Si Lewen: The Parade showcases 63 drawings made by Polish-born artist Si Lewen (1918–2016) for a wordless book that was first published in 1957. This body of work draws inspiration in part from his long-standing interest in cinema, his childhood in Europe, and his experience as an American soldier in World War II. With stark lines and graphic clarity, Lewen explores the power of the visual form to articulate a nuanced understanding of how the cycle of violence is universal across time and place.
Early in his life, Lewen admired the work of Belgian graphic artist Frans Masereel (1889–1972) who created wordless pictorial narratives, which Lewen understood as akin to movie making, a particular interest of his. Frame-by-frame, the drawings of The Parade unfold cinematically. Stylistically, his use of simplified shapes and gestural mark-making heighten the feelings and ideas he wants to convey. Starting with exciting children watching a parade of soldiers mobilizing for war, the drawings progress through the grim reality of conflict and ultimately end where they began: a parade with victory banners and cheering people. With deft draftsmanship, Lewen created a body of work that warns about the cyclical nature of war and atrocity, a message as potent today as it was in the 1950s at the time of the book’s publication.
About Si Lewen:
Lewen was born in Lublin, Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1935. During World War II, he served in the United States Army as a part of a German-speaking Special Operations team known as the “Ritchie Boys.” While serving, Lewen witnessed the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after its liberation. His drawings and paintings are held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others.
This exhibition, the first to bring together the complete set of works from The Parade, is organized by Kelly Montana, Assistant Curator at the Menil Drawing Institute.