Margrit Lewczuk, ME WE

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Reviewed in the Brooklyn Rail

This large exhibition of paintings by Margrit Lewczuk takes its title from Mohammed Ali’s Me, We, recognized as the shortest poem in the English language. Speaking the poem extemporaneously during a commencement speech at Harvard, Ali made a simple but profound link between the individual and the group. Lewczuk, too, make this connection by combining personal experience with cultural symbols from around the world. 

A native New Yorker, the artist collects images during extensive travel abroad. Her gaze absorbs the colors and images of distant places before her hands work a canvas. The results are large, colorful paintings that evoke Mexican textiles, Persian architecture, the Sahara desert, Syrian wall reliefs, and music from West Africa. Stenciled areas borrow silhouettes of Mexican lace and Italian fleur de lis. Vestiges of Ukrainian Easter eggs appear as repetitive oval shapes, or ornate patterns of pink and gold when the artist interpolates religious iconography from her own Slavic roots. 

Lewczuk’s abstractions are most kaleidoscopic when she employs bright colors and symmetrical compositions. For example, Three Stars for Emma (2007) made of darkest blue beneath a string of electric yellow diamonds, has the rhythmic quality of a heartbeat monitor. This painting is an homage to artist Emma Kunz (1882-1963), whose drawings made associations with telepathy, prophecy, and healing.

Certain paintings like Moondog (2003) and Cross 1 (2006) employ phosphorescent paint, allowing the artist to investigate the positive and negative affects of light. Located in the gallery’s lounge, you can visit them at night with the lights turned off and their images will magically invert. They transform in equal proportion from punchy neon oranges, pinks, creams and yellows to glowing green against black. Those that depict human figures on a cross or in repose, recall the silhouettes of Keith Haring and Henri Matisse. Others from this series present geometric patterns channeling the psychedelic, a playful and consistent reference in the work.


Lewczuk continues a tradition of abstract painting that was invented in post-war New York. Born in 1952, she attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School in the seventies. She has been Head of the Painting Atelier at the New York Studio School for twelve years, and a professor at The New School for twenty years. She has taught at RISD, Princeton, NYU, and The Cooper Union. Lewczuk has received numerous awards, including a Jacob Lawrence Award and a Purchase Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Gottlieb Foundation Grant, a Rauschenberg Foundation Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Recently she was included in the landmark exhibition, Come Together, Surviving Sandy, and was one of five artists deemed most influential to a new generation of painters by the Bushwick gallery, Life on Mars.