Review – ‘This World Is Your Oyster’ show, Otago University Critic magazine, 5 October 2014, by Hannah Collier

Travel-Is-DangerousNew Zealand-based collage artist Peter Lewis has been forming, re-forming, configuring and reconfiguring popular culture and its images since 1990.

Peter‘s work has been featured on CD covers in New Zealand and in the United States, in the San Francisco-based art magazine Churn and, more recently, in the New York art and fashion magazine Fifth Avenue. His work has been exhibited throughout New Zealand, in Germany and briefly (and without authorisation) at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City.

A selection of Peter Lewis’ work is included in the book Masters: Collage. Lewis admits that he has been “cutting up magazines and rearranging images for over ten years now, and some words to describe my collages might be: psychedelic; weird; lurid; and wry,” which perfectly describes the current exhibition at Mint Gallery, This World Is Your Oyster, too.

Over the past decade, Lewis has been living, working and travelling around America, getting inspired by people, popular culture and places – Portland, most recently. His 2013/2014 trip to the US was a key source for his current exhibition. There he attended his first US show in Portland and spent two days in San Francisco with his art hero and mentor, master collage artist Winston Smith (album artwork: Dead Kennedys, Green Day, Ben Harper).

Many of these pieces attempt to capture the transitory moments of travel, and instead of being carefully staged compositions, they are snapshots in time, which resemble a kaleidoscope of colourful and kitschy images, juxtaposed against one another. They all go in different directions, defying gravity and challenging the viewer to make sense of their surreal, contrived, wayward world. As a viewer of such compositions, one is required to make their own interpretations, embodying the thematic undercurrent of each piece, which draws attention to the magic of imagination.

Most of the pieces are set in what I would assume to be space, as the background is black and each piece often features some kind of weird spatial looking image – like an asteroid, a UFO, a cartoon image of the world – with layers of other images arranged in the foreground.

Each piece (especially “Travel is Dangerous” and “Fire Walk With Me”) pretty much looks like the result of a Hieronymus Bosch- or Salvador Dali-type, who took some acid, went into a 90s-kid’s cupboard, pulled put all their old posters and K-Zone magazines, cut them up and rearranged the images on a canvas to create a nonsensical, popular culture collage – in the best way possible. There are pictures of flying dinosaurs, fish-headed planes, fairy-tale characters, numerous rabbit heads, World of Warcraft characters, a moon, and Fantastic Mr Fox.

I’m not really too sure how to make sense of the images collectively, but it is this nonsensical element that makes the work so fun to look at. It’s like reading Alice In Wonderland or Fear and Loathing; I feel like it’s so cool and maybe really clever, but what the fuck does it mean?

Considering all of the works, I think this is the whole purpose; to question how we perceive popular culture and all its commodification. Popular culture is a messy but magical meshing of so many things – strands of history, culture, people, places, moments, everything – and it seems Lewis, in his art, is drawing attention to this, and asking the viewer to challenge the idea culture can be limited to one perception, when there is such an excess and every individual will interpret moments, artefacts – life – differently.