Lewk Wilmhurst visually dissects current technological advances in bitesize digital symbols
Residing in a small and sleepy village in Oxfordshire, the digital artist uses the internet as a “sea of potential”.
- Jyni Ong
- 19 October 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
“I enjoy the reaching ubiquity of a meme,” artist Lewk Wilmhurst tells us as an introduction to his highly complex digital works. Growing up in a countryside village in Oxfordshire, Lewk studied painting at Bath School of Art, graduating onto a master’s degree in printmaking at the Royal College of Art. At the former, he looked to YBA’s such as Graham Dolphin, Chris Ofilli and Walton Ford to inform his practice. Through this, coupled with stints as an art tag editor at Tumblr (until the role was automated), a freelance fabricator and content producer, an internet-styled practice emerged, one that goes onto explore myriad technological facets.
After studying, Lewk’s practice further developed in affordable Bristol where he shared a studio with fellow artists Will Kendrick, Tom Johnson and Solveig Settemsdal. But even with such vast experiences under his belt, in spite of it all, Lewk still found it easier to make work laid on the sofa, on a laptop. “I guess my experience of growing up in a village made me feel like I was on the outside looking into a world where all the things happened,” he explains, “and the internet was my window.”
The internet and Adobe have always been in a constant Lewk’s work, even when it takes a physical form. There was a pull in the free online utopias of blockchain tech and programmes such as SecondLife, web3, opensource apps, plugins and games, Blender, Audacity and so on. They act as portals into an alternative universe of-sorts for the artist, a window not too dissimilar from the one he looked out from as a child. Currently based in a different but equally sleepy village in Oxfordshire to the one he grew up in, he continues to spend a lot of time gazing out into the world; both the physical and digital one.
The result of these explorative ponderings amasses in the nebulous creations we can admire today in Lewk’s work. Shards of fiction and fact collide in boldly stylistic digital works, employing a visual language Lewk describes as “saccharin sweet, bitesize symbols tied together by spoken and unspoken narratives like molecules held together by electron transfers.” Referencing history in parts, but floating his chosen visual elements in a “sea of potential”, Lewk’s work picks apart socially relevant stories in a highly unique process.
So far, for example, he’s reworked the famous English nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence and Carlo Collodi’s classic tale Pinocchio. Carefully selecting these stories for their resonance with current events in, as Lewk puts it, “the sort of the western hemisphere of the internet I crawl around on,” these two such projects pull apart the ins and outs of stories we all thought we knew. “I try to visually dissect or atomise technological advances, the companies that made them, their future trajectories and ancient myths alongside contemporary children’s TV characters,” Lewk adds on the matter. He adds, jokingly, “no, I am not already working on Ring a Ring a Roses.”
Aesthetically, Lewk’s work possesses a sheen only found in the digital. It was this glossy perfection that first attracted him to the medium, a shiny newness which could fix mistakes without record, where colour saturation “could be squeezed until they popped.” For Lewk, this medium allowed layers of meaning to be effortlessly and endlessly rearranged in an accessible manner, and ultimately, it is this accessibility which has kept him interested all this time. “I like the idea that any digital native can stumble across my work while laid on their sofa, or at their desk, in a chat room or countryside village or in a 27th-floor apartment on the Vegas Strip,” he says. “For free!… in a Faustian kind of way.”
The ever-morphing potential of the internet makes it an exceedingly interesting place to make art in. Nowadays, Lewk sees it not just as a window but a way of thinking. He sees this is in crypto projects he finds inspiring – projects such as Energy Web Token and Ethereal 2.0 – as well as the artists he admires – Larry Achiampong, David Blandy, Tai Shani and Victoria Sin, just to name a few. Lastly, he also displays the wonders of internet art in his own work. In Strings, an examination of the aforementioned Pinocchio, Lewk creates a play for the Digital Artist Residency Instagram takeover. During the takeover, each day, an “act” of sorts was posted to coincide with the United Nations’ International Days and various characters bickered over the originality of thought.
The script was written during the revealed allegations of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the Brexit referendum, and in turn, Lewk permeated the work with articles on Russian interference found via BLM profiles. With this in mind, Strings references ideas of responsibility, freedom of thought, celebrity, influencers and adverts, all wrapped up in the nuanced layers of digital art. To top it all off, the work also hinted to automation as the visuals were partially automated through Python plugins.
Currently working on a couple of private projects involving blockchain programming and NFT’s (which will be available to view through Lewk’s Instagram once published), Lewk is also dabbling with a rework of Strings to be published on his website, not to mention a brand new project building an artists’ resource. In the next six months, he hopes the resource will take its shape, allowing digital natives, artists and young people alike to learn more about crypto, wallets, bounty hunting, tokens, utilities and blockchain functions. It will take the form of a simple yet entertaining animated story of a complicated underworld featuring ghost nets, phishing and shopping in dungeons with sustainable green energy. If that weren’t enough to look forward to, we can also expect peer-to-peer network technology and Basic Attention Tokens to enlighten us along the way too.
GalleryLewk Wilmhurst (Copyright © Lewk Wilmhurst, 2020)
Lewk Wilmhurst: Drain (Copyright © Lewk Wilmhurst, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.