Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Lotto Icons" - Earl Lewis

first sketch from the series

Lotto Icons ~ Earl B. Lewis

Layers of meaning and materials illuminate E.B. Lewis’s latest body of work; a series of evocative small paintings that signal an evolutionary leap for this established artist. Titled “Lotto Icons,” they stem from mundane trips to a convenience store, where the artist routinely watched adults scratch and discard lottery tickets.

This disturbed him on many counts, not least of all because those living below the poverty line spend a disproportionate amount on lottery tickets; particularly the scratch-off kind. And research further reveals that desperation and feelings of powerlessness motivate this spending. Bearing the brunt of these sad facts are the children; children whose parents cling to the hope that their next ticket, despite massive odds, will deliver them from poverty even as it exacerbates it.

Contrast and parallel references also characterize this collection. Some begin with an actual intact scratch-off lottery ticket, on which the artist paints a portrait of a child. He then applies genuine gold-leaf over the image, referencing gold’s exalted status and the pipedream of instantly striking it rich. Then he scratches it off. The children’s faces emerge while remaining partially hidden; inviting questions about their potential, the odds they face, and their perceived value in a money-centric world. But, like the untapped tickets beneath them, their outcomes remain unknown.

Shrouded as they are in gold or silver and sensitively painted, these images immediately evoke traditional medieval icons. Given the nature of icons, this contrasting context adds profound bite to the artist’s indictment. Icons have essential requirements and enormous spiritual significance. To the faithful they are not mere works of art. They both personify and actually contain the presence of the invisible. As such they are venerated as sacred instruments of the divine.

By replacing the traditional pantheon of revered saints with the faces of disadvantaged children, the artist invites us to contemplate their status and our response to them. But, apart from the conceptual framework informing this collection, these paintings remain true to the artist’s devotion to aestheticism. If they are simply beautiful, that should be enough.

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