• Richard Lewer

One thing’s for sure, Richard Lewer loves a juicy ambiguous juncture – those transient spaces that divide and influence the world – where life and death, joy and despair, pride and shame, private and public... hang in the balance. With expressive hard-won economy, he positions himself as an evenhanded intermediary and invites us to walk the wire with him, bringing our own flawed human nature and personal histories to the experience.

While this long-term preoccupation – alongside signature motifs and stylistic gestures – continues to knit connections across his practice, Lewer has recently felt something shift. There’s a loosening. A newfound freedom that’s immediate, reactionary and exhilarating.

In part, this shift is due to a change in medium. After decades, he is working again with acrylic paint on unforgiving raw linen, deliberately limiting his opportunity to rethink or overwork a painting. Moreover, in the past he has produced thematically tight bodies of work drawn from an unfettered immersive experience of the world. As a veteran of far-flung residencies, he gleaned his material widely: everything from overheard anecdotes and human-nature politics, to historical and global events. What was once a limitless external resource, is now turning inward. It’s a different way of gathering for him. Small wonder the sun, moon and stars, and a little superstition, figure more prominently.

There have been other key triggers for this recent mind reset. Over the last year, Lewer lost a good friend and peer, Kate Daw, and an artist he admired greatly, Bill Hammond. Public tributes seemed sadly lacking. Both deaths shook him and warranted responses in the studio. They provoked an introspection and fresh awareness of mortality that has continued to gain momentum throughout extended periods of restriction and lockdown.

In effect, rather than be constrained by predetermined expectations, Lewer is now surrendering to a strong feeling or concept that might ambush him on any given day; and being receptive to the serendipitous convergence of ideas into one great story. This is how – in the wonderful painting, I’d rather be eaten by a whale than talk to you – an article about one man’s near-fatal incident with a whale, married up with his own vexation at a persistent unwanted caller. It’s very funny; it’s also poignant.

This tragi-comic quality is consistent throughout the exhibition. In Sorry Mike, that’s out, for instance, Lewer finds humour in the kind of moment that can test a friendship. Elsewhere he equivocates. In Fear of flying is the plane preparing to land, or plummeting to its destruction? And is the lone rower on a wild-sea suicide mission, or deciding to return the boat to shore in When the time comes.

Does the impenetrable house in Low over Hamilton conceal a dark secret or is it offering shelter from the storm? And is the promise of a post-ski-run assignation tempting fate (and the top of the chairlift a metaphor for the afterlife) or a stab at wish-fulfilment. Other subjects share the suggestion of isolation and vulnerability: the androgynous surfer, like the skier and the seafarer, alone with the elements; the solitary Eastern Whipbird in a field of acidic colour, its distinctive song silenced; a colony of flying foxes living in close proximity, but each animal shrouded from the other. And if faced with a brick wall there’s no way to escape shit even if Good luck follows this man everywhere.

Lewer poses open-ended questions for us to interpret through the prism of our own perspective. In all of the narrative reflections in this exhibition, there is something important at stake – love, friendship, tolerance, community, the natural world... At the bittersweet heart of each is an acknowledgement of the brevity and precariousness of life. And the heroism in our neighbourhood.

Meryl Ryan Independent curator and arts consultant based in Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Opening Hours

  • Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm
  • Saturday, 10am-4pm


  • 189 Ponsonby Road
  • Ponsonby, Auckland 1011