Born on Vancouver Island in 1935, Lewis lives and works in Vancouver. He graduated from the Vancouver School of Art (1954-58) and apprenticed with the potter, Bernard Leach in Cornwall (1961-63). He was instrumental in the formation and work of collective artists’ organizations: Intermedia (1967-75), and Western Front (1973-87) in Vancouver; and served on a number of arts organizations: the Board of Directors of: LIVE Vancouver Performance Art Festival (2007-present); Vancouver Art Gallery (1986-87); Vice President of the Association of National Non-Profit Artist Centres (ANNPAC) (1980-81); Director, Western Front Society, Vancouver (1974-87); Vancouver Art Gallery (1973-76); Intermedia Society, Vancouver (1970-72); worked as Head of Media Arts, Canada Council, Ottawa.
Lewis has received several awards: ‘Emily’ award by Lt. Governor, Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, Vancouver (2000); a B.C. Cultural Services Visual Arts grant in1993, and five Canada Council grants from 1967 to1984.
An innovative first-generation conceptual mixed media artist, Lewis has worked with pottery, sculpture, performance, correspondence, photographs, video and installation since the early1960s. The scope and intellectual pursuits of his work range across concept, fiction, myth and community concerns. He was one of the earliest innovators in performance art with “Flour Piece” 1968 at the VAG, and video performances, “Japanese Pickle” and “Blue Tape Around City Block” both in 1969.
My work investigates everyday social systems and processes, often paradoxically, in producing material “things”. I also have a strong interest in the relation of Asian aesthetics to Modernism or Postmodernism, historical and literary references. I like to work with systems that can be humorous, absurd and revealing. This is evident in works such as: “Blue Tape Around a City Block” (1969), “Forest Industry” (1970), “Artifact”, a large ceramic mural designed for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 70, Osaka (1970), “Great Wall of 1984” at the National Science Library, Ottawa (1973), “Paradise Myths as Gardens” photographs (1980), “Classical Toy Boat”,(1986), “I Won’t Take Your Hand Monsieur Manet, I Haven’t Washed in Eight Days” (2007-08), and “Purloined” (2007-08). I impersonate an improbable hippy-surveyor in the first two, create calendar systems in the next two, a mythological sequence of discovery in the next one, and a re-enactment of the art-historical modernist originator, Cézanne, in the last two. These various directions and often paradoxical presentations are held together by what I call “poetical thinking”. Most recently I have presented exhibitions that are installations, pairing pots and photographs. These present ‘ordinary’ pots (bowls, vases, lidded jars, often with animal knobs) with photographs of buildings and life along East Hasting Street in Vancouver, or of elements in Japanese Gardens, or of rock walls in St. Ives. I’m concerned with the poetic resonance between them and want to aesthetically challenge the viewer and the contemporary art world to consider the ‘handmade pot’ on an equal footing with the photographic art work, to collapse ‘craft’ and ‘art’ into a common perception, as it was in ancient Greece and prior to the 18th century in Europe.