About the work
It’s a readymade canvas both epic and contained. An Australian flag, clearly a little worse for wear. It’s huge – large enough to have once flown above Parliament House in Canberra, the very epicentre of the political nation. This gives it its own public life, a singular object’s history that is also wrapped up in the history of our federated, young nation. Expansive in scale, this object also provides a conceptual boundary, a historical and political framing that lends symbolic weight to Richard Lewer’s intervention.
Throughout the decades of his practice, and even before, Lewer has written many short texts. He paints them on his studio walls, on pieces of foam, on pinboards and pool table covers, maps and other objects with previous lives, histories of their own. Here, in the artist’s recognisable, wonky hand, we see a sentence painted in white: ‘I can’t run away all my life sometimes I just have to stand and fight’. The words spell out a personal mantra or instruction, an affirmation that might be adopted in the face of bullying, or the battleground of individual trauma. It’s poignant and vulnerable, seeking ballast.
Sprawled across this massive, loaded backdrop of the flag, the words are imbued with broader, more socio-political readings and associations. Reading them in this context, we might reflect on what it might mean for Australia, itself built on unceded land, to stand up for itself. What does that look like globally, and what does it look like for those within it, especially those at its margins? This switch between singular and societal that the text performs is similar to the effect created by Lewer when he painted the phrase ‘I must learn to like myself’ across another very large Australian flag as part of his series A History of Australia. How might an individual, and a nation, gain self-love and worth, and what are the consequences?
And what does it mean to scrawl a text across this flag? We know that there are rules around such things, that Lewer’s interventions are, at the least, provocations. They might be read by some as desecrations, depending on your relationship to the flag, and the nation, in question. But their sincerity and singularity – underlined by the presence of the ‘I’ – suggests something more complex, more questioning. It is a strangely tender articulation of an artist in conversation, not just with himself, but with the complexities of the world, the country, and the historical moment in which he finds himself.
Image courtesy of Hugo Michell Gallery
About the artist
Based in Melbourne, Richard Lewer exhibits regularly in Australia and New Zealand. He is known for his video and animation, paintings, and delicately beautiful drawings, which evocatively rework some of life’s less pleasant elements – crime scenes, illness, horror movies and extreme events. The work is accessible and familiar, with a critical edge that probes what is beautiful and sinister about our society without injecting a moralising tone or political message. Lewer’s focus is, however, less concerned with telling the concrete facts of a case. Instead, his work explores the way that places can become repositories for the psychic residue of extreme events, painful activities or our deepest fears.
Lewer has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally and his work is included in many important state museums and university collections in both Australia and New Zealand. Recent exhibitions include: Weapons for the Soldier, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, Sydney (2018); State of the Union, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2018); The National: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Australia, (2017); Sappers & Shrapnel: Contemporary Art and the Art of the Trenches, Art Gallery of South Australia, (2016); Next Wave Festival, (2016); The Custom of the Sea, St Paul Street Gallery, Auckland University of Technology, (2015); Epic Narratives, PICA Salon, Perth Cultural Centre, Perth, Australia, (2015); Footy Fever, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, (2015); Parnngurr, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney (2015); the Basil Sellers Art Prize, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2014); Dark Heart, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2014); Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013); Inside Running – The Art of Sport, Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle (2013); Negotiating This World: Contemporary Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2012); 10 ways to look at the past, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2011); and Freehand: Recent Australian Drawing, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2010). His work has also been surveyed in the exhibitions I Must Learn To Like Myself at the Waikato Museum of New Zealand (2010) and Nobody likes a Show-Off at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) (2009).
Lewer was a finalist in the 2018 Gold Award, the recipient of the 5th Basil Sellers Art Prize in 2016, the City of Albany Art Prize in 2015, The Blake Prize in 2014 and the Black Swan Portraiture Award in 2013. He exhibited at Art Stage Jakarta (2016) and Art Basel Hong Kong (2016).
- I can’t run away all my life sometimes I just have to stand and fight
- Acrylic on found Australian Flag
- 7300mm x 3600mm