Wednesday, January 5, 2011
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.