I first saw Jeff Lewis's work for an online print project called 20 x 200, intended to make art affordable and the concept of collecting approachable. With Jeff's explosive use of color and dynamic circles (a personal favorite) I instantly knew I had to contact him and find out more about his work. I first met Jeff in his Bushwick studio about a year ago. We talked with ease about our love for painting and yoga....and also commiserated about the nature of the art world. Now, a year later, he generously allowed me to return to his studio to see his latest work and answer some of my questions. In his own words....
How long have you been painting? When did you know that you wanted to be an artist and pursue art?
I started painting when I was 15 and basically haven't stopped. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee which has a good underground music scene but not a lot of art. I always liked looking at art books of various abstract artists (Pollock, De Kooning, Kline) and got a hold of some monographs (Miro, Tapies, Dali) of European artists.
I was initially drawn to your work because of the pattern and circular geometry. What is the significance of the concentric circle to you?
I can't say what the significance is except that it it is a wonderfully therapeutic shape for me to paint. It feels good.
Your paintings have a mandala quality- is your work meant to be meditative for the viewer, or is it more meditative for you in practice?
Both. If the painting is successful. Some paintings have it, some don't. Sometimes a painting has it and I ruin it by fucking with it too much and overworking it. And sometimes, I am able to pull a painting back from being a mess by just making one special move on it. I love Mandala, Yantra, Textiles, and Pattern.
Painting is a practice just as yoga is a practice. And in addition it must become integrated into your daily life in order to advance.
I know you’ve spent a fair amount of time in India- do you find that India specifically or travel to other places has made a lasting impact on your paintings?
India is a state of mind and I can sometimes bring it into my work. I love India. I like Islamic pattern and my travels in Islamic countries has definitely influenced me.
Can you generally describe your artistic progression over the years? How did you get to where you are now?
I count my blessings. I have been very lucky in finding benefactors, patrons, and collectors and not having to hold a real job. I have never stopped. You can't slow down and get discouraged, because I would have quit a long time ago if I listened to peoples' criticism. It seems some people get very far with little talent and others have great talent and suffer. It's the nature of the world.
Who or what is your work influenced by? Do you have particular favorite artists?
I like so many. But lets say I love Jackson Pollock, the Abstract Expressionists, and the New York School- Andy Warhol, Stella, minimal artists, monochrome painters, and De Kooning. Generally, I like painters and artists who make things with their hands, but I can also appreciate Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Donald Baechler is a sensational artist and has been a friend of mine through the years. The list goes on and on.
What is your favorite piece of all time that you’ve created and why?
They are all my favorite. Some speak to me more than others and different times, and generally because I have several bodies of work. Some people prefer, let's say, my oval paintings to my grid drawings, or they really don't like my older oval paintings, but love the new ones. Different strokes for different folks, but I love them all.
Right now, I have a group of large drawings in pop-up gallery in a store front curated by Jennifer Garcia of We-Are-Familia. It is located at 539 Atlantic Avenue (in Brooklyn) and is up for the month of June. It is quite spontaneous, and I must say that I am really just going with the flow. The response so far has been great.
Also, I will be included in a a group show called Swell, curated by Jacqueline Miro that is spread out over three galleries in Chelsea- Nyehaus, Frederic Petzel, and Metro Pictures. The final decision on the works being shown hasn't been made, but I think I will be showing some very large paintings and some drawings!
Wish Me Luck! Peace.