by Jennifer Hoesing
Jeffrey Scott Lewis is a Fort Myers, Florida based painter. We asked him a few questions for our first Culture Builds Florida Art Talk.
Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Do your remember your first artwork?
Lewis: Actually I do. My drawing skills were noticed before I was in school. The first time my talent was acknowledged in a public way was in the first grade when my teacher, Mrs. Baxter, appointed me to use the entire blackboard and her colored chalks to draw Santa Claus. Of course, even then, I took it to the next level by drawing a big red sleigh drawn by eight reindeer, the first one with a red nose. I was very excited by the colored chalks. They were obviously special.
I still have my first painting. It is a watercolor and pastel of a chihuahua, our family dog. The first time I was paid for my efforts I was 15 years old and the local pharmacist hired me to hand letter some signs for his store. That led to me doing a pen and ink drawing of his store. Throughout high school, I sold my pen and ink drawings, and many of them still grace the walls of the homes they were commissioned for.
DCA: How do you describe your current artwork?
Lewis: My art, regardless of the medium, is always very process-oriented. Meaning, the act of making it, the idea behind it, is usually more important that what the final piece actually is. To me the idea is important; not so much what it looks like, but the idea behind it. I love making art, and I really love the process of making art. Nothing excites me more than having an idea and then fully exploring the concept through trying various ways to realize the idea.
As far as what my work looks like, it is usually very colorful, and my use of color is always very calculated in terms of the emotional impact. I try to use texture as much as possible.
I also use found objects and recycled materials whenever I find inspiration. I find beauty in the simplest objects. Right now, I’m working on a piece made of the red wax casings from miniature cheese rounds. I have used gum wrappers, plastic caps, scrap metal, and videotape among other materials to make sculpture, collages and mixed media pieces.
DCA: What are you currently working on?
Lewis: I just got a Kickstarter project approved to fund the production of an exhibit of my new work, photography. I am very excited about this new work. It resulted from an effort to make images for photo transfers, and that’s something I’ve become very interested in this year. The images turned out so far beyond what I anticipated that I decided they should be shown as photography, abstract photography. These images actually moved me to tears as I reviewed them for the first time. That’s one thing I love about photography, you don’t see the image as you make it. You only see it after it is uploaded to the computer.
The images are about self-acceptance and the shedding of layers of false identity and the resulting sense of freedom. Even though they are photography, they still have a lot of the qualities of my paintings. I plan to produce them on aluminum in limited editions. The first show is scheduled at the Arts for ACT Gallery in downtown Fort Myers, the site of my first solo show, in April 2012.
DCA: What artistic achievement are you most proud of?
Lewis: When I was selected to be one of 39 artists in the RedBull Art of Can exhibit in 2007 at River East Art Center in Chicago. It was my first show out of the state of Florida. Even though an 8’ tower made of crushed RedBull cans is not necessarily my most important work, seeing my name and work being selected for the marketing of the show was very exciting. I had dreamed of seeing my name and work on a museum banner. Actually seeing it on the 60-foot banner that rose from the first floor to the roof of the six-story building took my breath away. It got even better as I saw 8-foot versions of that banner all over downtown Chicago! I felt like a famous artist.
DCA: Besides art, what are you most passionate about?
Lewis: I’ve said before that the most important thing I’ll ever do is raising my three children. I would say I am very passionate about that. I’ve been a single dad for over ten years now. The time I have spent as a stay at home dad is what allowed me to fully develop my own body of work and exhibition record as well as finish my Master of Fine Arts degree.
My kids are all adopted, and promoting the adoption of children waiting in the foster care system is another passion of mine. No child should grow up without a permanent family when there are couples yearning for a child. Adopting through the State of Florida is one of the best things I’ve ever done. My Recycling Children series is my effort in that direction. Sometimes art can change the world. If only one child was adopted from foster care because a family was inspired by the message in my work, then I have changed the world. That would make me a success.
DCA: What do you believe is the most valuable thing artists contribute to making Florida a great place to live, work and play?
Lewis: The idea is the most important thing in art to me, and that is what makes having a strong and vital art community important to the State of Florida as a great place to live, work and play. The process of making art often yields unexpected results from the simple exploration of an idea. That is important to any community. The benefits of those unexpected results can have a positive affect on the business community, tourism, education and increasing the quality of life for our citizens and our visitors. It is so much more important than decoration, which is how most people tend to think of art.
DCA: Why is Florida arts and culture important to you?
Lewis: Arts and culture are important because it tells the world who we are. I believe Floridians should support that. What would South Beach be today if the visionary designers of the original Art Deco buildings had been considered extravagant, impractical or unnecessary? Between the design and the wonderful mix of cultures from around the world, South Beach is like nowhere else on earth. That same formula works everywhere. Every Florida town has a story and a history that can make it special. Finding that special story, supporting it, preserving it and encouraging it is what supporting arts and culture is all about. It brings out the best in all of us.