Born in New Zealand and based in Australia, Richard Lewer is a research- led artist whose work tackles recurring themes of sport, crime, and religion. Fascinated by the dark, mundane, and absurd elements of human existence, his is a unique perspective that oscillates between sincere interest, cynicism, and morbid fascination. Richard was busily working in his Fremantle studio when I called him about his contribution to Melbourne Now; a life sized recreation of Preston gymnasium Northside Boxing Club.
LC: You work in an array of media including drawing, painting, video, and animation. Is there a common starting point in your working process?
I suppose I am a contemporary social realist. I collect images from a range of sources— newspaper clippings, historical societies, research libraries—which forms my research image bank. This process, since I am the one collecting the images, inserts my autobiographical narrative in all the works, no matter which medium I am using. When I start a body of work I look back on what I have done previously and consider if any mediums previously used are relevant to the new work, and if so, will they still pose an interesting challenge or experiment for me. I don’t have any preferred medium when I start; it really just depends on the narrative.
LC: Tell us about Northside Boxing Ring, your work for Melbourne Now.
The work for Melbourne Now is a charcoal wall drawing which includes sound and smell components drawn from the source site. The sound is recorded at the gym, so you can hear the trainer barking orders, the bell, the repetitive skipping, and there’s deep heat smeared into the drawing so it smells like the gym too. The drawing is my homage to Northside Boxing Club, the stains and marks link to my history and memory of the gym.
LC: What drew you to Northside Boxing Club as a site for artistic production?
Northside Boxing Club is a gym that I joined in 2000 when I challenged fellow artist Luke Sinclair to a boxing match for a performance at Conical Gallery. That was my first introduction to boxing, and I spent three months training for the match. Since then, Northside Boxing Club has been a second home to me in Melbourne, and I’m now both a boxer and a trainer. I’m fascinated by subcultures, especially within my local community so I found and immersed myself in Northside, as I lived nearby in Northcote at the time. The idea for drawing came about when I was searching for a boxing gym in WA, I visited a few however just couldn’t find a Northside. The drawing pays homage to my 13 years being trained and training at Northside, it’s a sentimental memorial to my gym, I know every corner of it.
LC: Northside Boxing Ring involves an impressive large scale wall drawing created in situ. What does this installation process involve?
For Melbourne Now I’ve decided to invite as many people as possible to help in the drawing through a call-out to anyone who’d like to be involved. I’m aiming for 20-25 people and so far I’ve got wide variety of young artists, from high school students to VCA art school students. The call-out is the first stage of the work, and it reflects the nature of Northside Boxing Ring; it’s a very welcoming environment and one where everyone works on an even playing field. Doctors, lawyers and mechanics are all training together and are all equal.
So I wanted to bring that into the drawing. There’s a high level of trust and participation in both the boxing and collaborative drawing environment. At the same time, I wanted to bring my experience as a boxing trainer back into the work by coaching young artists to draw. It means I don’t have 100% control, which I really like, and the work hovers somewhere between success and failure. With 25 pairs of hands, drawing over 7 days, the drawing then becomes a frottage; layers of existing prints on top of one another that build up like histories. That goes back to gym too; a place where layered stains of spit and blood and tears hint at what’s gone on there before and give the place its character.
VOLUNTEER CALL OUT!
Richard Lewer is looking for art school students to assist with his Northside boxing ring wall drawing for Melbourne Now!
We need volunteers from Tuesday 29th October – Friday 1 November.
Time slots are 8.30am–12noon // 1.00–4.30pm // 5.00–8.00pm
Email us a bit about yourself and your availability to: firstname.lastname@example.org