Thursday, November 12, 2009

Works of Heart Auction

69 Kisses for Jake, mixed media on Arches paper by Louis St.lewis

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Louis St.Lewis/Sean Yseult at Canary Gallery, New Orleans

The Art of Burlesque meets the Burlesque of Fine Art

“ Pretty Babies” New Works by St.Lewis & Yseult at CANARY GALLERY

Pretty Babies
New Work by Louis St. Lewis and Sean Yseult

Reception: Saturday, November 7th, 2009 6p-9p
Exhibition: November 7th - December 1st

CANARY Gallery 329 Julia St

What happens when you cross the old-fashioned risqué glamour of turn of the century burlesque with the wild imagination of the most colorful artistic duo in the South? Well, you get an exhibition of seductive paintings and collages that radiate the sensuality and over ripeness of an Edwardian bordello.

Artists Louis St.Lewis (who’s works are in both the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art) and Sean Yseult (Musician, Parson’s alumni) have teamed up again for their 5th collaborative exhibition featuring eye popping images based on Yseult’s intimate photographs of New Orleans’ own 21st century burlesque review, Fleur de Tease.

Trixie Minx, Madame Mystere, Bella Blue, Rory Wrey and the other talented ladies of the troupe have, in the hands of St.Lewis and Yseult, been transformed into artworks that are both avant-garde and immediately recognizable, channeling the spirits of masterworks as varied as the dancers of Degas, the languid beauties of Red Light District photographer E.J. Bellocq and the erotic contortions of painters Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The show features a little bump-and-grind, a little feather and shoe leather, and a little T & A for connoisseurs of both fine and erotic arts.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

St.Lewis and Yseult -New Orleans Magazine

Louis St.Lewis- Sean Yseult at Fearrington-Smith Gallery

We all know artists, or at least people who think of themselves as artists.  But when you run across the real deal, they stand out from the competition like comets in the night sky, flamboyantly extravagant, extreme and unforgettable.  Such is the case with the artistic duo of St.Lewis and Yseult.  New Orleans residents will recognize the name of Sean Yseult as the multi-talented bassist for the arena rocking band White Zombie, who has made New Orleans her home now for several years and has as her residence a garden district manse as gothic as they come. No stranger to success, Ms. Yseult  has jammed on David Letterman and taken drugs with Dr. Leary.  Her home office is filled with golden records and awards, not only for her musical career, but for her stylish modern silk scarves which are sold in exclusive boutiques worldwide.   Her fellow classmate from the North Carolina School of the Arts, Louis St.Lewis took a different path in the arts but his history is just as interesting.   St.Lewis has discussed color theory with Paloma Picasso,  been photographed and praised by pop saint Andy Warhol, sketched in the nude by artist Robert Indiana, lavished with praise by artist Judy Chicago and  lives in the type of creative decadence and self imposed hedonism that would make Oscar Wilde prick up his ears.  Together and collaborating in the visual arts nearly 30 years after they first met, the pair are a formidable two-headed monster of artistic experimentation and wit.

The show, which balances almost equally the solo works of the two artist with their joint creations, is at once surprising and surprisingly logical.   Both artists posses a keen eye for design, in fact it is the eye in both that is more talented than the hand.  Both artists rely on machines as surrogate studio assistants, more interested the product than the path to getting there.  Yseult delights with her bold patterns and lush colors printed on silk, St.Lewis  it seems can run anything through a computer and create magic.  His large scale mono-prints created with transfered printer ink are modern day direct descendants of Warhol... Jake, Heath, and President Bush never looked so effortlessly modern.  When the Yseult-St.Lewis worlds colide, the effect is of another artist entirely, the sleek purity and craftsmanship of Yseult with the eccentricity and unbridled imagination of St.Lewis.  A match most definitely made in artistic heaven.      

Louis St.Lewis New Orleans Magazine


Art Lovers can probably agree that when pop artist Andy Warhol made positive comments about a fellow artist's work, that artist had finally "arrived".  It's like Hieronymous  Bosch  meets MTV."  Warhol said about Louis St.Lewis,  and artist who has finally physically arrived in New Orleans.  " Le Reve D'Orleans ( the Dream of Orleans) is a collaboration between Louis and musician Sean Yseult, member of the band Rock CIty Morgue and former white zombie bass player , in which they mix creative juices, resulting in photography, paintings and collage. " Le Reve" shows at Sylvia Schmidt Gallery.

Louis St.Lewis SKIRT MAGAZINE June 2009 party

If you loved the June cover of skirt! magazine, our Eve edition, with the amazing, complex, captivating blue-toned woman (so much to see in this piece of art!), you'll love skirt! after work next Tuesday night, June 23, at 518 West in downtown Raleigh.

That's because you'll meet that man, the one in the picture, the one and only Louis St. Lewis, a Triangle resident, who is the creative force behind this month's cover of skirt!

And, yes, in the photo, he's wearing a skirt, which makes us instantly fond of him.

In the past couple of weeks, I've had the good fortune of chatting with Louis by telephone and email. He sent me this wonderful picture to share. That's Vogue Editor-At-Large Andre Leon Talley sitting with him at a formal function. Mr. St. Lewis told me, "(Talley) is kind enough to have quoted that I was, 'The most stylish man in the South, St. Lewis is sable in a world of rabbit.'" I love it!

Mark Sloan, director of the Halsey Gallery at the College of Charleston describes Louis this way: "If people were electrical current, Louis St. Lewis would definitely be HIGH VOLTAGE." Louis finds that incredibly funny.

If you'd like to meet Louis in person, he'll be at our skirt! after work on June 23, 518 West, downtown Raleigh, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. We're so excited to be able to meet him and share his artwork with our skirt! readers.

We hope you'll join us! Who knows? Maybe Louis will wear his own skirt! to skirt! after work! It would not surprise me at all.

Louis St.Lewis SKIRT MAGAZINE June 2009

Louis St. Lewis was the perfect choice for The Eve Issue this month, as his celebrated mixed-media collages are frequently based on the intersection of mythology and religion. Andy Warhol commented that Louis’s work was “like Hieronymus Bosch meets MTV!” With over 30 national and international solo exhibitions to his credit, Louis’s creations are in the collections of such notables as HRH The Prince of Kuwait, Christian LaCroix, André Leon Talley and Oprah Winfrey. His artwork is also found in numerous museum collections, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Morris Museum and the Masur Museum. This fall, Louis teams up with Sean Yseult, artist and female bass player of White Zombie fame, for a collaborative show, “Pretty Babies,” at New Orleans’ Canary Gallery. For more information, visit or

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Louis St.Lewis feature, The Raleigh Extra

Louis St.Lewis : Making a Place of His Own

Spotlight the Arts- The Raleigh Extra
by Ivan R. Waldorf

Louis St.Lewis means to turn heads- and he succeeds.

There is more to art than pen to paper, brush to canvas, or bow to string. Art is as much entertainment as anything else, and it helps to bring that overlooked element to bear when seeking a wider audience for your work.

That, in a nutshell is part of the magic that is Louis St.Lewis, the expressive young artist who was commissioned this year to create the signature poster for Artsplosure.  And what a collection of emotions and images it is.  Much like it's creator.

" I learned early on that I needed to market myself effectively," St.Lewis says, " and I believe I have been successful in doing so."   Indeed.

He lives as most other artists and would-be artist can only dream of.  He is an artist, full time.  His works sell for thousands of dollars and are sought after,  And he is free to be whoever he discovers himself to be.  Not bad for something considered a hand-to-mouth business.

" I've tried to market myself in the manner of the late 19ths and early 20th centuries, when artists were valued as something important," he says.  "Art is entertainment, just like the movies, shows or any kind of show business.  People want to be entertained, so I use costumes, a limo, an entourage, because it livens things up when I arrive."

But what about all that stuff about artistic purity?  It's all in the eye of the beholder, apparently, because this artist, having been booted out of every college  and art school he attended- not for failure to perform, but failure to conform- has left his purer classmates in the dust.

"None of the people who graduated from the schools I went to are still in the arts." Louis says.

And as one looks at the Artsplosure poster, it's easy to see the influence of Louis' favoritesm like Warhol and Dali.   But there's a lot of Louis St.Lewis there too.

After all, how many people could stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower and see it - the Tower- as a jazz horn in the hands of Sir Walter Raleigh, surrounded by classic images of The Louvre, while understanding Paris as a town " just like Raleigh, except not quite."

After all, that's what art is all about-seeing  the ordinary in an extraordinary way.  That's what makes Louis St.Lewis the artist he is- something no classroom or workshop knows to teach.  It must be discovered within.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Louis St.Lewis - Charleston Post and Courier feature

Bones, brushes, find places in art
The Charleston Post and Currier
by Jeff Nichols

Believe it or not, it was sort of like Jerry Seinfeld meets heavy metal bad boys Marilyn Manson Fridaynight at the College of Charleston's Halsey Gallery.

An Estimated crowd of 400 - including an international art buyer from Ripley's Believe it or Not and The Lady Chablis from The Garden of Good and Evil stopped by the gallery for the concurrent opening of flamboyant artist Louis St.Lewis "Doppleganger" ( which means the ghostly double of a living person) and Caryl Burtner's  " Special Collection" which included among other trivial oddities, a wall full of discarded toothbrushes.

Downstairs , St.Lewis collection included a coffin with a wax replica of his own body and his "Ancestal Chandelier"  a chandelier composed entirely of human skulls and bones.

" Either he's got a great sense of humor, or you'd have to say he's pretty twisted", said College of Charleston theater arts professor David Goss.  " We all have our personal limits of what we will and won't accept, and mine are pretty broad,  I don't find anything offensive about it."

St.Lewis, dressed in a 19th century fox hunting outfit, makes no bones - pun intended- about turning human bones, blood and other byproducts into art.  Like Manson, the controversial act fond of ripping pages from the bible during concerts, the Chapel Hill, N.C.- based artist, said those who criticize the shock value of his art are hypocrites.

"I'm trying to rip down the hypocrisy of church and society," St.Lewis said.  The people who complain about my art are the same ones that support the death penalty, but they get all squeamish at seeing the results of their votes."

Though it's art with a message, St.Lewis is quick to point out that he doesn't take it too seriously. Neither should we, he said.
"All I'm trying to say is have fun with life while you can," he said. Listen to what he said about the skull chandelier . " It's a lot like Charleston.  Lots of good bones and some skeletons in the closet. And I never have to eat alone."

Dozens of Charlestonians in the past week including the Bishop of Charleston have called Halsey Gallery curator Mark Sloan  to say that St.Lewis' art is not funny at all.  It's sacrilege, they told him.

Over 100 other callers congratulated Sloan for bringing St.Lewis' brand of pop art to Charleston, Sloan said. " It's a great responsibility and a burden to be really the only outlet in the city for this type of unconventional art.  This is something we haven't ever seen around here before.  It's stretching the boundaries of what we think of when we think of art."

If it stretches those boundaries too far for stately old Charleston, no one here seemed willing to admit that Friday night.  "Absolutely not," said one man peering into St.Lewis's coffin. "Anybody with an open mind who appreciates art won't find this offensive at all."

What did the Ripley's guy think of all this?  He came specifically to check out St.Lewis' spooky chandelier.   "I't's classic Ripley's Believe It or Not" said Ripley's vice president Edward Meyer.  Why would someone do this?   I'm interested, and I think our patrons would be."

The exhibitions will be displayed until Feb. 25. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from, to 4 p.m.   Admission is free. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

BOOM Magazine feature: Louis St.Lewis

BOOM Magazine
Furniture, and Photographs and Paintings, Oh My..

Louis St.Lewis, North Carolina native, long-time Chapel Hill resident, art critic for Metro Magazine and notable artist in his own right ( Ben Williams, former director of the North Carolina Museum of Art has called Louis " One of the State's true geniuses") will have three simultaneous solo exhibitions in March and April.  This flurry of activity showcases St.Lewis' recent works that were produced after and " inspiring" trip to Barcelona, Spain last fall.  He credits this productivity to " walking the same paths, and seeing the same vista's as  Picasso, Miro and Dali."

Neither camera nor media-shy, St.Lewis has been creating controversy and garnering enthusiastic supporters for twenty years. " It's like Hieronymous Bosch meets MTV!" , quipped Andy Warhol in response to St.Lewis' early work.  St. Lewis has however, moved away from the type of art that would garner remarks such as this, no longer using human blood or human bones in his creations.

St.Lewis' current trademark is to incorporate imagery from other artist's work into his own compositions of mixed media.  In the painting, The Young Harlequin, the childs face has been "borrowed" from an oil portrait most likely painted during the 18th-19th centuries.  The nod to Picasso is also apparent.

What I particularly like about St.Lewis' work is that each painting or collage has a distinct personality ( or personalities)- there is an emotional component to viewing his pieces,  Whether it is wit, sarcasm, playfulness or glibness, the observer is actively involved.

The trio of current exhibitions begins at Tyndall Galleries.  The show, entitled The Palimpsest Project features large-scale canvases and will run through April.  On March 15, If you are looking for trouble you came to the right place  opens at the Craven Allen Gallery and features new large scale pop art prints and collages.  Through April, Louis St.Lewis: Experimental Studies will be on display at Crooks Corner.  I'm not certain what that means, but I hear the show has already sold out.

Gallery: Louis St.Lewis, by Adam Bible

Gallery:  Louis St.Lewis
by Adam Bible

Louis St.Lewis.  The name conjures up many a reaction in Triangle artists and art critics alike.  Talk to someone at The Independent and they might sheepishly look at their feet and hem and haw about the time Louis secretly wrote an art column under the guise of a middle-aged black woman, unbeknownst to the editors.  Others making waves in the Triangle art world might scoff and consider his art mere collages, or praise him for daring to stir up a sometimes stagnant scene.  No matter what reaction you get, he represents something sorely lacking in today's commodified art: Imagination.

Prying a few facts of background information from Louis is likely to unearth a few gems like: " Currently, I'm saying that I was born on the S.S. France,  150 nautical miles off the coast of England on May 23, 1968.  I was found in a wicker basket in the boiler room wearing a silver chain that had a simple locket that said 'Brandy' around the neck."  Or: I was abducted by aliens back in 1992 and ever since then have had the gift of second sight and that's enabled me to be an artist who's capable of reaching out to the masses as a modern day shaman."  How about:  While growing up in the belly of a DC-9 stranded in the middle of an  Arizona airplane graveyard, I scrounged rusty fetzer valves and broken altimeters to sell at the local flea market for just enough leather to make shoes.  My artistic acumen sprang from the ability to create charming folk figures from the discarded parts."

Point taken...on to the future.

The new millennium hopes to be more exciting for Lewis.  "Artists, I think, are going to be an endangered species in the 21st century.  I think I'm one of the last ones left behind.  I think the 21st century is going to be  lost more about making money.  I mean look at the artists around here now.  They don't produce artwork thats worth anything.  They just produce artwork that sells as bulk.  I think that especially in the state of North Carolina, if you try to do anything creative, most people try to put you down."

With the successful end of his recent shows in Paris and San Francisco ( both author Danielle Steele and designer Christian LaCroix are collectors) and a May exhibit in Mexico bookending his latest show at Gallery C in Raleigh, Louis isn't slowing down for  the new century, he's just looking for sweatshops to produce his art.  To find out what Louis and his art are all about, check out the opening of  ARTificial ARTofficial,  or as St.Lewis likes to call it The Secret of my Excess on Friday, January 7 from 7 to 9 p.m.  Of course there will be an open bar and the artist is personally inviting "every  freak in the Triangle " to show up and schmooze.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Review of Louis St.Lewis in Spectator Magazine

Pop Martyrs
Michelle Natale review of Louis St.Lewis
Spectator Magazine

Louis St.Lewis' "Pop Martyrs: Contemporary Culture and it's Consequences' opened Friday March 13th at Raleigh's Gallery C.  Featuring his trademark glass collages and large bright canvases, it also holds a few surprises.

St.Lewis says,  "The fact is, most people get screwed by contemporary culture and they become martyrs in one way or another."  This show carries out the theme, with references to Princess Di, Jon Benet Ramsey and the ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe.

The works conceptually dare propriety around these parts.  Simple linear floral still-lives, painted in human blood, a chandelier composed of human bones, crystals and rhinestones, Doppleganger, a coffin filled with a wax replica of the artist, and 13 Famous Blondes, which incorporates copious amounts of brown pubic hair.   And lets not forget St. Lewis' latest creation, his cologne, Clone, with top notes of lime and oak moss".

You'll be greeted by Doppleganger in the window, a wax effigy of the artist with spiky white wig placed in a coffin filled with  images of butterflies and metamorphosis, symbols of transformation.

Not gruesome in the least, the blood paintings, titled The Spencer Bouquets appear to be loose linear studies in what might be sepia ink.  If you didn't know they were painted in St.Lewis' own blood, you wouldn't be put off by them in the least.  St.Lewis explains his inspiration for the pieces  and the reason behind the unusual medium: " When Princess Diana was killed, I was just glued to the television from the moment the wreck occurred until they finally laid her poor body in the ground.   And during that week, when all the people were throwing bouquets against the palace gates in London, I was overwhelmed by the emotion people felt for this tragic heroine, even though most people never knew Princess Diana. I think lots of people felt closer to her than members of their own family and I felt that way too.   I wanted to really make a memorial to her, and i thought using my own blood was a way of making a creative sacrifice in the same way that she sacrificed herself."

Simply executed, perhaps even dashed off, The Spencer Bouquets have a Dufy-like calligraphic quality.  Here, the idea rather than the work compels.

In the center of the gallery hangs the Ancestral Chandelier, composed of human skulls, tibias and ulnas, draped with rhinestone jewelry and crystals,  frosted with gold leaf and dusted with ostrich plumes. Again, this may sound macabre, but St.Lewis forces us to contemplate these materials for their aesthetic beauty as well as their charged content.  The result is a fantastic hauntingly beautiful object that speaks to the darker side of our imagination.

The incorporation of human bones in his work is actually borrowed from art history.  He was inspired, he says, " By traveling in Europe and going through the charnel houses and seeing that during the plague years, so many dead people were piling up that they started making decorative use of the bones.  People think I'm being morbid, but what I am saying with this is, every time I walk into the room and see these skulls and these bones, that my time here on this planet is very temporary and I need to make hay while the sun shines.  So they're very modern day Vanitas or Memnto Mori."

When I ask St.Lewis if the imagery in his glass collages is " appropriated" he responds, " no they're not appropriated.  I stole them out of magazines and different places like that. When I'm looking through magazines, I often come across images that bear a very close resemblance to classical imagery.  This woman [he points to the glass collage The Epiphany of Mary Magdeline] has a very close look, I believe, to Venus Italica or the Canova Venus.  I love the idea of trashy modern media relating back to classical feelings. I say, they stole that pose, so I'm going to steal their image and I'm going to pile things from the past onto it and it comes out beautiful.  You can use the trash of our society and create something lovely with it if you give it half a chance."

The glass collages- mostly photographic portraits made on acetate layered over glass- incorporate layerings of images such as florals, butterflies, visual quotes from classical paintings, gold leaf and even dollar bills.  This medium seems most successful in conveying St.Lewis' conceptual ideas.

Here he works in pairs and trios, not as diptychs  or triptychs , but manipulating each image separately to achieve varying emotional shadings.  This  image repetition is a Warholian concept, but St.Lewis works each image carefully, by hand with a completely different intent.  These devotional collages are consistently St.Lewis' best crafted, most cogent, poetic easy to take works.  Their content might be scandalous if you examine closely, but more than likely, you'll just be lost in layers of lush materials, images and colors.  

All in all another stellar St.Lewis show, with a few new flavors thrown in- a little jolt Raleigh could use.  Hats off to Gallery C, a commercial venue, for taking the chance with some very challenging material.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

ARTPAPERS review of Louis St.Lewis

Louis St.Lewis :Fin de Siecle
Anne Heller

Louis St.Lewis' " Fin de Siecle" is an exhibition of three-dimensional plaster assemblages and xerographic collages that borrow heavily from classical Greek and Roman mythology.  The quote in the window display sums up his artistic vision, philosophy and purpose : " I have seen the future and don't want to go there.  Let me be the angel of history, Stay, Awaken the dead, make whole what has been smashed."

The principal images in this exhibit are either mythological characters such as Mars, Aphrodite, Leda, Cassandra and Cupid, or religious personages such as the Madonna and Saint George.  The subject matter is clearly derivative of classical and Renaissance art.

In the xerographic collages, the figures are printed in black onto clear acetate, sometimes elongated, sometimes widened, occasionally blurred to soften the image.  Colored images ( sometimes repeating, sometimes very faint and hardly recognizable) or a strategically placed splash of color are painstakingly arranged underneath the transparency.  These works, which one might dismiss as simple copies , are much more complex than those unfamiliar with the world of xerography might imagine.  It takes a certain skill to slowly drag an image across a machine to achieve the beautiful and haunting distortion St.Lewis seeks.  There is purpose to these collages, emotion and ideas are subtly conveyed using the products of modern technology.

In The Angel of History,  St.Lewis  xerographically widens and blurs an outline of an angel.  Underneath this acetate angel, one can faintly see gondolas floating down the waterways of Venice.  The subtlety of the scene beneath the angel - the calm, slow passage of the gondola- suggests the slow, subtle passage of time.

In Madonna of the Night Wing, the acetate image is a standard Renaissance Madonna and Child.  Underneath the Madonna's face and hair is a detail of the white, tan and gray feathers of an owl's wing.  The feathers intensify a feeling of tenderness and wisdom.

The Kiss is a beautiful piece in which the frame and mounting of the work adds to its validity.  The acetate collage itself is rather simple and small.  A close-up of Cupid kissing Psyche, with simple yet vibrant colors underneath, fills a small oval frame.  The frame is mounted in the center of a much larger rectangle covered in plush red suede.  The brash, large border contrasts strongly with the tender image within the oval  frame.

St.Lewis' three dimensional assemblages are masterful fusions of classical images, plaster casts of body parts and  various synthetic items.  The greenish-gold tint to the "skin" heightens the sense of timelessness and classical beauty, and the tensions created by the strong design reveals much about St.Lewis and his perceptions.

In I Should Have Listened to Cocteau, plaster hands and arms shield a plaster face, crowned with plastic flowers, from flames cut from styrofoam in the background.  The background is a slab of slate-gray styrofoam.   The piece is based on an incident in which a Russsian  ballet designer supposedly asked Cocteau  and Picasso at a party " If your house were on fire and you could only take one thing with you, what would you take?" Picasso answered " The nearest thing to the door", Cocteau answered  "The Fire".

Mars on the Tigres-Euphrates  is St.Lewis' commentary on U.S. involvement in the Middle East. The background, an American flag, is painted in muted tones.  In a narrow doorway cut from the center, the figure of a man from the waist up hovers.  Wooden straws poke through his cheeks and temple.  Teeth are bared, glue dripping from the dentures like the heavy thick saliva of a rabid dog.  The man, leaning over a young boy, looks like s subdued monster temporarily pressed into service as a guard; the boy lies on his back, kicking.  Graffitti chalked on the flag - including the words " Yankee go Home," a partial map of Babylon, and a seraphim-makes tangible the hatred inhabitants of the Middle East feel for this symbol of American imperialism.

The Art Critic  expresses the aggravation caused St.Lewis by his adversaries.   In this assemblage, a minotaur butts its horned head into a gold frame.  The plaster figure within the frame breaks into pieces, its body parts jumbled.  A finger catches a tear.  A dislocated arm covers the head.  A brown eye stares from a nipple.   The background of the painting is ablaze in orange and yellow.

While St.Lewis's materials and sources are familiar- found objects, xerography, assemblage, mythology- his work is unique because of the witty and macabre, yet beautiful ways in which these elements are combined. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Louis St.Lewis, The Charlotte Observer 1996

Mythology Infuses Works by Louis St.Lewis

by Tom Patterson, The Charlotte Observer

The latest of the frequent duo exhibitions at Center of the Earth Gallery is dominated by an artist new to the gallery and to Charlotte.
    Louis St.Lewis had one mixed media piece in a group show earlier this year, but otherwise this is his first Charlotte exhibit.
    The Chapel Hill artist works in different media, and his fundamental artistic strategy involves appropriating and refashioning scavenged images to create unabashedly  gaudy works, combining references to pop culture with evocations of religion and mythology.
    "Flamboyant" is the best word to describe his art.  He uses lurid colors, big flowers, grandiose titles, seductive fashion model images and anything else he can find to call  as much attention as possible to his brilliant and distinctive mixed-media pieces.
   The largest of St.Lewis' works is " Apollo and Daphne" which includes painted passages, but is in essence a large scale collage.
    In his rendition of the Greek myth, Daphne's  eyes are shut and she holds and Egyptian ankh symbol in her left hand as she leans to one side , looking stiff as a board- the artists way of suggesting her transformation into a tree.  Apollo grasps her with one hand and hold an arrow to her breast with the other.
    Most of the component images that make up this piece are transferred directly onto the canvas from photographic imagery that St. Lewis culls from popular magazines and other sources. Among these are the faces and  most other physical features of the two central figures, as well as a profusion of peripheral images, including feathers, leaves, flowers, birds, insects and - for some reason- a two dollar bill.   The painted passages in high-key shades of yellow, red blue and green serve mainly to fill in the background and the remaining spaces around this found imagery.
    Several smaller compositions feature this collage-painting mix.  Unlike " Apollo and Daphne" however, most of these pieces aren't related to familiar narratives.  As a result, they are more ambiguous.  They are in effect portraits of imaginary individuals the artist has concocted largely from photographic bits and pieces lifted from commercial sources.

Mixture is the message

   Each of these works centers on a single individual whose face and upper torso belong to a fashion model or some other young good looking celebrity.  After enlarging the image and transferring it to the canvas, St.lewis elaborates on it with paint and additional imagery he fuses with the figure or applies elsewhere.  The effect is to make each portrait as haughty, androgynous and/or sinister as possible.
    St.Lewis completed these mixed-media pieces by giving them titles evoking various historical and cultural associations.  The two most impressive are " The Nagasaki Annunciation" and  " The Levitation of Marie Antoinette".  In the latter work, part of the logo from a Harper's Bazaar magazine cover can be seen above the central disembodied head, topped by a festive flower bouquet and floating against a sky-blue backdrop.
    St.Lewis' main artistic strength is not his painting but rather his ability to organize images or objects appropriated from other sources.  In his best work, he combines such found materials into carefully ordered compositions with  a certain baroque elegance and highlighting juxtapositions that are unusual, incongruous, irreverent or sexually suggestive.
    His strongest pieces are the smaller unpainted collages, which incorporate cutout paper photo images, as well as photos that have been transferred to clear sheets of glass or plastic.  Some of these deal with the themes of sexual desire and sexual display, while others satirize religion and the culture of commodity.  Most of them contain references to St.Lewis' thematic touchstones, classical art and mythology.
   Among the most effective collages is " The vision of Pontius Pilot" in which the face of a Roman emperor sculpted in stone  serves as a backdrop for a configuration of juxtaposed images including an English landscape, a Japanese geisha girl, a sexually ambiguous bare bottom and pair of legs,  a MasterCard emblem and a crucified Christ wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Louis St.Lewis "V" Magazine interview by James Cubby

Louis St.Lewis
by James Cubby, V Magazine

Kicked out of every school that he attended, artist Louis St.Lewis relies on instinct and talent  sprinkled with marketing savvy to guide his career.  Since the age of five, St.Lewis knew he was an artist, but his first exhibit was  fifteen years later in the back of a Limo.  Now living in Chapel Hill, Louis St.Lewis recently opened an exhibition at the Victor Huggins Gallery in Richmond.
     Arriving for his interview at the Hardback Cafe ( a bookstore in Chapel Hill), Louis St. Lewis looks like he stepped out of a scene from Gone With The Wind or the fox hunt sequence from Mame.  With Andy Warhol and Mark Kostabi as role models, St.Lewis loves media attention.  : I have to immortalize myself.  I can't leave it up to the art establishment, " he quips.  St. Lewis creates colorful outlandish paintings that have found their way into the homes of such notables as  Prince Raed Al-Rifai of Kuwait, Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou.   " I don't see why everyone isn't an artist, " says Louis,  " The work is easy and the money is great."  When not painting, St. Lewis spends time working on his cable television show Bump in the Night  which deals with such timely  topics as funeral home fashions and  beauty tips for junkies.  The artist is also finishing a volume of poetry entitled Violets and Venom, to be published this fall.
    St. Lewis seems a mixture of old and new.   " I prefer to live in the past, it's so much more glamorous than the present," says Louis, but the present doesn't seem so bad with a solo exhibit at the Victor Huggins Gallery and with upcoming solo exhibitions at The Danville Museum of Fine Art and Charlottesville's Second Street Gallery.   St.Lewis compares art today to sound bytes and is  " impressed by people that really paint and are not just artists."
    St.Lewis seems at home in the South although he says he is making his way to New York "gallery by gallery".  " I see no reason  why talent has to exit the South," he says.  " It's a wonderful place to be.  This is the age of UPS and FAX." Carrying his love of the South to the extreme at one art exhibition, he hung spanish moss from the ceiling to create a feeling of home.
    Besides art, St.Lewis' other love is money.  A self professed capitalist ( monarchist is his first choice), the volunteers to be the royalty that America needs.  " Maybe I can be the Queen," he says.  The real fun of selling art is " cashing the check and counting my money," admits St. Lewis.  The artist feels that his art is" a great investment" but in another breath, defines art as " something that is useless and takes up space."

Louis St. Lewis will be at his Richmond opening at the Victor Huggins Gallery on April 2 from 7-9 p.m.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Orleans Gambit-Weekly review of Louis St.Lewis

Gambit-Weekly's Arts & Entertainment cover story

Martyrs and Vamps
by D.Eric Bookhardt

And now, for something different. Local art buffs may not know their names, but each is well known in his or her field or region,  Louis St. Lewis has over the years attained a high degree of notoriety  throughout the South, most notably either in Charleston where he was born to a clan of dry-docked yacht-owning gentry, or else in North Carolina's rural hill country, depending on which bio one chooses to believe.  Sean Yseult is also a North Carolinian and in recent years a Big Easy  resident.  Perhaps best known for her musical exploits as the bassist with the band White Zombie, she was co-founder of the local group Rock City Morgue.

Both went to art school together in North Carolina before embarking on their divergent paths, so this show, which features a number of collaborative works as well as individual pieces by each artist, it is a reunion of sorts.  Yseult's photography appears as backlit images in light boxes framed with red velvet, so there's a sense of theater or old-time cinema, appropriate to her subjects: voluptuous odalisques posed like Sarah Bernhardt on tiger skin rugs, or Ophelia-like maidens awash in seaweed.

St.Lewis excels in a series of smallish collages, a mix of pop and classical images cut up and sandwiched between sheets of pexiglas.   Touched up with paint and displayed in ornate frames they have, thanks to their plexi layers, more depth and glass than most collages.  He's been at it for years.  Andy Warhol once described him as "Hieronymous Bosch  meets MTV."  Maybe Max Ernst meets MTV might be a better description of his current work, which melds surrealist imagery with the pop pulsations of alternative rock.  In his collaborations with Yseult, the same holds true, only more so.

Their Old Money, ( who bought Christy Kane?) feature the head of a dapper dude like a youthful Arthur Rimbaud wearing a Civil War-era State of Louisiana $100 bank note with eye holes like a mask.  He has painted red lips like vintage Mick Jagger and a flashy babe on his mind- well actually on his forehead- for there reclines a sultry blonde in a sun dress, framed up in butterfly wings.  Under Groucho Marx eyebrows, snow leopard blue eyes beam like lasers from his Confederate money mask, and it all conveys an uncanny mixture of glamour, sex and antiquity appropriate to someone ( St.Lewis) who once said he wanted to be an artist because of the freedom it bestowed. " A freedom known only to rock stars and Baptist preachers," he opined.

Windmills of Desire is similar, a trendy female head with classical Egyptian ornamental embellishment that turns out to be little blue pills rather than lapis.  A fantastical flying machine is superimposed on her face, a mask of multiple mythologies.  Tears of the Magdelaine is kind of a pop art portrait of the "other" mary, a sultry babe with Christ on her mind, actually a Byzantine Jesus on her forehead.  There are also larger pieces by both artists, and it's all refreshingly unpretentsious, great fun and very very well done.  Hopefully they'll do it again sometimes soon.  These two stellar talents are just the wake up call the New Orleans art scene needs.

Louis St.Lewis , Dead People are Turned into Art, The Sun


Noreen Miller, THE SUN

No bones about it, North Carolina artist Louis St.Lewis has an unusual pastime- turning human bones into morbid works of art.

"Dead people are one of our most abundant natural resources and it is high time we stated taking advantage of them," remarks the 27 year old  who has been working with bones for more than a year and a half.

Louis works primarily  with human bones, but has been known to use animals on occasion.

"I'm quite surprised at the number of people who want to buy human bones art work" , admits the not-so-starving artist. 

Decorated skulls can go for as high as $6,000 while knuckle bone works can be hand carted away for the low price of $250.

" I don't believe in wasting anything." he notes.

Louis' work, "Postmortem Portrait of Andy Warhol", features a human skull covered with Coca-Cola bottle caps, semi-precious stones, and sterling silver.  It was recently included in his successful New York exhibit in  Soho's gallery district.

"There is really nothing new," says Louis. " Many cultures such as the Aztecs and the  Chinese, decorated the bones of their heroes'  The gilded bones of saints can be seen in churches throughout Europe today."

The artistic eccentric purchases his materials from surgical and biological supply houses.  Louis tells the SUN he once bought crates of bones from India.

"They have the best." he claims " They have the best maggots there."

Louis studied in California and New York before making his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  His next exhibition is scheduled for his home state at Raleigh.

" The way I see it , with AIDS and toxic waste everywhere, these are like the old plague years of Europe revisited.  It's only natural that the morbid themes they used would resurface now".

ARTPAPERS review of Louis St.Lewis

Louis St.Lewis - Sex in the Garden
by Linda L. Brown, ARTPAPERS

In the 26 pieces in " Sex in the Garden", Louis St. Lewis populates a pluralist universe with a swath of familiar ghosts from art history and myth.  His oddly historical focus juxtaposes many images, construing a catholic crew, among them glamourous stars and models, astronaut Sally Ride, Julius Caeser, Pontius Pilate, the original Madonna, Apollo and Daphne, Bacchus, figure from Ingres, pop-art women in underwear, Warhols ubiquitous Marilyn, and others in this highly designed mixed media composite, placing them in a wild panoply amidst scattered sunflowers, feathers and flowers.

Whether drawing from Judeo-Christian or pagan sources, St.Lewis concocts a witches brew.  Indeed , the cast of characters in this symbol-laden jambalaya is as diverse as a politically correct committee. And this fecund garden is as redolent with signs as a Bangkok street scape.

Appropriating imagery from high and low art to populate his Eden, St. Lewis incorporates found objects and common symbols in the manner of the early Cubists, juxtaposing human forms with scraps of musical notes, ribbons of Asian calligraphy, and the image of an Ankh.  While some of these collages strive too hard to be consciously avant-garde,  others gleam with an intelligent irony that is hard to resist.  In the Nagasaki Annunciation, slivers of Asian calligraphy intermingle with feather and musical notes as they fan out like a halo around a western gods' head.

St.Lewis' obsessively detailed frames, gold painted and leafed, often with elaborate mats provide a setting that matches the atmosphere of campy decadence in the work itself, pungent with a sweet over-ripe fragrance, recalling pictures hanging in an Edwardian boudoir.

There is something vaguely promiscuous about this polyglot assortment of pagen and priest, modern history and ancient mythology. Isn't something lost when everything has the same level of importance?  On television, commercials for cars and detergent are transmitted at the same decibel level as news about suicide bombings.  In this display the face of 1950's icon Marilyn Monroe is places alongside a reference to Nagasaki.  Although some images evoke sublime or horrific moments, others are mundane and trivial, His world of icons is a democratic world, All is fetish.

Marcel Duchamp casts a long shadow over St.Lewis, and a strong flavor of Dada and Surrealism spices this work, with aftertastes of Ernst and Magritte. In his best work, witty in-jokes and visual puns enrich St. Lewis' well groomed iconic icons, but the weaker pieces don't rise abover very clever graphic design.

The canvases in Sex in the Garden, lack the disciplined sparkle and obvious genius of the smaller  pieces and seemed forced or hasty.  The smaller work is composed of neatly layered images with an eye to precision and detail.  Intimately scared collages such as the sensuous Sun King, range in size from 12" to 24" and generally sandwich layers of glass and acetate film as vehicles for photo transfers, etchings, painting and applied collage.  Images of feather, flowers, and wings on these surfaces overlap and interact with the faces and figures in unpredictable tableaux, creating an intimacy that does not translate as well to the large scale paintings.

With  playfulness as an ever-present undercurrent, St. Lewis resists plumbing the easy depth of Gothic horror, preferring to skate on the surface of witty decadence.  While the work could be easily criticized as being too decorative, there is a knowledgeable manipulation of symbols and images from art and literature which markedly increases the viewing pleasure.  In the cultivated manner of a tasteful dandy, St. Lewis pushes style to the extreme, teasing  rather than assaulting the viewers senses.

N&O Review of Louis St.Lewis

Critic's Pick
Michelle Natale on the best art

Lee Hansley Gallery in Raleigh  rings in the new year with a solo show of  works by pop-baroque artist Louis St.Lewis, an eponymous exhibition subtitled, "Bad boy of the Southern Art Scene".  After recent sold out shows in Mougin, France, San Francisco and New Orleans and a hiatus of several years from showing locally, our very own enfant terrible promises a mini-retrospective that includes the cross dressed  "Persephone" which set off a media frenzy at 19993's Artsplosure and 2002's Jessica Lynch portrayed as the center of a sunflower.

The featured attraction is St.Lewis's collaboration with Sean Yseult ( aka Raleigh native Shauna Reynolds) bassist of the group White Zombie, " 12 Inches of fame."  Collage portraits based on the rock 'n' roll scene, created with Yseults photographs and St.Lewis' great eye for graphic design, combined in a a tondo format- vinyl records ( remember those?) reprising their summer showing at New York's famous CBGB nightclub.

Expect St.Lewis' classic plexiglass portraits, which layer faces with gold leaf, drawn marks and collage elements wittily referencing art history.  A series of three-dimensional assemblages, part Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois " personages" and Marisol, with a healthy dose of African nkisi references ( spiked nail heads haloing the images) and voodoo symbols thrown in, will fill another room.

St. Lewis' most recent works are striking computer-generated images printed on canvas, altering 19th century portraits with the addition of wreaths of roses, heart shaped locks and subtly surreal motifs. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thomas W. Jones essay on Louis St.Lewis

Louis St.Lewis is a compelling young artist from Chapel Hill, North Carolina who, over the course of the past few years has gained considerable exposure and recognition for a wide range of creative endeavors including painting, sculpture and collage.  In a departure from his earlier reliefs and assemblage works which relied on actual dimensional objects for their symbolic report, his new series of  transfer paintings on canvas and glass employ photocopied images to similar effect.

St.Lewis is one of a number of artists working today with a fascination for the past.  His works generally play off classic Greek and Roman mythological themes which he subverts and updates to address a range of contemporary issues.  His style is an eclectic mix of expressionism and pop, figuration and abstraction, narrative and decoration - combining fragments of diverse source materials - which, when removed from their original context and placed within his work, take on new often symbolic meaning.

The principle characters in these works are such mythological figures as : Mars, Venus, Athena, Icarus and Daedalus, Cupid and Psyche or biblical personages such as Madonna and Gabriel.  Other works pay homage to art historical interpretations of mythological themes by old master painters like David, Ingres and Bouguereau.   One only need read titles to realize their allegorical import:  " The Three Graces",  " The Rebirth of Venus",  "The Annunciation", " Madonna of the Rolex", and " The Judgement of Paris".

St. Lewis recognizes that to understand the present, you must know the past.  His works are a pointed reminder that myths are the story of our quest through the ages for meaning and truth; and that mythology can provide clues to the problems and issues we face as a society today.  Although mythology has not been believed for centuries, its moral, intellectual and ethical underpinning make up our human system of beliefs. The problem is that people have forgotten how to use myths.  According to the philosopher, Joseph Campbell, " it used to be that  these stories were in the minds of people. When it's in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life".  For St.Lewis, mythology is the guidepost in his own search for answers; and while each work makes clear reference  to the source from which they are drawn, the stories are rescripted to satisfy his own fantasies and interests.  These range from social commentary ( one constant these is the contradictory values at work within contemporary society) - to often comic self- referential musings on immortality, (fame) metamorphosis and rebirth.

St.Lewis' approach to painting is broad quick and bold.  Figures are loosely fleshed out, followed by the multiple layering of images and paint.  His technique often involves printing objects and media imagery onto clear acetate which he transfers to his surfaces by applying  " gel-medium" - an acrylic  polymer with broad  art applications.  The resulting image is the equivalent of a black line drawing with all the clarity of representation one would expect from a photo-mechanical process.  Transfer printing is a fast direct way of working that mimics the slick graphic look of screen painting without all the time consuming steps.  " Artists don't have time to learn to draw" the artist recently explained " There are too many parties to go to, who has time to paint?  I assure you if Leonardo Da Vinci were alive he would use a computer.  And didn't Warhol show us over 50 years ago that all you need is a machine?  Paint ruins my manicure".

Characteristically, the paintings in this exhibit are comprised of either a central figure, portrait head, or group of figures, frontally posed against abstract backgrounds.  The faces of the figures are transfer images as are most of the objects of adornment. Recurrent motifs of flowers feathers and butterflies crown the heads or float freely in space alongside images appropriated from art history books or arcane literary sources.  Vivid colors, applied with a deliberate expressionistic bravado, liven the images and serve to underscore the artists carefree attitude towards the activity of painting.

St.Lewis is a storyteller who's narrative is expressed symbolically.   Many of his symbols are reiterated over the span of a number of works with others specific to individual paintings.   His vocabulary of symbols  have both private and universal meaning.  The butterfly is the traditional symbol of transformation; as is the lilly a symbol of purity.   For the artist, feathers signify pure thought, inspiration or mental activity; while water represents events that individuals have no control over.  Fragments of foreign alphabets, anatomical drawings, 16th century lunar calendars and the like are symbolic of " knowledge lost" or " lessons from the past that are not learned".  Even the figures can be seen as a metamorphic symbolization of the artist himself.  It's surely no coincidence that the artists own features appear as a constant in more than a few of these works.

As  St.Lewis has been inspired by ancient history, so has he come under the aegis of various art historical doctrines and movements. The 19th century symbolist painters have been particularly  important in his development of his approach to color and form and how these elements function as a language to elicit meaning.  His love of the Baroque has inspired not only his excessiveness, but also his penchant for decoration and allegory.  From the surrealists he salvages the idea that  myth and fantasy are devices to unlock fundamental truths.  The influence of Pop art has also been strong on St. Lewis' development.  His interest in appropriated  images, commercial art techniques  and preference for high keyed colors- raspberry red, lemon yellow, aqua blue- are more than reminiscent of Andy Warhol's expressionistic portrait style of the 1970's.  St. Lewis also shares much in common with his post-modern contemporaries.  In particular those artists for whom myths and allegory are the means to bring together the ancient and modern.

Other influences stem, not from the history of art, but from the world of glamour and popular culture - and like Warhol, St.Lewis is as much at home with a copy of Vanity Fair as he is with art history books.

For St.Lewis, mythology is the perfect idiom to explore a range of issues while at the same time, having a little fun with process and tradition.  Sometimes irreverent, often witty, always quixotic, his art speaks directly to our  contemporary sensibility.  His unique vision is balanced between the past and the present, a posturing that Andy Warhol described upon seeing St.Lewis' work as " It's like Hieronymous Bosch Meets MTV".   If we are slightly unaware of the message, that's alright because these works have as much to do with mystery, ambiguity and innuendo, as they do with the ability to instruct,  challenge and reunite us with our mythological past. 

Thomas W. Jones
Executive Director
Museum of the Southwest