I recently interviewed artist Lacey Lewis. Mrs. Lewis is a traditional oil painter. Her realistic work is full of visual detail and emotion. Her exploration of classical techniques are well documented in her body of work and growth as an artist.
The work I've observed seems to convey a sense of loss or sadness. These emotions are heightened by her mastery of the academic tradition. Her paintings, as a whole, are strengthened by her seriousness as an artist.
Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?
A. "It was 9th grade; I was 14 years old. Since I was a child I enjoyed drawing and painting as well as creating sculptures and sewing, but I never considered my work to be anything special. Instead, I aspired to become an architect. During the 9th grade, however, I began to learn to ‘see,’ and was able to create realistic drawings of people. I became obsessed, and arranged my schedule so that I had several study halls lined up to sandwich my art class and lunch period. This allowed me to spend four consecutive hours per day in the art room, and art became a main focus in my life."
Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?
A. "At first, I was inspired by impressionist and abstract artists, especially women such as Mary Cassat and Georgia O’Keefe. As I matured my interests came to focus on the Old Masters and I studied the works and writings of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc. The artists who inspire me most today are living realists such as Stephen Assael, Virgil Elliott, Alyssa Monks and William Whitaker."
Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?
A. "My recent series, "Repression and Revelation," is all about past experiences of mine, and my struggles with dealing with them today. I’ll not get into the specifics of the events, but like thousands of other people I have had a less than perfect life thus far, especially where women’s issues are concerned, and that is often mirrored in my work. Individuals react to my paintings differently, and I have been touched by the sincere responses I receive from people who relate to my art and see their own experiences narrated. It surprises me that my work can have such an effect on others."
Q. How long have you been a working artist?
A. "I have been ‘working’ as an artist for approximately two years. Prior to focusing solely on my art, I was a furniture refinisher in Syracuse, NY (my hometown)."
Q. On average, how long does it take you create one piece?
A. "My oil paintings generally take two to three weeks of diligent work to complete. This includes actual painting time only and excludes all preparatory work. Often I will ponder a particular vision for a painting for weeks or months before I actually begin painting, usually because the ideas come more quickly than I am able to paint them."
Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?
A. "My studio practices actually vary greatly. I do enjoy listening to music while I work, but I listen to everything from Bizet to Amorphis. I also do the ‘painter’s dance,’ stepping back from the canvas, turning to check it in a mirror, making adjustments to the painting, walking back through several rooms and returning to check in the mirror again. When a painting is winding down and marks are becoming few and more carefully considered, I tend to enjoy a bowl of cereal while assessing the piece."
Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?
A. "I wouldn’t dare to put my collectors into a box, nor, for that matter, would I to those who aren’t fond of my work."
Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?
A. "Creating the series Repression and Revelation, was a way for me to express undivulged emotions and to envision the future. Like someone who is sick might visualize themselves healthy and whole in order to help the healing process, I painted my internal struggle, narrated stage by stage through to resolution, as a way to simulate experiencing the process. Images formed in my mind that reflected what I was feeling or that illustrated something not realized in reality but that I envisaged. I was relieved to get these images out of my head and onto canvas, after more than a year of living with them. In a way, the process of harboring these images, pondering them, executing the creation of the images and now exhibiting them to the public mimicked the psychological progression that I narrated. I have received increasingly positive feedback from artists and non-artists alike, as everyone has a part of themselves or a secret that they keep hidden, sometimes even from themselves, and can therefore personally relate to the paintings."
Q. What is your artistic process?
A. "After I have a fairly good idea of what I wish to accomplish with a piece, I arrange time with a model for life studies and/or a photo session. Most of the time, I am already sure of the composition, so it’s simply a matter of aligning the model and lighting with the image in my head. From here I might move directly to the canvas, or (especially if I am modifying proportions) I sometimes create a detailed preliminary drawing and color study. Once I have moved to the canvas, I draw with thinned oil paint an approximation of the composition and distribution of values. On top of this I layer color with full bodied paint, avoiding the ‘filling in’ technique and conserving my brush marks, i.e. I try to only place marks, hues, and values that are correct and meaningful. Therefore, I generally do more analyzing than actual painting as I work from large forms to final details."
Q.Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?
A. "There are many reasons that I paint primarily in oils. I enjoy the feeling that I am continuing a tradition, and feel connected to the history, present, and future of art by employing a medium that has been in use for centuries, is utilized by many great living artists, and will no doubt continue to be an important medium in the years to come. There are many techniques for which oil paints are optimal, especially where capturing the luminosity of human skin is concerned, and I enjoy the comparatively long open time of oil to that of acrylics."
Q. If you have a degree, how influential was the school where you studied?
A. "I do have a two year art degree, and in fact graduated summa sum laude. Originally, I planned to continue on to an art school, but because I felt I had really learned so little about the craft of painting in college, I decided to take the time to learn to paint before returning to academia. As I studied painting and learned more about the craft, I also paid closer attention to what was happening in the art schools that I was considering, and realized that they weren’t generally teaching the skills or concepts that I was after either. Therefore, I consider myself to be largely self-taught, though I had one or two mentors along the way."
Q. Where can we see more of your art?
A. "Online, you can view my work at http://www.lacey-lewis.com/ . Currently, I have an exhibit in the lobby of the H&R Block World Headquarters in downtown Kansas City, MO, am in a group show at Pi Art Gallery which is also in Kansas City, MO, and have a painting on display at the Kansas Statehouse. Check my website’s News section for additional upcoming events."
Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "I just finished a solo show in November at Pi Art Gallery (http://www.piartgallery.com/index.htm) and am excited about an exhibition at the Strecker-Nelson Gallery in Manhattan, KS (http://www.strecker-nelsongallery.com/) in August-September 2007. I have other smaller exhibits nearly every month; check my website for details."
Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?
A. "I see that realism, thankfully, is making a comeback. For a long time I felt that I would have no place in the art world because I have always been absorbed by rather traditionally rendered art, though I am attracted to both classic and contemporary subjects. Via the internet and online artist’s forums (such as Online Artist’s Guild - http://www.forumsalon.com/), I have been able to network with other artists with similar interests and have found a camaraderie with them that I often don’t experience locally."
Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?
A. "I have been asked not to hang some of my figurative works before. Surprisingly, these were not nudes, but simply figures that were draped and showed portions of the female back. Also, I have been asked not to bring my painting "Judith With the Head of Holofernes" to certain exhibitions because of the religious and violent aspects of the story. When these issues have arisen, I’ve simply let it pass and complied with the requests. I feel that I have the right to paint any subject that I want in any manner that I choose; that doesn’t mean that I have the right to hang it wherever I please."
Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?
A. "I wouldn’t say that I have ever hit rock-bottom as an artist, career-wise or creatively. Attempting to make a living as an artist is demanding, and the lack of a steady income is, at best, irritating. But for me the most difficult time was when I was learning how to paint and my abilities were hugely lacking in comparison to my vision. It was frustrating, and at times depressing. While I still always desire more than my accomplishments satisfy and regularly critique and challenge myself, I can now bring my visualizations accurately to the canvas, and am more able to do so each day. It has been an uphill battle for me."
Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?
A. "It is a compulsive need, and I feel that I would not be whole if I stopped creating."
Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?
A. "I live in Kansas City, which has a really rather avant garde art scene. The Crossroads Arts District is filled with galleries that show contemporary, non-objective paintings, sculptures, and performance acts. I look forward to the contemporary realism trend that I see flourishing on the coasts emerging here in the heartland. One of the things that I really appreciate about the area is that the city is rampant with sculptures and fountains, and corporations commonly support local artists by exhibiting and collecting their work."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Lacey Lewis. Feel free to critique or discuss her work.
Take care, Stay true,