Brandt Lewis: Staged Stills

Brandt Lewis’ latest show at Thienny Lee Gallery extends his exploration of theatrical themes. His long-held interest in Absurdist theatre coupled with an ongoing fascination with set design – the result of a teaching stint in the early nineties at NIDA where he taught drawing to prop, stage design and wardrobe students – has evolved through three distinct casts of characters into a unique and witty perspective on this subject matter.

Brandt Lewis, At The Show, oil on canvas, 61 x 76cm. Courtesy the artist and Thienny Lee Gallery, Sydney

Framing his action in carefully constructed model sets, Lewis initially references Absurdist theatre with a company of slightly melancholy shrouded figures. Absurdist drama, took its cues from Existentialist philosophy which emerged after World War II and focused on the breakdown of communication between people. Playwrights like Samuel Beckett had their actors speak in meaningless clichés and non sequiturs. The aim was to disrupt audience complacency. In Lewis’ constructed world the wrapped figures are together, but prevented from connection by their shrouds. This cast of characters gives way to a troupe of ball-jointed artist’s mannequins whose efforts to communicate are equally thwarted by their facelessness. At times the gloved hand of the set designer reaches into this miniature world to wittily assert a godlike control. In Lewis’ final iterations, the mood again lifts as he introduces a fresh ensemble of characters – toys. In these images Absurdist renderings of familiar stories are enacted using this new cast: brightly coloured plastic building blocks construct a Tower of Babel; Aesop’s fable about the race between the hare and the tortoise becomes a tableau featuring wooden toys, whose performances are literally wooden; and the enigma of Stone Henge is evoked in A Toy Henge.

Brandt Lewis, A Toy Henge, oil on canvas, 38 x 50cm. Courtesy the artist and Thienny Lee Gallery, Sydney

This is a show which maps the evolution of visual ideas in three acts, as the work of image-making morphs into a sort of confident play. Recasting each act with fresh characters, Lewis ushers in his unique and engaging perspective in ‘Staged Stills’.

Elin Howe, 2017


‘Staged Stills’ is available for viewing online.

Published in partnership with Thienny Lee Gallery, Sydney.