Body-cast sculptures. More than 5,000 handcrafted butterflies. A page-by-page illustration for a classic novel.
These are some of the unique facets of Tasha Lewis’s artwork. Lewis, who is beginning her graduate studies in the School of Art in the College of Arts and Sciences this fall, is the recipient of the Lori Mayer Women’s Graduate Fellowship for returning adult women students.
Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, Lewis always dreamed of becoming an artist. Whether it was building decks and arbors or landscaping a garden, she enjoyed the act of creating the ordinary to be extraordinary.
“I have always been a maker,” Lewis said. “Both my parents and extended family would be tinkering and building; we would lay stones for a walkway or build a wall. I was always using my hands. They just naturally became the way I would understand the world.”
She completed her bachelor’s degree in art from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 2012.
Her work has been written about in the Huffington Post and other publications, she’s gearing up for a one-person show at the Parthenon Museum in Nashville, and she’s self-published two books that meld her love for literature, material experimentation, and careful attention to detail.
Among Lewis’s best known pieces is Illustrating Ulysses in Eight Weeks, a mixed media project of 644 images representing each page of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.
She created the project during an eight-week artist residency in Eastport, Maine, and her goal was to help readers gain a better understanding of the text and visualize the author’s meaning.
“I created works on paper to each response of the novel and a nod to all the print, collage, and photographic techniques I don’t usually get to use in my sculptural practice,” she said.
One of her most ambitious and far-reaching projects is Swarm the World: A Global Street Art Campaign.
During her senior year at Swarthmore, Lewis began making small handcrafted blue magnetic cyanotype butterflies. She would install swarms of these butterflies on sites around town–telephone poles, electrical equipment, newsstands, etc.—everywhere she traveled, she took swarms of butterflies to install and photograph them.
In time, she set out to expand the project worldwide.
She raised more than $10,000 to craft more than 5,000 butterflies and ship packages of them across all seven continents.
She enlisted the help of 200 people in 44 countries to install the butterflies in public places.
“I knew I could not travel the world and install my butterflies, but there were people out there who would be able to share my joy in expanding this project,” she said.
The project was intended to bring beauty and freedom to the simplicity of public spaces.
Lewis draws from classical Greek female imagery for another type of artwork.
She uses her own body as a model, making casts of her torso and limbs and adorning the casts with pipe, wood, mesh, concrete, fabric, and thread.
The result is her affirmation of the imperfections of the female body.
“I am interested in developing visual languages through material techniques that showcase sculptures being both flawed and intimate,” she said. “It is a work that feels playful while also pushing a conversation about deeply entrenched cultural and artistic norms.”
As Lewis embarks on this new journey as a doctoral student, she’s ready to see what lies ahead.
“I am really excited to be a student again,” she said. “I want to continue making sculptures about the female body contextualized through classical Greek imagery and my own experiences and show this ongoing body of work at the Parthenon Museum in Nashville.”
Lewis’s show runs January through May 2020.
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