Saturday, April 23, 2011

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth Works
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Margo Lewers' ArtCloth
Working in a number of art media, Margo Lewers explored ArtCloth late in her life. She first exhibited her ArtCloth works in 1975, when she was 67, just three years before her death.

Margo Lewers was born Henritta Margaret Ernestine Plate at Mosman, Sydney, on 23rd of April 1908. She was educated at Neutral Bay Public School, trained as a secretary and attended Dattilo Rubbo’s Art School, where she met Gerry Lewers (a sculptor) whom she married in 1933. She visited Europe with her husband. She studied textile design with John Farleigh in London and then returned to Australia and continued to work with hand printed fabrics. She believed that personalized dyed textiles could be an important field for women who had artistic ability and wanted to demonstrate it.

Margo Lewers.

In 1945-50 she attended painting classes with Desiderius Orban (a Hungarian painter) and began exploring abstract expressions. She died on the 20th of February 1978 at Emu Plains[1].

Margo Lewers - Elephant Form (1935).
Lino-block exhibited at the Argosy Gallery in King Street, Sydney (Australia) in 1935.
Note: Some of her designs featured elephants, armadilloes, turtles, totem poles, pigs, and cacti.

She moved to Emu Plains in 1950 and devoted herself full-time to painting. Margo Lewers, with her brother Carl, ran the Sydney chapter of the Contemporary Art Society during the 1940s and early 1950s[2].

Margo and Gerry Lewers house and property at Emu Plains, NSW, Australia (1950).

It was at the suggestion of John Reed that Peter Bellew came from Melbourne to Sydney to meet with a group of artists in order to assist in forming the Sydney chapter of the Contemporary Art Society[3]. The Reeds were wealthy art patrons who financed and published the Angry Penguins. Moreover, John Reed took a leading role in intellectual and political debates of the Melbourne art world[4]. Their property, known as “Heide” (Melbourne, Australia), became a center for well-known artists and writers who lived and worked there[5].

In contrast, to the Reeds both Margo and Gerald Lewers were practising artists. Whilst they also attracted artists in their midst, there was no intellectual publishing aspect to it, and so it was never considered, even at the height of their influence, an intellectual art hub of Sydney (Australia)[5]. It should also be noted that the Reeds thought that Nolans, Boyds, Hesters, Lewers’ and Tuckers were essential pieces in any contemporary art collection[6].

The property at Emu Plains is now the Penrith Regional Gallery and The Lewers Bequest. It is devoted to the creation and exhibition of art.

Penrith Regional Gallery and the Lewers Bequest is an idyllic place for dynamic cultural activity. Established in 1981, the Gallery offers an unique opportunity to explore the home and gardens of Gerald and Margo Lewers and to enjoy an ever-changing program of exhibitions, workshop programs and special events.

What Is Abstract Expressionism?
“It is non-figurative art in which the canvas is an arena on which to act – rather than as a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or express an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter” (Harold Rosenberg – American art critic[7].

In the 1950s, Margo Lewers together with Erica McGilchrist and Dawn Sime were among the first to establish abstract expressionisms in Australia[10].

Non-figurative art became pervasive in all corners of the Australian continent[10]. It was taught in secondary schools and was readily purchased by established art galleries and museums[10]. In a very real sense, this art became more materialistic, less concerned with image and idea, and more concerned with the creation, deliberately, or adventitiously, of novel surfaces, edges and textures. This obsession with surfaces was accompanied by an equal and opposite obsession with the nature of space. Both obsessions satisfied a growing intolerance of figurative art[8]. Within a decade, radical abstract expressionisms, slide out of fashion and sales for Margo Lewers’ art were not so forthcoming[9].

Margo Lewers in her studio.

Margo Lewers' ArtCloth Work
At a late stage of her career, when she was 67, Margo Lewers returned to fabric as a medium for her abstract ideas. She produced a series of vibrant painted ArtCloth works, based on early geometrical watercolors where she had experimented with overlaying transparent colour in loosely geometric shapes[10].

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth wallhangings (exhibition at Macquarie Galleries in 1975).

Margo Lewers summarized her approach to her art as follows[11]: “I am intensely interested in color. It excites me and I want to show the effect of one color upon another and the influence of light upon color…You must experiment and experiment. Each person feels differently and reacts in a different way to color. Each must find out for himself…To abstract means to isolate the feelings which one has experienced or the impressions one has gathered and to re-express them in form and colour”.

Margo Lewers later in life.

Her views on color and abstraction suited the times in which her art grew. The 1960s were the beginning of the “new” age for the “working” woman. Within Margo’s lifetime, the nature of womanhood had significantly changed - the contraceptive pill, technology replacing repetitive domestic chores, the attempts to reform social and political structures from a feminist perspective was just starting to emerge. The 1960s was in a sense, Margo’s time. The age of “being” rather “having” had arrived for those ahead of the pack, such as Margo[12]. For example, Margo Lewers typically created her Christmas in a single color[12]. In one year, she created a Christmas in green for her family and her friends. The flowers were green, the Christmas tree was green, the Christmas decorations were green and Christmas presents were shed from their green wrappings. In other words, her environment was her art, her art was her environment[13].

Margo Lewers' Christmas cards (miniature paintings).

Although she was principally known for her abstract paintings, nevertheless a number of other influences permeated her artististic life. For example her artworks display influences by: (i) the 1930s Bauhaus inspired artifacts; (ii) the organic pastels and drawings of the 1940s; (iii) the abstract and geometric paintings of the 1950s; (iv) the abstract expressionist work of the late 1950s and; (v) the experiments in textured matter painting of the 1960s. Her ArtCloth works of the 1970s provided a resolution of these styles.

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work - Orange and Red (1975).

These influences surfaced in works of subtle design and striking color[14]. The ArtCloth wallhangings (which ranged in size from 277.5 cm x 109 cm to 127 cm x 101.5 cm) were free hanging and were dyes painted onto materials such as poplin, satin, terylene, raw silk and cotton [15]. They were designed to hang from the ceiling[15].

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Orange Came Through (1975).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – 05 (1976).

These works were designed with modern domestic architecture in mind but were considered by the critics to be more suitable for larger corporate spaces[10].

She found dyes difficult to work with, because over-painting posed difficulties when using dyes[15]. Hence she did smaller paintings to work out the exact color effects. These smaller paintings then provided the basis on which she could work with the larger ArtCloth works[15].

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – 19th December (1975).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Nocturnal (1976).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Torquoise and Red (1976).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Under the Sea with Red Stripe (1976).

In some of these ArtCloth wallhangings, themes from later series were also reworked, as in Twelve Circles, where pink, cerulean and yellow circles are superimposed onto a dramatic geometric background in reds, dark green, ochre and yellow[10].

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Attached (1976).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – In Between (1976).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Grey with Yellow (1976).

Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – Twelve Circles (1976).

Asked about her work just a year before her death Margo Lewers responded that she always felt ill at ease when questioned about her work. Nevertheless, she spoke of her constant interest in light and color[16]

[1] Hickey, D. “Gerald and Margo Lewers: Their Lives and their Work”, Grasstree Press, Sydney, 1982, 125.

[2] ibid. 37.

[3] ibid.35.

[4] Allen, C. Art in Australia: from Colonization to Postmodernism”, Thames and Hudson, Singapore, 1997, 120.

[5] Hawley, J. “Queen Margo”, Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend Magazine, July 27th, 2002.

[6] Dutton, G. “Out in the Open”, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1994, 112.

[7] McCoubrey, J.W. “Modern American Painting”, Time-Life Books Inc., New York, 1970, 142.

[8] Smith, B. with Smith, T. and Heathcote, C. “Australian Painting 1788-2000”, Oxford University Press, 4th edition, Melbourne, 2001, ps 317 – 318.

[9] Allen, C. “Art in Australia: from Colonization to Postmodernism”, Thames and Hudson, Singapore, 1997.

[10] Bell, P. “Margo Lewers Retrospective”, National Trust of Australia, Sydney, 2000, 18.

[11] Hickey, D. “Gerald and Margo Lewers: Their Lives and their Work”, Grasstree Press, Sydney, 1982, 89.

[12] Fromm, E. “To have or to be?”, Jonathan Cape, London, 1978.

[13] Hickey, D. “Gerald and Margo Lewers: Their Lives and their Work”, Grasstree Press, Sydney, 1982, 82.

[14] Bell, P. “Margo Lewers Retrospective”, National Trust of Australia, Sydney, 2000, 9.

[15] Hickey, D. “Gerald and Margo Lewers: Their Lives and their Work”, Grasstree Press, Sydney, 1982, ps 113 – 116.

[16] ibid. 116.

1 comment:

Susie Monday said...

Wonderful post, thank you so much for your work on this and sharing the news and work of this artist.