Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Louis St.Lewis, by framing contemporary personages within his distinctive artistic point of view has produced a cult of the personality, not the least of which is his own.

Lawrence J.Wheeler, Director
North Carolina Museum of Art

Daphne & The Folly of the Duc Du Bois

In the world of art today, originality is an endangered species. Most artists simply copy prevailing styles, and the result is a feeling of deja vu in the majority of galleries you visit. That is not the case with the art of Louis St.Lewis, who is currently showing at Jernigan-Wicker Fine Art. While definitely one of Andy Warhol's feral offspring, St.Lewis possesses a true originality that slaps you directly across the face with its freshness, brashness and honesty. Not one to play it safe, the artist goes way out on a limb, and lures you out to those fragile branches with his enchanting creations and biting wit.

The San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Amazing Technicolor Visions of Louis St.Lewis & Sean Yseult

Sometime when we weren't looking, North Carolinians became a prominent if unexpected presence in this city's art and culture circles. Celebrating this Creole-Tar Heel connection at Farrington-Smith are the works of hard-rocking New Orleans resident and North Carolina native Sean Yseult and fellow North Carolina School of the Arts (before he was thrown out) veteran Louis St. Lewis. A former bassist with White Zombie and The Cramps, Yseult proffers her own brand of retro-psyche-neo-pop silkscreen prints while St. Lewis goes ballistic in a series of visual screeds against the likes of a certain U.S. president and a few others. Among their more intriguing works are some collaborative collage portraits of musicians, many of them local, suggesting that soul mates need not live in the same state to share a similar state of mind. --ÊD . Eric Bookhardt

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ARTPAPERS Review of Louis St.Lewis

TPAPERS 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.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Louis St.Lewis in Raleigh Downtowner

Louis St.Lewis' first solo show in Raleigh back in 1986 was al altogether singular production " a one-day sale out of the back of a Rent-a-Wreck limousine", as he recounts.

He saw two customers at a time and got everyone drunk: "we served mimosas without the orange juice, played jazz and made everyone feel privileged, like they were part of an inner circle. It was very seductive". And apparently it was very effective as well, as his customers chose images out of a catalogue that he would create for them.

Six months later he had his first, more conventional, solo show at Gallery C, though if memory serves, he did arrive in a white stretch limo. I think few who ventured into his early exhibitions have managed to forget the decorated human bones emerging from overhead chandeliers, bones at once macabre and beautiful.

St.Lewis' willingness to employ unconventional venues applies to more than rented limousines. As a featured artist for a New Orleans art fair last October, Art for Art's Sake, he placed images of burlesque dancers above bras and panties in a lingerie shop. "If someone came in to buy lingerie for his mistress, " St.Lewis explained, "They might look up and buy the painting as well." His more familiar mirrored images of birds and flowers were showcased in an interior design store. " I made good money in both places," he remarks with obvious satisfaction. In September, he revealed a series of collages, transfers and paintings at a Chapel Hill boutique, Toots & Magoo, which were some of the most striking, enticing and serious of his work I've seen of late. The artist describes them as taking an entirely new direction, " approachable and elegant." " A true artist," St.Lewis insists, "must express himself in a million different ways."

I confess that I am tempted to assert that everything that can be said about the ever changing art of Louis St.Lewis and the mercurial persona who goes by that name has been said over and over and call it a day. But then I would have to deal with his latest show in Chapel Hill, with my own experience of constant surprise at new turns in his work, and with the artist himself, who recently spent several hours leaning against a wall in my studio, revealing himself as a spokesman for all that is odd and peculiar in the world of art.

During the interview St.Lewis regaled stories from his younger years. For example, when he was 18 he "stole" his mothers Jaguar and took off to California with a friend. After visiting Disneyland, he moved in with his friend's mother, who " gave guided LSD trips." As everyone who has ever interviewed St.Lewis knows, there are contradictions in almost everything he says about himself. His schooling? " I was the one who was always drawing in my books instead of reading them. I was the one who cut up textbooks when I shouldn't have been doing that."

On the other hand he speaks fondly of having read the volumes of a 1935 encyclopedia from cover to cover. "It had all the basics- it was full of mythological references, natural history, biographical references"- precisely the delightful potpourii we often find in his assemblages. And in the sixth grade, he notes, this infamous slasher of textbooks was sent off to a summer program at Western Carolina University which hosted a program for gifted and talented students and continued to spend summers there through his senior year. ( Louis' I.Q was tested over 140- genius level)

Art School? He lists six that he claims he was " kicked out of". But once he started to paint, transfer, assemble, and sculpt in earnest, giving new symbolic meaning to images- meaninhgs they could otherwise never be expected to reveal-he has never lacked places to hang his beret.

St.Lewis feels that a significant show requires a significant setting. In October, he expects to open a show at The Mahler on fayetteville Street, and as he described the kind of show he would like to mount, quickly listing possibility after possibility, I could only pity the gallery. " I'm going to completely take over the space and transform it. I want to do something that suggests Old Europe." The art world, particularly the local scene, needs more theater, he insists. " You look at any of our great artists, and they were as much known for their theatrics as for their art. I would as soon make a fool of myself than not make the effort."

And, if pressed how would he describe his own work? " Inquisitive, Playful.Witty.Kinky Referential, though I would add, certainly not reverential." I like what Tom W. Jones, director of the Museum of the Southwest, said about him. " I realized that St.Lewis is one of those individuals whose meaning doesn't stop at the edge of the canvas, Instead, it infuses all aspects of his life, from the way he talks to the way he dresses to the way he decorates his environment where he lives and works. One one level, he's a performance artist for whom the performance never ends, and his individual paintings, collages and assemblages are props and pieces of the constantly evolving stage set that his studio and the world-at-large comprise for him".

[ Max Halperen is a familiar figure in the local art scene and has reviewed art for local regional and national journals. A professor emeritus, he taught contemporary art history and literature at NCSU.]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

St.Lewis Rocks Chapel Hill Once Again

Artist Louis St. Lewis has painted with his own blood, sculpted with human bones and been kicked out of six art schools.

His newest collection — free of blood — is featured at Franklin Street gallery Toots & Magoo this month.

Lewis, who has lived in Chapel Hill since 1984, has gained an international reputation and keeps impressive company, photographed by pop artist Andy Warhol and praised by former Vogue Editor-at-Large André Leon Talley, who called Louis " The most stylish man in the South!.

St. Lewis’ exhibits have been featured across the country as well as internationally, and, beginning Sept. 10, have returned to his longtime home of Chapel Hill.

Friday night was the opening reception for St. Lewis’ show, “Rock and Royalty.”

“Rock and roll and royalty are all very decadent, so when you combine them together, you have the ultimate in decadence,” St. Lewis, 44, said.

Dressed head-to-toe in a textured and shimmering Versace suit, St. Lewis was just as lavish as the exhibit itself. The show features pieces ranging from intimate paintings on mirrored surfaces to large-scale collages reminiscent of 18th- and 19th- century art.

St. Lewis is optimistic in the face of difficult economic times. The downturn has provided him with an opportunity to re-brand himself and rethink the creative process, he said.

“When you are pushed into a corner you either give up or you come out fighting,” he said. “I’ve come out fighting.”

This positive attitude prompted him to approach Cheryle Jernigan-Wicker — the “Toots” of Toots & Magoo — about displaying his work in her gallery.

Jernigan-Wicker was president of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association from 2001-2003, where she and St. Lewis often collaborated. When St. Lewis asked her about mounting a show, she willingly obliged.

Junior Burcu Bozkurt, an employee at Toots & Magoo, said that St. Lewis was wonderful to work with.

“He was so grateful for my help,” Bozkurt said. “Though it was his reception, he kept refilling my drink for me and asking me to model for him.”

Since both artists and owners of small boutiques have suffered from the economy, the opening is seen as an opportunity to improve business, Jernigan-Wicker said.

St. Lewis and the store’s owners say they are becoming realistic about lowering their prices.

“If you put your reasonable, someone will buy ” St. Lewis said. “I’m a font of creativity so I’d be crazy not to budge on my prices. I can just make something new tomorrow. I really don't worry if I make $1,000 a day or $5,000 a day, I can still survive."

St. Lewis made all of the design choices for the exhibit, doing everything from collecting wild plant life to strategically placing candelabras and horns above his works as well as lining several paintings with vintage mink and ocelot pelts.

The show will promote the culture of Chapel Hill, St. Lewis said.

“We have more Ph.D.’s per square mile than anywhere else in the country,” he said. “We need to lift the bar.”

The show mixes the contemporary and the old.

“It has an evocative mood of the passing of time and history,” St. Lewis said.

Though he may modestly describe himself as “fallen aristocracy” from North Carolina, St. Lewis’ talent indicates something much different.

“I’ve had a truly fabulous life.” He said as he left the gallery to enter his waiting Rolls Royce.

Contact the Arts Editor at

The Anson Record - Wadesboro native St Lewis artwork in museum for sixth time

A portrait of museum namesake William Hayes Ackland by Wadesboro native Louis St. Lewis was commissioned by the The University of North Carolina’s Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill. It is his sixth commissioned work.
An artwork by noted artist and Wadesboro native Louis St. Lewis has been recently acquired for the permanent collection of The University of North Carolina’s Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill.

The work, a portrait of museum namesake William Hayes Ackland was commissioned by the museum as part of the Enduring Likeness / Counterlives / Warhol Big Shots exhibition. This acquisition marks the sixth permanent museum collection for the artworks of St. Lewis, and his first in his home state of North Carolina.

St. Lewis, a 1979 graduate of Bowman Sr. High School, is represented in many notable collections, including The New Orleans Museum of Art and The Ogden Museum of Art (a Smithsonian affiliate and the largest museum in the world dedicated to the collection and promotion of Southern art and artists). In addition, notable collectors include HRH The Prince of Kuwait, couturier Christian LaCroix, author Danielle Steele, Lawrence Wheeler, director of the N.C. Museum of Art, and VOGUE editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley, who has referred to St. Lewis as “the most stylish man in the South.”

“Growing up in Anson County was a great inspiration for me,” St. Lewis states. “Every landscape has its own spirit, its own atmosphere, its own sense of place or 'terroir' as the French would say, and I will always think of Anson’s as being very special. The way the light hits the pines, the brilliant green of unripe persimmons or the subtle shades of sunset on our gentle hills, all these things made an impact on how I view the world and interact with color. I feel quite fortunate to have experienced the childhood there that I did.”

Since departing Wadesboro and attending the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, the artist has exhibited nationally and internationally with showcases at both the Toronto and San Francisco International Art Fairs, as well as numerous solo exhibitions in Paris and New Orleans, where he now divides his time. Voted “Best Artist in the Triangle” 10 times, St. Lewis is often called upon as a juror and critic, and is head Juror of Raleigh’s ARTSPLOSURE Art & Jazz Festival twice as well as The Visual Art Exchange and a juror for the Emerging Artists Grants of the Durham Arts Council.

Internationally recognized artist Judy Chicago awarded Lewis first place in the 51st annual DAG juried art competition, where she stated that “the artwork of Louis St. Lewis sets a very high standard for creativity in North Carolina,” and that his current body of work was “The strongest sculptures I have seen in a decade.” Perhaps noted art scholar Mark Sloan of the Halsey Gallery at the College of Charleston said it best: “If talent were electrical current, Louis St. Lewis would be HIGH VOLTAGE”.

St. Lewis is the son of the late Frank and Ruth Lewis. His sister is Lynn Lee of Wadesboro. Locally, the artist is represented by Broadhurst Gallery in Pinehurst and Allison Sprock Fine Art in Charlotte.