The Lewis Gun

[Lewis: Painter and Writer, by Paul Edwards (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) 584 pp. $75.00]

Professor Edwards has set himself to a daunting task in taking on Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957). Lewis the painter is a difficult task for many reasons: first, because he attacked the British art establishment early on, trashing Roger Fry and Bloomsbury and later Kenneth Clark, thereby laying a groundwork of controversy and contempt; second, because his shattered career caused much of his early work to be lost and some of his later work to be less than excellent; and third, on account of the nature of much of that work (sometimes representational, sometimes abstract, but always lacking in obvious appeal and certainly no part of any school except perhaps Lewis's own Vorticism). Edwards has shown Lewis's graphic work to have been driven by his obsession with what we may call the modern metaphysical. In his paintings, we hover over Cartesian vortices, as Melville's Ishmael did. Let me add (as if you could stop me) that Edwards' treatment of Lewis's graphic art is the most persuasive and instructive I have ever seen: well worth the price of admission. The comparison here would be with Walter Michel's authoritative catalogue and Hugh Kenner's essay in Wyndham Lewis: Paintings and Drawings (1971) as well as Richard Cork on Vorticism (1976), but Edwards' analyses seem both superior and needed.


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