Jason Clay Lewis is an artist and the Director of The Royal @ The Royal Society of American Art in Brooklyn, New York.
Jason originally arrived to New York City on an apprenticeship at Universal Limited Art Editions. This experience allowed him to work alongside Jasper Johns as his personal studio assistant. His years of experience as an artist and art professional, working in and around the New York art scene has allowed him to both show and curate extensively in New York and internationally.
When did you first discover your creativity?
I was born in Enid, Oklahoma surrounded by fast cars and open sky. My family’s first mode of entertainment were high adrenaline pursuits, like drag racing. This really fueled my interest in anything that went fast and pushed the limits. Growing up, I had an intense passion for drawing and seeing the world. I was always drawing when I was young. I would spend hours and hours making more and more. I remember the praise I got from other kids. That really gave me confidence to continue.
What were the subjects of some of your first drawings?
Hot rods were my favorite. Shooting flames, smoking tires, exhaust pipes, wings, and anything else that made it look like it would go fast.
Still life or life in motion?
It was always life in motion. It was only later in middle school that I began taking painting and drawing classes with a private teacher. I could never do the painting or drawing as well as the teacher, so it was frustrating, and I would not work on those pieces outside of class. Even though I was learning the technical skills, it was rather uninteresting to me.
How did being surrounded by drag racing inspire your work?
As an artist, I’m always trying to capture the gesture of motion and speed. Sometimes that involves working large or on a scale that is monumental. Lately, I’ve been thinking about kinetic motion and how to make the paint explode across the canvas.
What brought you to New York City?
I went to Oklahoma State University for art and this eventually led to a scholarship and apprenticeship with Master Printer, Bill Goldston at Universal Limited Art Editions in New York.
What opportunities did this create for you?
On my very first day in New York, I met Jasper Johns who had come to work on a new print edition. While at U.L.A.E., I worked alongside artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Rosenquist, Carroll Dunham, Jane Hammond, Elizabeth Murray, Kiki Smith, and Terry Winters. I eventually became Jasper Johns’ personal studio assistant where I was immersed in the everyday activities of the studio as well as handling the daily life of the artist. Through these interactions, I gained an immense appreciation of the ethics, inner workings, and incredible dedication it takes to succeed in the art world. I continued my education at The Cooper Union and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
What were some challenges you faced when you first moved to New York City?
The biggest thing for me was the transition from a laid back, conservative background to the vast openness of the big city. So many great things happened in those first few years. I really got swept up into the art world. I think when you are younger you just soak up everything. Going to as many openings as possible and being surrounded by artists was an incredible way to open up my horizons.
What inspires you?
There is a constant energy that permeates New York. In this competitive environment, we are surrounded by others pushing their own creativity to the limits. Being in the art world, going to shows and seeing new work has forced me to constantly evaluate my own work.
What artists have inspired your work?
I love prolific artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Brice Marden and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Anselm Kiefer is an artist that is making incredible work right now. It is hard to put into words the visceral complexity of one of his paintings. The paint comes off the surface of the canvas several inches and then he uses other objects such as books, tree limbs, wheat, military boat models, and even life size airplane wings to create complex narratives. The overwhelming size of his work also gives an awe-inspiring dimension.
Brice Marden is another artist that I admire through his use of drawing with branches. Using a branch as a tool he is able to use the metaphor of nature that is carried throughout his work. No matter what he is working on there is always the idea of nature in the imagery.
An artist such as Jean-Michel Basquiat is said to have made 1500 drawings and 600 paintings in a span of only 10 years. The childlike drawings have a unique and raw violence to the mark making.
What can you tell us about your creative process?
I keep a regular schedule in the studio. I believe that you have to make work to get to your next idea. I keep a sketchbook and write down every new idea that comes to me. I feel you should always make your best idea and keep pushing forward.
What are you currently working on?
The series I was working on before my current series was all about depth in the imagery, but the surface was completely flat. I am now working on a series of relief abstract paintings that use kinetic motion to highlight the brushstroke and texture of the surface. Basically, it’s all about pushing paint around instead of design. There is a huge difference between a flat image and seeing something in person that resonates. A few years ago I saw a Willem de Kooning painting where the paint was coming off the surface like a wave. He would often work on his paintings for over two years and that is why he was able to create such a complex paint quality.
Jason Clay Lewis, Honey Pot, 2019, Oil, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 14 1/4" x 11 1/4"
Can you tell us more about The Royal List and how it got started?
In a typical New York story, the building where my last studio resided was sold and everyone was kicked out. Before this, I had been talking with a friend for about a year about getting a bigger space with a gallery in the front. So, in 2013 we created The Royal Society of American Art in a huge 2400 sq ft warehouse. Our current space is broken into eight spaces with The Royal gallery in the front.
What has the process of getting The Royal List online been like? How has the Logic platform helped?
We are all about building community, so we wanted to create a site that would help us when curating shows in the gallery as well as a space to post listings when we have studios available. The Logic platform is super robust, so it has been a great process. When I first started, I feel I was making the design way too busy, but it was easy to simplify using the different modules available. Being able to clone new sections and experiment with new ideas was a big help when building the site.
Finally, where can we see your work, The Royal List, and any other projects you’d like to promote?
We are currently using The Royal List for our Open Call at the The Royal @ RSOAA. I am co-curating the show that opens on January 10th, so we are in the process of looking at all of the applications and choosing the artists that will be in the exhibition. Our theme is the color spectrum and I am extremely excited because I think it is going to be a beautiful show. My work can be seen at jasonclaylewis.com or you can connect with me on instagram @jasonclaylewis.
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