Our Kind of People: American Groups and Rituals is the full title of a book by Bill Owens. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book contains photographs of American groups (such as the Masons, the Birches, American Legion and, my personal favourite, the Supreme Emblem Club) performing rituals (such as wearing giant top-hats, placing 'fines' in a chamber pot, drinking beer, and selling cookies). From an English perspective these square-jawed shenanigans appear intensely foreign; other kinds of bodies and other kinds of objects, other kinds of participants, observers, and ways of making life or art...
At first glance Caterina Lewis' very colourful, nearly abstract paintings are a world away from Owens' precise, documentary style black and white. Yet his photographs are not so much Lewis' starting point, as the point where her misunderstanding starts from; both in terms of her approach to the situations that Owens depicts (because, as Lewis puts it 'How can I possibly know?') as well as the motifs and techniques that she employs - or muddies, or forgets - as a means to re-imagine these 'uncanny moments'.
Certainly, the paintings reference many strange yet familiar things. A friend of Lewis' recently drew attention to the similarities between her work and Goya’s Los Caprichos (whereas I see the loosely worked cones of Guston, Redon's luminous layers, and the whimsical menace of Feininger...) only it was not the prints, but the concept of 'caprichos' - or caprice - that resonated with her. Or alternatively, it was not these other nearly abstract painters that inspired the exhibition, but the methodologies of Surrealism; attempts to access one’s unconscious drives through automatism and free-association.
A quick walk around the show and these clever, but still painterly references make it clear that Lewis is one of the London art world's kind. But there are also chinks of an alternative (personal and artistic) history shining through. Her Hungarian heritage perhaps? Something folkloric - or mystical, or alchemical, or other. The work is familiar as in recognisable, and familiar as in a spirit animal, or demon.
Susan Finlay 2019http://caterinalewis.com