Toronto artist Tau Lewis’ studio is full of memorabilia and personal memories, countless fabric scraps the artist collects to compose his works and, of course, Little gal, a very personal sculpture that the artist made in his image.

Born in Toronto in 1993 to a family of Jamaican descent, Lewis is self-taught and the materials she works with are usually found or recycled, with Lewis spending hours searching thrift stores for materials.

For Lewis, who exhibits with the Night Gallery in Los Angeles and Cooper Cole in Toronto, this is an important step in his process: his works draw meaning from the stories latent in his materials. In many ways, the process connects his works to the history of the African diaspora and a legacy that made art all that was at hand.

A talismanic quality often pervades Lewis’s work, his sculptures seeming to become new realities. These other otherworldly works have garnered increased attention from institutions and collectors.

As Lewis prepared to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale this spring, she welcomed us into her studio, where she shared some of the memories and artwork that invigorates her creative process.

Wall of Ideation by Tau Lewis. Courtesy of the artist.

Can you send us a picture of your studio’s most essential item(s) and tell us why you can’t live without them?

My collection of treasures. which are usually placed throughout the studio, as they have helped me through difficult times by giving me stories and creative power. They are mainly found objects, personal objects, some come from friends.

[One is] a school photo of my brother, Sam. I’ve always had it hung in my studio over the years.

The little girl is my most precious possession. She is the first work of art that I consciously made in my image. She has many admirers and many gifts. She is well known for helping people find things if asked very nicely. It’s really unbelievable. It is the sweetest soul. The little girl normally passes through the studio and the house, but during a rigorous period of work, she must be present in the studio. She has overseen the creation of so many works of art, it is very important that she is present. After that, she will also go home and take a well-deserved break.

Sam's high school picture with a fortune that says,

Sam’s high school photo with a fortune that reads, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” Courtesy of Tau Lewis.

When it comes to planning your presentation in Venice, which studio task on your calendar this week are you most looking forward to?

Not be present in the studio. It’s the most important relationship of my life and part of maintaining that relationship is taking breaks here and there. This one is very, very well deserved, I think.

Answer 1. Courtesy of the artist.

“A satchel of granny’s hair beads, tortoiseshell, shells and dog thorns from Negril, pieces of a sandstone sculpture by Lonnie Holley, a small bear from the Bronx, sculptures in plaster, jewelry, tree bark from Spain,” says Lewis, are included in his collection of treasures. Courtesy of the artist.

What has been the biggest challenge so far as you prepare for the Venice Biennale?

Regulate and take care of my body. It was one of the most physically and emotionally demanding presentations I have ever created. I’m on a journey to deep restorative bodywork after finishing it. When I’m engulfed in my work, I’m totally drained, in a way. I only work as an operator, or a vessel through which information flows and construction is done if that makes sense. I am an intermediary. It’s a magical thing, but it’s easy to get lost and lose track of your body.

When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get out of it?

I continue to work. Keep my hands busy or write something. It all depends on what is “stuck”. Maybe demotivation? In this case, sometimes deep rest and strict separation are necessary for some time.

Tau Lewis' granddaughter.  Courtesy of the artist.

Tau Lewis’ granddaughter. Courtesy of the artist.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you despise the most?

I admire sincerity and honesty, works that I would even describe as typically piquant. These tend to have a bold, handcrafted authenticity. I don’t like pretentiousness and inaccessibility in a work of art. I would define them in my own terms.

What do you watch while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or computer, where you spend the most time.

Lately I’ve been looking at different funky fabric swatches – these are handmade in my studio from fabric and leather scraps – or on my ideation wall. This is where I develop exhibition plans and installations, technical drawings and test fabrics.

Courtesy of the artist.

Courtesy of the artist.

What is a film, a writing or another work of art that inspired you the most in the preparation of Venice?

This fur mask I made in 2016. It was part of another sculpture that I broke down and redistributed into several other works. I held the mask. Then it was kept in someone’s house for a few years and I recently got it back. It was my starting point for work in Venice and, metaphorically, it was in my back pocket for five years before this project. It was mailed to me by chance just as I was starting to give my presentation in Venice.

Where is your favorite place to eat, drink or take a break in Venice?

The opening of the Venice Biennale 2022 will be the first time I set foot in Italy. Once in Venice, I’ll tell you about it!

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