Today I’d like to share a fantastic interview from Tulsa public radio. Stanley Lewis is a force of nature in the art world. You will never meet a man more excited about painting, committed to his work, or genuinely interested in the artistic growth of his students. Above all Stanley lives life with a childish sense of wonder and a firm presence in every moment—characteristics that make him a joy to be around and a legendary painter.
Stanley’s work is currently on display at The Hogue Gallery on the University of Tulsa’s campus, and he took time to discuss his painting practice with Rich Fisher. It’s 30 minutes well spent, and here are some highlights:
Stanley discussed how, in the past, great artists would work abstractly for a number of years, and then switch abruptly to representation (e.g. Jean Hélion), or vice versa (e.g. Philip Guston). Stanley says that his generation now is involved in doing both all the time:
“So you do abstract painting in the morning, and representation in the afternoon. All the time. You have to learn what is abstraction in order to understand what painting is”
“You can’t work out the big relationships, the formal relationships, and at the same time be worried about the particulars (of representation)”
Stanley says this is the first time he’s displayed both abstract and representational work at a show. Since 1995, he’s shown only his landscapes, and shelved his invented pictures in the barn. But thanks to Mark Lewis (a fantastic painter and teacher at Tulsa), who gave Stanley the opportunity of this show, Stanley decided to show his invented pictures as well:
“You know this is so horrible to say, but I felt that since Tulsa is so far away… that it would be ok to tell the truth out here.”
Since Stanley has always been doing these invented paintings, he describes this show as “coming out of the closet”.
Discussing the 3D nature of his landscape paintings caused by the gradual build-up of paint on the canvas:
“I’m a problem-oriented person. And I know that’s not maybe the best way to be, but I see problems everywhere. The problem with the impasto paintings is that they’re too difficult to do. I can’t do them right now because I wrecked my shoulders. It’s a matter of constantly repainting and having long stretches of time so you can work them out. And they’re sort of never finished. So they’re kind of an over-the-top amount (of work).”
On painting and why he works so hard:
“Painters suffer. They all do, and they’re all suffering by themselves, in the studio, but they’re not talking about it, because… who wants to hear it.”
“It isn’t right for me to say that i’ve suffered more than anybody else, but the amount of work involved in those… stretches the limit. I’ve worked myself up into this sort of competitive rage, or something… that i’m going to blow everybody away with these paintings. And the fact is that it did! People are sort of shocked by them, but I… can’t do it anymore.”
“What I don’t want, is for my picture to look like other people’s paintings”
“The great modern painters (de Kooning, Braque, Soutine) have produced TRULY outrageous paintings. And that is courage to me”
Discussing how to make pictures of ordinary things that are paintings, and not just illustrations:
“I am interested in trying to paint the ordinary in a way that… reveals how great the ordinary is! That’s one thing that’s good about painting.”
On painting versus photography:
“The big subject always lurking in every painters’ minds, is what’s the use of (painters) in a world that is dominated by visual media… it’s everywhere and everyone’s cooking up these pictures… and making great shots, man! I mean those little cameras are sensational. But painting is different. It’s a way to escape the office. If you want a life where you don’t have to dress up and don’t have to be neat, and don’t even have to be clean, and you can look at things… and that’s why you go into art… because you just don’t want to be under everybody’s thumb all the time. And it’s even more now… i mean the artist is really on the outs. Nobody cares about (them). but there are tons of people that want to paint, and it’s totally mysterious and fabulous why”
“What happens in painting, is that you stare at things for a long time… The body, the mind, and the part of the mind that is doing the work of seeing (is involved)… The process of being a painter is tremendously involved with feedback into your own mind”.
“Your mind is constantly talking to you… it’s this complex person in your brain… saying ‘that was good’ ‘that was bad’… it’s your mind reacting and adjusting… it’s feedback with your body.”
“in a certain way, you’re trying to find out what you’re seeing”
“There is a moment, there is a flash, when you look at your picture, and you look at the scene, and there’s a correspondence. And that’s the thrill. It’s the payoff for the day’s work. It’s very personal. It’s just a sweet feeling. Getting the colors right, and seeing it you say ‘oh my god I got it’.”
On the importance of painting:
“I’m very interested in how people are getting along, and the whole world situation… (But) painting is about something that’s not connected with that stuff (politics, what’s going on in the world). And it seems terribly important.”
Stanley’s one of the main reasons myself and many others want to be painters. His enthusiasm is infectious, and just listening to this interview makes me miss him.
You can view a good selection of Stanley’s work here: http://midwest-paint-group.org/MPG-Gallery.data/Components/Stanley%20Lewis/Stanley%20Lewis%20Index%20page/index.htm