Peter Lewis

The Cosmic Joke
© 2018 Peter Lewis

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I've been making these collages for over ten years now, ever since I first laid eyes on the work of Winston Smith, collage artist extraordinaire and the man behind the graphic style of the Dead Kennedys. It was at that moment that I realised art didn't have to be truly 'original' (whatever that means) and there was plenty of fun to be had rearranging and recycling existing images, especially in this media-saturated age.

So I set to work remixing as many images as I could lay my hands on, altering their context as much as possible or just throwing it away completely. Through surreal juxtaposition I discovered the fragility of meaning and how much our senses rely on nearby objects to provide clues about how we should interpret each new thing we see. By carefully and / or carelessly controlling those adjacent objects, I learned to ambush the eye and short-circuit the viewer's brain by placing the most unexpected objects in close proximity to each other.

I was aided in this endeavour by the great writer William S Burroughs, who had no respect for context either and gleefully cut up words to suit his own purposes. He showed me that there are no limits to what you can create from recycled words and images. Any word or image can be amputated from its native context and grafted onto a new host, to produce weird and wonderful new meanings. Of course, there doesn't always have to be a meaning - I sometimes take great pleasure in creating epic nonsense that hints at deeper meaning but never delivers. Seeking to make sense of it all, the brain will go round and round in circles for hours.

One of the most important aspects of my work, besides challenging the way our minds (often prematurely) attach meaning to an image based on previous experience, is humour. Juxtaposition is a great tool for reaching new heights of ridiculousness. There's nothing quite as silly as two disparate elements placed together for maximum surreal effect, particularly when working with images from Victorian sourcebooks, which makes ridicule an easy thing. Victorians always seem so composed and proper that it's so easy to take the piss out of them by strapping an armadillo to their backs or depicting them standing waist-deep in jelly. This applies to any text I use in my collages too, whether it be cut-ups or speech bubbles taken from old comic books. You'd be surprised how easily the right speech bubble can be adapted to new surroundings and yet still make a strange kind of sense. And to me that's what surrealism is all about - using images that don't belong together but still make a strange kind of sense, just as images and archetypes in dreams do.
Studios of Peter Lewis

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