”
Whether it’s a dipstick or a masking technique, the debate only seems to compound the strength of their affinity. The most minute of errors and successes observed in each other’s studios could easily have been sparks and triggers for new directions or experimentations, Alex explains: “I’ve always taken an interest in what Ed was doing, and I always went to him for professional advice when I was younger. That single dialogue seems to inform what we do.”
The difference between their two practices is perhaps clearest when I ask them about the influence of cartoons which are present even when stripped of character and form and reduced to a colour or an energy. For Wallace the fascination is with the mechanics of animation and the construction of layers; his self-painting works have come to echo the process of animation in their laborious set up and quick conclusion.
For Lewis the interest is “inverse”; the sparseness of a frame appeals to the possibility for free-association in the viewer and is a part of the openness of his own source material. This antithesis is evident in the duo’s personalities too. While Wallace zooms in on everything like the Warner Brothers’ eclipse with a ‘That’s all Folks’ style flourish leaving me breathlessly unable to keep up, Lewis pans out of the scene offering a wider frame for context and reflection.
By playing with synthetic and natural elements in Static Dynamic Lewis & Wallace deliberately experimented with levels of awkwardness. There is a violence inherent in the vibrant colours and graphic patterns of their works which made the show crackle with an aesthetic volatility.
Lewis’s patterns are borrowed from culturally disparate sources and forced together. The Simpsons and Mondrian buzz on the surface of a canvas at an ambiguous pitch, their only unifying factor: the hand of the artist. While Wallace uses litres of industrial paints with an attitude that’s clear: “I choose quite acidic colours, colours which have a heavy electric reaction. I’ve got away from buying specific oil paints with names like Green Duck’s Arse and got more into spray paints called things like Number 24.”
Alex explains that in choosing the gallery they “wanted something where we could engage with the space architecturally.” By “dissecting” the space this engagement was consciously reactionary. Ed explains that “every single angle is off” and yet rather than trying to fix this disjointedness they continued to dissect the space, seeing “it as advantageous in presenting something which looked quite awkward and where we thought we could do some unusual and tricky things.”
The anticipation and tension of their collaborative self-painting work forced the synthetic awkwardness of the acid colour palette against the natural awkwardness of the space. The success of this joint work reverberated throughout the exhibition, its volatility feeding and fuelling the other works with a single energy. Wallace wondered if they had laid the ‘awkwardness’ on a little too heavily, but it was this brightness that caught the viewer’s eye. Their playful antagonism is fresh and rare within the slick formula of contemporary curation.