The Shock of the Now Issue 29
Featured Exhibition Text
Lewis Brander & Sonya Derviz
'First Light'
Collective Ending HQ
24th February 2022

In the summer of 2018, my first in London, I was busy getting to grips with the wealth of galleries, exhibitions and events the city had to offer. Naive, wet behind the ears and keen to immerse myself in this new and exciting world of emerging artistic opportunity, I visited the Slade School of Fine Art’s BA/BFA Degree Show, likely one of my earliest experiences of an art school survey of fresh undergraduates. Amongst the bounty of unbounded creativity on display one particular room stood out, containing fragile spiderweb cyanotypes and steampunk-ish assemblage sculptures alongside fleeting figurative depictions emanating from ethereal verdant voids and jet black holes. The former was the work of Harley Kucyck-Cohen (whose exhibitions, invariably with Lungley Gallery, continue to entice) and the latter were painted by Sonya Derviz.

From then on I followed the fledgling steps of Sonya’s career with much interest, including at a stellar debut solo exhibition at V.O Curations‘ original 93 Baker Street space and as part of a group exhibition of young painters hosted in an old HSBC bank on Brompton Road by the budding dealer Alex Vardaxoglou. It was there that alongside Sonya’s latest paintings I first encountered the work of Lewis Brander, then a recent Goldsmiths BA Fine Art graduate whose painting practice revolved around nude portraiture. I was instantly enamoured by the nuanced, romantic and respectful studies of the female form, and approached Lewis for what was to be my first curatorial project in the capital, late-2018’s Young London Painters at Arthill Gallery in West London. Sadly, following his recent relocation to Athens, and my financial inability to cover international shipping, it was not to be.

Over the intervening two and a half years I regularly wandered as to the whereabouts of both Sonya and Lewis, pondering the potential progression of their respective practices. Sonya continued to exhibit intermittently, and internationally, whilst also taking some time away from painting, while Lewis remained in Athens until early 2020, returning just in time for a life interrupted by lockdowns. Finally, and fortuitously, I reconnected with Lewis during a period of pandemic leniency later that year, and since discovering that he knew Sonya socially and that both were keen to re-establish themselves in London post-pandemic, we spent the last eight months or so in conversations that have spawned 'First Light’, our current two-person exhibition at Collective Ending HQ in Deptford. 

Since 2018, Lewis has continued to advance a diaristic painting practice that documents his life and lived experiences. A sponge to his surroundings, there are evident Grecian influences within the artworks on display, many of which were in fact painted during his time abroad. Alongside self-portraits and portraits of his partner Isabel, ancient colonnade Acropolis architecture appears, as well as an Athenian street cat and the unmistakable blue and white stripes of the Greek flag, fluttering in the wind as to approach abstraction. Canonical, neo-classical sculptures are appropriated and adapted, as Lewis’s completed compositions are formed from collaged or combined sketches, from studies of statues that reside in Athen’s National Archaeological Museum. Antinous emerges as a dominant painterly protagonist, that young Greek lover of ruling Roman emperor Hadrian, who after his premature death by drowning was worshipped widely as a heroic figurehead. For guidance as to poise and pose, Lewis looks to post-war photographer Rolf Koppel’s erotic portraits of the male form, themselves inspired by Ancient Greek and Roman deified depictions of homosexuality.

Finally, skyscapes are prevalent, evidence of the artist’s penchant for painting en plein air in the parks of Athens or London, each rendered in oils on raw flax or linen that retain a surface textured with the trace of the warp and weft of their weave, only exacerbating their ephemerality, momentary memories captured on canvas.