Wyndham Lewis
By: Mark Kingwell | Categories: Art, HiLo Heroes, Literature

Vorticist hero WYNDHAM LEWIS (Percy Wyndham Lewis, 1882–1957) was born on his father’s yacht off the coast of Nova Scotia. Which means he is a Canadian writer and artist in just the way that Elizabeth Bishop, Saul Bellow, and Malcolm Lowrie are — that is, hardly, But we Canadians should be wary of claiming Lewis anyway. In addition to his well-known paintings and drawings — the striking battle scenes of Ypres and Vimy, the swirling fractured portraits, the herky-jerky covers of BLAST magazine, which he edited —Lewis was a consistent anti-Semite and early supporter of Hitler. (He later recanted, but did not recover.) He wrote as much as he daubed, and the best of his 40 books is The Apes of God (1930), a satire of literary London. Lewis spent the 1940s in Toronto (a “sanctimonious icebox”) and the United States, which he labelled a “moronic inferno,” a phrase that would later pass to Saul Bellow and, in turn, to Martin Amis. In 1943, the young Marshall McLuhan met Lewis in St. Louis — ha! — and was smitten. McLuhan published his most satisfactory book, The Mechanical Bride, in 1951, the same year Lewis went blind, then co-wrote a post-Vorticist homage, Counterblast, three years later. Lewis himself, meanwhile, ended his life in England, living just long enough to witness, if not view, a major retrospective of his artwork at the Tate Gallery in London, where he was once more in favour.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Kirk Hammett and Bruce Conner.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut Generation (1874–83).

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Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.