By Richard Lewer
Monash University Museum of Art | Reviewed by Andy Palmer

A FEW YEARS AGO, 2004 to be precise, Richard Lewer had a show at Enjoy Public Art Gallery in Wellington. In Between consisted of a DVD of Lewer’s drawings used to animate interviews conducted by then Enjoy curator Charlotte Huddleston. It was a ghost story, and a great work; subtle, engrossing, smart, and humorous, and unlike a lot of video work really held my attention.

Shortly after this – it may well have also been at Enjoy – I came across Lewer’s book Goodnight. A non-narrative comic of sorts set in Wanganui, which highlighted his crude line drawing style. I liked it so much I bought copies for friends. Since then I’ve seen Lewer’s work in various galleries up and down the country.

Lewer has been based in Melbourne since the mid-1990s and recently Monash University Museum of Art put together the first major survey of his work. In Nobody Likes A Show Off, the catalogue of that show, he is described as a significant artist at mid-career. In a succinct description of the show and Lewer’s practise, it goes on to state that the exhibition (and book) “covers the scope of this artist’s practice, encompassing painting, drawing, animation, installation and performance. Marked by a sceptical humour and a focus upon the darker sides of human behaviour, place and social identity, Lewer’s work involves close observation and highly subjective encounters with family, religious, sport and criminal subjects, leading to insightful and absurd narrative reflections on good and evil, life and mortality.”

Although a small book, it demonstrates the breadth of Lewer’s oeuvre – his use of different media and medium’s, and subject matter, as discussed by curator Kirrily Hammond. Other texts examine Lewer’s numerous series of Catholic imagery, and his 2008 series True Stories – Australian Crime. Stylistically his work is changeable; he doesn’t have such a definitive approach that you can immediately spot a Lewer, not that this is a bad thing. Amongst other things, like so many NZ painters before him – McCahon, Hotere, Robinson, Reynolds, etc. – Lewer is enraptured by text, making works closer to the Robinson Reynolds school of language of the everyday.

It’s great that someone has felt that Lewer deserves a survey show at ‘mid-career’, and it makes sense that this has happened in the city where he now lives. I wish I had seen the show, and it would be nice to think that one of our public galleries might consider bringing it across the Tasman. In the meantime this little volume is a nice addition to the Lewer library.