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.