On the Couch with Richard Lewer

Richard Lewer Arts review On the CouchWho is Richard Lewer?
I’m a Melbourne-based artist whose practice deals with contemporary social realism; exploring subcultures, fraternity, alienation and extreme behaviors or events to probe what is beautiful and sinister about our society. I like to experiment with notions of the artist’s role as documenter, commentator or interpreter of the world around, and am creatively motivated by my personal responses often having an active engagement or immersion with my subject matter through research and participation in various communities including sporting, religious, true crime, FIFO mining and Aboriginal communities.

What would you do differently to what you do now?   
I’ve always said if I wasn’t an artist I would’ve owned a sports shop, but lately after many years of researching true crime, I think I might’ve been quite a good homicide detective.

Who inspires you and why?
With the way I make work, which often involves immersion into a previously unknown community or subculture, I get to meet a lot of ordinary people who, when you dig deeper, are doing extraordinary things. For instance, in 2012 when I was quite sick, my wife and I moved to Fremantle in Western Australia for a couple of years to take some time out, live by the ocean and get well. Whilst there, I saw various health practitioners, healers and a lot of quacks, it became quite an obsession and also a trigger for a body of work about the supernatural. One of the people I met was Father Barry May, a 73 year old Anglican priest and former police chaplain who is an exorcist. As I chatted with him, his phone was constantly ringing; he told me it was always like that. He travels extensively around Australia performing exorcisms.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
As much of my practice is a social commentary on society, I really hope it encourages conversations and raises questions. Recently I’ve made bodies of work about euthanasia and mental illness, which don’t have a moralizing tone or political message, they’re just my way of interpreting and retell societies very real concerns, concerns that are likely to affect many of us.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Cape Woolamai at Phillip Island because it’s very chilled, and you can always find good surf regardless of the wind and tides.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Most friends are talked into coming along to Northside Boxing Gym in Preston with me at least once. The gym is old school with lots of character being an old timber scout hall, its walls are cobalt blue and are covered in boxing memorabilia, it smells of liniment and sweat, it plays only classic hits, it’s a special experience.

What are you currently reading?
I always have multiple on the go, currently I’m researching Aboriginal deaths in custody and am trying to conquer my fear of horses so am reading Eddie’s Country by Simon Luckhurst, Dying Inside by Duncan Graham and Australian Colonial Sporting Painter: Frederick Woodhouse and Sons by Colin Laverty.

What are you currently listening to?
I’m slowly working my way through a hard drive of great music my friend artist Scott Miles made for me, it has folk, experimental, classical, avant-garde, blues, jazz but when I need something familiar I sometimes mix it up with my all-time favorite, Will Oldham (aka Bonny Prince Billy).

Happiness is?
A morning surf followed by a day in the studio, a box and my wife’s mushroom risotto.

What does the future hold for you?
Complete my studio build, continue to make work and hope to be happy and healthy.

Richard Lewer was the fifth and final winner of the Basil Sellers Art Prize for his work, The Theatre of Sports (2016). An exhibition of finalists is currently on display at the The Ian Potter Museum of Art – The University of Melbourne until 6 November 2016. For more information, visit: www.art-museum.unimelb.edu.au for details.

Image: Richard Lewer (supplied)