Bill Lewis is one of those Medway artists and writers who seem to have been around forever, whose name crops up frequently at least in local artistic circles, and yet whose work has so far been largely and unjustly neglected.
This new exhibition of his paintings, prints and photographs at The Deaf Cat is his first solo show for two decades. And it’s about time.
His paintings light up the interior of the café with their vibrant colours and intense imagery. Bill brings into play themes of love and conflict, life and shadow, in a dance of mythic vitality. A man shares a drink with Coyote the trickster. A woman guerrilla poses with a gun. People confront life, love, and the world of dreams and stories.
There are strong influences at work here, especially from the school of magical realism so linked to Latin America, which in some sense can perhaps be thought of as Lewis’ spiritual home. But the paintings are also redolent of Matisse and Chagall. And, dare I say it; there is even a trace of Surrealism somewhere in the background.
This is interesting, because while Bill Lewis has been closely associated with the Stuckists – he was, in fact, a founding member of the original Stuckist group – his interests have always seemed much broader and his influences much deeper.
There is a very strong element of self-exploration, a journey that Lewis has taken on and recorded with honesty and more than a little courage. In a recent magazine profile he was quoted as saying, “A lot of my paintings are like a magic mirror that I hold up and see something of myself in them that I didn’t know about before”.
The trick with a magic mirror is to encourage others to see themselves in it as well. Bill’s work achieves this feat and so eludes the limitations of art-as-therapy. Look into his paintings and see something of yourself, too.
This exhibition probably won’t make any waves in the mainstream local media, let alone win a national profile. Yet without doubt this is, and will remain, one of the most important artistic events to take place in Medway for a long time. Don’t miss it.
Bill Lewis’ exhibition at The Deaf Cat café, in Rochester High Street, continues until 18 September 2011 at the Deaf Cat Cafe, Rochester.
Image (c) Bill Lewis, courtesy of WoW Medway