Michael Barton Lewis – Artist's Statement

Background. Throughout the 1990's most of my work was in the form of xerographic collages depicting social/political themes in stark black and white. Using acrylic gel as an adhesive and varnish, I layered hundreds of fragments of photo-copied images into large, complex compositions. Once I had selected images and amassed stacks of photocopies, I would cut and paste quickly, allowing accidents and intuition to affect or even determine the structure of the composition. Then I would refine and balance the image with carefully placed details. Through this process I achieved surrealistic blends of archetypal forms, expressionism and satirical allegory. My subject matter included capital punishment, the Gulf War, the environment, and the biological origins of culture.

Current Themes. As the nineties ended, I realized that my art had been steadily turning inward to focus on the universals of human cognitive experience. The particulars of social/political issues have become mere surface details to me – vague indications of deeper psychological and sociological issues. I am now fascinated with basic human drives and with the paradoxical gap between our innate mythic conceptions of the world and the often counter intuitive facts revealed by science. I wish to examine this paradox through the articulation of archetypal symbols and visual metaphors.

Technique. As my thematic focus has changed, so too have my methods and media. I now combine the xerographic collage technique that I developed in the nineties with painting, screen printing and other collage or assemblage techniques. I have also begun applying these techniques to plexiglass from the back side, building the image in reverse order. The integration of all these media has allowed me to also integrate approaches to image making such as surrealism, expressionism, cubism, and conceptualism. I call this pluralistic approach Cognitivism.

Theory: Cognitivism. Why the term 'Cognitivism'? I use it because it implies art that deals with the complete range of human cognitive experience including unconscious drives, emotional responses, and rational thought. Cognitivism is not simply a fusion of styles and techniques, its goal is to convey the richness of cognitive experience by any of the effective means that have been discovered or invented by artists and scientists thus far. I reject the belief that there are such things as pure realism or pure abstraction in the arts. All art functions on many levels at once. Cognitivism calls for a new examination and application of art which recognizes the advances of cognitive science.

Historical Context. I see art history in part as the research and development of visual communication technologies that may be used to record and convey the tangled tapestry of emotions and thought processes that comprise human cognitive experience. Within this framework, the many novel approaches to art in the twentieth century comprise a vast tool kit from which many or all may be brought to bear on a single work of art.

Psychological Content. It is my fondest hope to make art that 1) engages the many neurological processes of the psyche and 2) illuminates the processes themselves – in other words, art that inspires both deep emotion and inner reflection. I suspect that visual art making eventually will be understood to emerge from the same neurological processes responsible for mythic thinking and ritualism. Art and myth begin from troubled yearnings and a vital need to reconcile unanswerable questions. It may even be possible to build new myths that accommodate the dual needs of the psyche for an emotionally satisfying mythology of the world, and also a factual, scientific explanation of the world. Such an art would bridge the gap between the spiritual aspects of religion and the abstract rationality of science.