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.

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