Over the nine years that he spent working as a critical care nurse, Nate Lewis grew intimately familiar with medical imaging via X-rays, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, and other diagnostic tools. He watched bodies externalize their internal forms and rhythms, demanding they be seen, scrutinized, and cared for—with the caveat that clarity was a possibility but never a promise. It is a preoccupation with these vital images that inspired and informed Lewis’s turn to artmaking. “Latent Tapestries,” his first solo show in New York City, opened at Fridman Gallery in March but has since migrated online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Scrolling through pictures, video, and text, the viewer encounters the artist’s first sonic installation: a jagged, collaged composition of musical contributions by five experimental jazz players. The exhibition has an audible heartbeat, albeit an irregular one.
The show’s core is easily located in Lewis’s staggeringly detailed hand-sculpted ink-jet prints. After transferring his photographs to thick sheets of paper, the artist proceeded to carve into them with surgical precision. He then applied graphite and ink to the sliced and perforated areas, and even ad-libbed here and there with frottage. The portraits of bodies that emerged have surfaces so variegated that they initially appear collaged. The “Signaling” print series, 2019–20, depicts black bodies in motion: frame-filling figures—stippled, hatched, gouged—that expand, contract, and contort. Another series, “Probing the Land,” 2019–20, portrays the less motile bodies of the Confederate equestrian statues along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Partially consumed by swaths of toothlike patterns, white men and their horses unravel into a patchwork of stripped bronze, bone, and entrails—a reminder that conversations around these violent memorials and the racialized abuses that they chart are still very much alive.