“How did you make that?”
Josie Lewis hears this a lot. At first glance, her work is a large, glossy mosaic of colors and abstract shapes. Coming closer, it reveals itself to be a series of layers – clipped images that combine to create something that might be found under a microscope (intricate and lifelike) or perhaps a telescope (celestial and expanding). And suddenly we are lost in wonder.
This ponderous moment, suspended in thought like pieces of paper in resin, is the result of both a meticulous process and an intuitive hunt and response. On her studio’s table, stacks of magazines stand in the midst of small pieces of “found treasures” through which she digs, looking for the right color, image, or pattern—anything that inspires her.
She starts, typically, by looking in Vogue Magazine, not because of the content but the quality of the pages. The paper from these and National Geographic holds up the best throughout the creation of her work. The fair unknown originates in the former, 12 copies of the same issue from 2013. Within a wooden and aluminum mold, she pours black ink, a layer of resin, and waits 24 hours. Then a layer of magazine forms, a layer of resin, and wait… repeating this layer by layer until a patchwork form emerges over the course of 8 – 15 layers. Sometimes an idea is clear from the beginning, while other times the piece works itself out as she goes.
With a drawer full of scissors and another of Elmer’s glue sticks, Lewis thinks of this process as “reordering something that already exists,” cataloging Vogue through another perspective. Through the destructive act of cutting, the magazine is demolished and revived, transforming it into something redeeming and life-giving.
To those watching as she works, the process is clearly meditative. Small bits from an ocean of glossy pages carefully congregate, sit, and move around the composition, coming together to create a greater whole.
Lewis started out painting at the University of Minnesota. Gifted with a knack for technical skill but frustrated by a lack of voice in her work, she began cutting her work apart. Discovering an interest in the surface of the paint, she created collages in secret, experimenting with the resin she saw her sculpture friend using. The urge to create work that had been whispering to her now had a voice. She found the new medium, materials, and a symbiotic relationship in which the materials informed the work and vice versa.
Now, Lewis would be in the studio all the time if she could, but life intercedes. Usually found working on her current series in sporadic bursts throughout the day and after her little one goes to bed, she holds to the advice she gives artists of any stripe or level of expertise: The more you make work, the better you get and the easier it is to find what you like. Time is essential. Spend time making work.
Next, Lewis looks forward to casting objects in resin and also returning to paint, exploring its surface and the gradation of color. In the meantime, she loves the reactions people have to her work, especially kids. “It’s like a firework mixed with a flower mixed with a machine.” The material gives people an entry point to engage in the work. We are familiar with and thrown off by the material. The depth, the trick, the illusion engages people as they come closer. And from the pages of what we feel we know, we respond in common, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”