Using his scalpel, Peter Lewis ruins books for art. His carefully cut cartoon characters create colourful collages, which are on display at ROAR! Gallery this week. Re-occurring images in the Dunedin artist’s exhibition, Scalpelicious, are creatures with human heads and people with animal heads.
“A few years ago I discovered the work of Max Ernst (German surrealist artist)”, Lewis says. “He did a particular book of people with bird heads which I found inspiring”.
For 15 years Lewis has cut up old books, children’s encyclopedias and magazines picked up from second hand shops and glued the unrelated characters onto canvas or on a background of wrapping paper. The 34-year old artist deliberately picks images from obscure books and withdrawn children’s encyclopedias that are no longer used in schools or libraries. “I tell myself I am giving them a new life”.
Space exploration is another favourite topic of Lewis’ who imagined flying to the moon in a silver suit, while growing up in Tauranga. “When I started doing these collages with older books many of the images reminded me of looking at these things as a kid. I found myself re-living the excitement of discovering these things for the first time.”
Lewis was arty as a child although he ceased being creative during his teen years. By age 18 he re-discovered his love for art, drawing pictures of hotrods.
All the cut out characters are a combination of personal symbolism and pieces that “just happened to fit”. “We’re A Happy Family is a family of freaks,” Lewis laughs. “The owl at the top of the picture bears a strange resemblance to our cat. We have another cat called Tintin and there’s pictures of the cartoon character Tintin in there too.”
Expecting his first baby in November, Lewis hopes his child will like his fantastical creations that blur the line between the possible and impossible. He is most looking forward to cutting up his child’s books once he/she is done with them.