Exploring the work of Tau Lewis

Posted by Stephan Petar, October 06, 2016

Heavy, ambitious, imagined, thoughtful and political are just five words Jamaican-Canadian artist Tau Lewis uses to describe her work. The self-taught sculptor and mixed media artist is currently displaying in The Drake Hotel’s front vestibule as part of Prismatic, on now until November 22, 2016. Titled Gentrifying Species, the installation uses four species of cacti to portray our rapidly gentrifying landscape.

The Toronto-based artist is known for her use of materials and for questioning the political boundaries of nature, identity and authenticity. Additionally, her work explores black beauty, identity politics, African diaspora and feminism. She also draws inspiration from an amazing list of local, national and international artists including: Chloe Wise, Talwst, Marvin Luvualu Antonio, Deana Lawson and John Ahearn.

I sat down with Tau to chat about her life, art and the things that inspire and motivate her to create.

Tau and Work

Was there a moment that made you want to become an artist?

Most people who are artists know they are from a young age. It’s a strength you have and I think you’re bad at some things and strong at creative things like art or writing. That was me. I went to school for journalism, but dropped out. I was spending time around emerging artists who played a big part in convincing me to let go and pursue art.

We all suffer from creative blocks, what do you do to overcome them?

I keep working. If I can’t work on one thing I work on something else. My practise and existence is incredibly action based. I don’t feel comfortable standing still and don’t feel a block is actually a block. It’s an opportunity to grow.

What was the best advice you’ve ever received?

I feel I’ve gotten the same advice in many different forms. My really good friend Cody always says, “I need to let go and let God.” I kept hearing that when I was getting ready to quit my day job and pursue art full time. I’ve gotten the same advice from other artists I’ve been in contact with about letting go, trusting yourself and trusting it will work out.


For The Drake’s Prismatic showcase you feature a number of cacti. How did this specific piece come to life?

Mia reached out because she liked my previous piece Poorly Potted Plants. People are attracted to the plants because they have a commercial look depending on where they are displayed. I’ve shown them outside in the winter in minus 40 degree weather while it was snowing and that is when I thought they were most beautiful. The piece completely changes in different spaces like The Drake.

The series began with the idea of gentrification, beautification, modification of surroundings, modification of plant life and our obsession for improving things to the point we are dissociated from them. The plants are about disassociation. They are far from real and people are attracted to them because they are far from being real. I use plant imagery to talk about things like diaspora and African diaspora. I use cacti as a representation of that because they are tropical plants that have become domesticated and can now live anywhere.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that to prepare each cactus you put them through an “embalming process.” Can you elaborate?

For some of the cacti, I create a mould and make a ghost plant, which is what you see - a reincarnation of a plant actually living. I take off the spines first and then make a mould out of rubber very carefully as nothing likes to be cloaked in rubber. I cast the plant and then have a tendency of putting the spines back on.

You say you want to challenge the perception between natural and artificial objects, can you expand on that?

A lot of my work deals with the politics of authenticity and what creates authenticity. I play with those boundaries because I find them interesting. A lot of our world is artificial and we make it that way. There is so much disconnect and where that physical disconnect happens is the interest for me. If I create a fake cactus made of plastic and put real needles on it, what is the percentage of real and what percentage is going to trick your brain into making it real. A lot of my work is based on the creation of authenticity.

Tau Lewis

From sculptures to mixed media, including GIFs and stop motion, is there an art form you prefer and is there one you want to experiment with in the future?

First, foremost and forever, I am a sculptor. I am attracted to three dimensional work and have a hard time connecting to anything two dimensional. I’m handy, so building is necessary for me to feel as though I am doing the right thing. I’m working on a series of sculptures that are slowly taking me away from the use of resins and more towards the use of found objects, live plants and scavenged pieces of fur. I’ve gotten really good at resin sculpting and now I’m bored of it and want to learn something else. I am obsessed with making things look perfect, smooth, colourful and pretty and I am no longer making things that are pretty, but sculptures that are truly mixed media.

Are there any questions you hope audiences will have when seeing your work?

People have a lot of questions about my work because I create things that beg to be touched. I never want to make things that come off as pretty. I want people to ask questions about my work. That is the most satisfying part about showing it.

Is there anything else you think audiences should know about your work?

I am Jamaican-Canadian artist. Having POC artists taking up space in Toronto is really important. Our art community is very white and male and as a black female it’s always going to be a bit more difficult for me to show. I like people to know that about me when they are looking at my work.

Posted in: Art

Tags: Art  Drake Art  Prismatic  The Drake Hotel