New Zealand-born Richard Lewer uses art to delve deep into a world of idiosyncratic characters, marginal settings and unlikely life-stuffs.

By Rebecca Gallo APR 2015

Melbourne underworld gangsters; catholic nuns running a hospital; a love-suicide-euthanasia pact that goes tragically awry; an amorous gymnastics coach who lusts after his young charges. Unlikely tales and odd characters are a constant in Richard Lewer’s work. His art houses stories that would be hard to make up, and in some cases you wouldn’t want to.

Lewer’s output – encompassing videos, performances, large-scale murals and the paintings on canvas, steel, foam, maps and billiard table cloth for which he is best known – represents an ongoing documentation of the worlds and subcultures that he visits and inhabits. Figures and settings in Lewer’s drawings and paintings are simplified and stylised, and stories take on a narrative voice, empathy and humour that are distinctly and idiosyncratically his.

The Melbourne-based artist describes himself as a social realist, working in the tradition of Gustave Courbet and Honoré Daumier, but his is a distinctly contemporary and Australian vernacular, with echoes of Drysdale, Nolan and Tucker at their stripped-back best. Originally from Hamilton, New Zealand, Lewer made Melbourne his home base almost two decades ago, with a two-year stint in Fremantle and regular trips to remote corners of the country in between. He recently received widespread acclaim for his animation Worse Luck I am Still Here, exhibited in the 2014 Adelaide Biennale Dark Heart and for which he was awarded the 2014 Blake Prize.

Lewer generally starts his day by reading the local papers to gather ideas and stories, but the choice ... Subscribe to read this article in full

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