Norman Lewis


Title unknown (March on Washington), 1965, oil on fiberboard, 351/4 × 471/2 in., L. Ann and Jonathan P. Binstock, © Estate of Norman W. Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

This morning I was taken by some friends to an exhibit of works by the American artist Norman Lewis (1909-1979) at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art.  I had vaguely heard of him before and may have seen reproductions of one or two of his works.  But spending real time in his presence (via his artwork) was very moving, and if any of you live near Philadelphia I would encourage you to visit this show before it closes on April 3.

I’ve often spoken of Emerson as writing from that boundary where the expressible transforms into the inexpressible, where words meet their forms.  Lewis’s work brought that to mind in painting.  Normally I am less than thrilled by abstract painting–most of it strikes me as very ego-driven, trying to find some edge to draw attention to oneself.  Lewis, by contrast, works in a place that borders on the representational with the abstract.  Many of his works contain suggestions of human and animal forms, but they are shown against a background of what could be called the primal stuff of creation.  It brings to mind Plato’s Divided Line; that fine line where the physical touches its source.  Lewis’s works are portals into that place if we can be still and take the inner leap.

A truly transcendent artist.


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