Jason Clay Lewis Interview

By The Royal List | December 15, 2019
Honey Pot, 2019, Oil, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 14 1/4

Honey Pot, 2019, Oil, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 14 1/4" x 11 1/4"

Let’s start by hearing more about you and your background. Where did you first discover your creativity and where did it lead you?

I was born in Enid, Oklahoma surrounded by fast cars and open sky. Growing up around drag racing and other high adrenaline pursuits were the family's first mode of entertainment. This fueled my interest in anything that went fast and pushed the limits.

With an intense passion for drawing and wanting to see the world, recognition at Oklahoma State University led to a scholarship and apprenticeship with Master Printer Bill Goldston at Universal Limited Art Editions in New York. 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 along side artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Rosenquist, Carroll Dunham, Jane Hammond, Elizabeth Murray, Kiki Smith, and Terry Winters. This led to becoming 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. This gave me the extraordinary opportunity of meeting individuals such as Leo Castelli (art dealer), Michael Crighton (writer), John Cage (composer), and Merce Cunningham (choreographer). Through these interactions, I gained an immense appreciation of the ethics, inner workings, and incredible dedication it takes to succeed in the art world. Continuing my education at The Cooper Union, I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Since then, I have been an artist and am currently the Director of The Royal @ The Royal Society of American Art in Brooklyn, New York where my responsibilities include curating and promotion of all gallery exhibitions as well as the day to day running of the RSOAA studios. My years of experience as an artist and an art professional working in and around the New York art world has allowed me to both show and curate extensively in New York and internationally.

How did you discover drawing?

I was always drawing when I was young. I would spend hours and hours working on more and more drawings. I remember praise from other kids my age and that helped give me confidence. Thus, at an early age I felt that my drawings set me apart and that what I could do was something really special.

What were the subjects of your first drawings?

Hot rods were my favorite. Shooting flames, smoking tires, exhaust pipes, wings, and anything else that made the race car 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. Thus, even though I was learning the technical skills it was rather uninteresting.

Hot Rod

Hot Rod Wrecker, Crayola on paper, 8 1/2" x 11"

How did being surrounded by drag racing inspire some of your early works?

As as artist, I was always trying to capture the gesture with motion or speed. Sometimes that involves working large or on a scale that is monumental. I'm now thinking about kinetic motion and about wanting the paint to explode across the canvas.

What were some challenges you faced when you first moved to New York City?

The biggest thing for me was a transition from a laid back/conservative background to the openness of the big city. So many great things happened the first few years that I moved to New York that I really got swept up into the art world. I think when you are younger you just soak up everything. Going to openings constantly and being surrounded by artists is an incredible way to open up your horizons.

Do you ever experience writer's block (or painter's block in your case)?

It happens constantly. I try to stay on a schedule and keep working. That being said, I will end up working on things for months that never go anywhere and eventually I have a new idea and completely change course.

What do you do to break through a period of feeling blocked?

This happened this last year where I was working on very large work because I wanted to push myself. Eventually I started have a nagging feeling of wanting something more expressive and now I am working on a new series of relief paintings.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

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. Because of this, being in the art world, going to shows and seeing new art forces you to constantly evaluate your own work.

Are there other artists, musicians, books, etc that have inspired your work?

I love artists that are prolific 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 boats models, and even life size air plane wings to create complex narratives. The overwhelming size also gives the work an awe inspiring dimension. Brice Marden is another artist that I admire through his use of color and drawing with branches. Using a branch as a tool he is able to use the metaphor of nature to carry throughout his work. Regardless of 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 a 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.

Hold on Tight

Hold On Tight, 2019, Oil, acrylic on canvas, 8'H x 7'W

What are you currently working on?

The series before what I am currently working on 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 a 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 deKooning painting where the paint was coming off the surface like a wave. deKooning would often work on his paintings for over 2 years and that is why he was able to create such a complex paint quality.

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 was sold and everyone was kicked out. For about a year before this, I had been talking with a friend about getting a bigger space with a gallery in the front. Thus, in 2013 we created The Royal Society of American Art in a huge 2400sqft warehouse. Our current space is broken into 8 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 listings that we have studios available. The platform is super robust, so it has been a great process. When I first started designing the site I was trying to make the design way too busy, but it was easy to simplify using the different modules. 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.

The Royal @ RSOAA: www.rsoaa.com

The Royal List Profile: Jason Clay Lewis