Ahh, Tom Lewis. Just where do we start describing one of the most exciting contemporary fine art talents to emerge in recent years, Tom Lewis and his work. At the beginning would probably be a good idea; so with that in mind, here we go. The Tom Lewis whose rapidly rising to become a premium degree pencil wizard and mouse master of the first order (a tongue-in-cheek description he readily affords himself, we hasten to add), was born in 1979 in England’s second city, Birmingham. UPDATE: Lewis is currently holed up as an artist and illustrator at his East end of London-located studio/place of residence, just for the record. The next ‘who, where, when, how, which, what and why’ line of biographical enquiry question usually goes something along the lines of; “So, WHO is Tom Lewis, when he’s at this home/or away?” The answer in short, being; much-hyped new British artist, Tom Lewis is quickly building something of an illustrative reputation for himself courtesy of creating prints and canvases that are a colourful, playful and whimsical blend of traditional and digital painting. Although that sentence alone wouldn’t necessarily do him justice. Which explains why we need another paragraph (of four) below.
Lewis’ mixed media originals and giclee prints are a veritable explosion of texture and mesmerizing coloured light, juxtaposed with the most inventive of narratives we’ve seen or heard of in a long, long while. Narratives which allow us a brief snapshot/graphic synopsis into the life and times of the intriguing characters which populate Lewis’ compositional head and canvas space; and which weave their illustrative magic through each and every bewitching dream world/vortex we stumble – albeit willingly – into. Lewis’ hallmark visual works explore what he refers to as ‘beautiful, nonsensical meaning’, and which, from a pictorial perspective at least, fuse aspects of ancient mythology with traditional oriental design and contemporary street art, a la revered Bristolian provocateur, Banksy. Which is ALL good in our (picture) book. But anyway, we guess what you’re really wanting to know is HOW it all kicked-off for Lewis. Again, after the drop if you’d be so bold…..
Tom Lewis has (so the story goes) always been fascinated by painting; and at the grand old age of 8-years rocked up at his first art studio. It just so happened to be geographically situated in New Mexico (as opposed to West Bromwich) and belonged to a local abstract art practitioner, according to yore/research. And what he saw blew young master Lewis’ mind, in the event. Recalling the time and place for interviewing purposes with Zeitgeist magazine recently, Lewis spoke of; “I'm not sure at which point this trip took on the importance in my head that it did, but I definitely later started painting because of it”. Either way, the next thing we learn is that the aspiring artist one left school (minus any A-Levels of note) to study art at college, prior to attending a BA (Hons) Degree course in Fine Art at Middlesex University at a later date, and told the same publication that; “I just wanted to be a painter, I didn't really think about the world of contemporary art, which became apparent when I got to uni and nearly got thrown out every year I was there.” Which leads us to another little episode in Lewis’ formative years and more precisely the time that – whilst on a train at Uni – he experienced the light bulb-pinging moment which inspired him to do what he does today (more of which later, we promise). Despite the tale being too long to be told now, Lewis confirms that it led to the creation of a mythological 18th century French philosopher, the forging of a sword and the images that you see in his contemporary works here and now. Also it constantly evolves, and has the unfortunate ability to make him laugh out loud in public.
Managing to last the higher educational distance, Lewis graduated and 2010 is when we next pick up his story; which is marked as the year in which a selection of the still-budding art exponent’s work was chosen by a team of plucky young entrepreneurial contestants on the BBC television show ‘Junior Apprentice’. Which to the uninitiated is an early years version of the actual prime-time TV ‘Apprentice’, fronted by Lord Sugar. The exposure this gave Lewis served as a catalyst for what was to follow, not least because as Lewis himself maintains; “The battle has always been getting [my work] in front of enough people.” Buoyed by the unprecedented public reaction to his illustrative works from that point onwards, Lewis tells of a direct aftermath where his phone never stopped ringing with interested parties keen to touch base with the new talent. So, just WHAT is that thing that Lewis does, and where does it come from? Very good question. First of all Lewis’ influences come from all over the shop, including early obsessions with ninjas and manga which informed his work, as well as an admiration for films such as Miyazaki's ‘Spirited Away’. Meanwhile Lewis has spent time looking at 19th Century Japanese woodblock prints, hand painted wall paper from all different time periods, textured graffiti surfaces and neon signs, for compositional value added measure.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lewis cites admiration for the likes of Warhol and Takashi Murakami in relation to their work ethic and is elsewhere influenced by the work of Utagawa Hiroshige and Cy Twombly if we’re naming names. Lewis’s typical works can be described as an attempt to order that which he cannot, to create meaning where there is none and provide narrative to an otherwise story-less situation, as we hinted above. Using sketches as a jump-off point, Lewis then switches back and forth between the computer and real media, scanning, digitally painting, printing, drawing, painting, scanning etc, as part and parcel of a viciously creative circle; and so to build up layers. Lewis’ technique ingeniously blends classical draftsmanship with modern technology, utilising an almost infinite number of mediums, from pencil, biros, acrylic paint, airbrush, varnish, cardboard, aerosol cans, gold leaf and marker pen, to 3D rapid prototyping digital images and his own fingers. Though not necessarily in that order. Character ideas come from a mixture of random doodling and a fascination with really weird people, both of which we’re assured manifested during a part-time stint in an Arts and Crafts shop which helped to fund his painting habit. With paintings and prints exhibited globally, including Hong Kong, Singapore, The Hamptons, and New York, Lewis’ 2010 London solo show sold out in under 20 minutes.
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