NATE LEWIS featured in DCist

14 Apr

dcist

From Operating Table to Canvas, Nate Lewis Finds Intricate Art

Thirty-year-old Nate Lewis never so much as doodled in the margins of a notebook for the first 20 years of his life. He grew up wanting to be a nurse like his father, so he got a nursing degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009. Art really wasn’t on his radar.

Towards the end of college, his classes started to wear him out, so he distracted himself during lectures by sketching. His older sister Leah, 32, peeked over his shoulder one day and complimented the work. The following Christmas, she got him some art supplies and a book: Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

From those humble beginnings, Lewis has come a long way. He’s opening his first solo exhibition this Friday at Morton Fine Art, a collection of 14 intricately crafted paper sculptures that present the human anatomy in a variety of forms.

Lewis hails from the small town of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania—population: 9000—where his main pastimes included listening to music and playing baseball and basketball. “I was essentially a jock growing up,” he says.

Nursing appealed to him first as a venue in which he could study science and the human body. Only gradually did he realize that being a nurse meant taking intimate care of people at their most fragile and vulnerable. That scared him at first, but when he embraced the role, he found it fulfilling.

“When you walk into the room at 7 a.m. to take care of these patients, the families just open up with everything to you. You become part of this critical time in their family history,” Lewis says. “You have an intimate relationship and trust with these family members.”

After going through school, he took up work at several critical care facilities, including a surgical intensive care unit and a stroke unit. At that time, his main artistic interests were in music. He took a violin class because his mother was using one at the same time.

“I think that was my art more than anything, just listening to it. I wanted to play,” Lewis says. “I loved the strings, I just loved the violin and I just loved the sound of it.”

Playing put Lewis in the right headspace to start exploring his drawing skills. At first his sister told him to “draw some life”—buildings and other city surroundings. But Lewis quickly found that subject boring.

“Just drawing something to get better at it, I didn’t enjoy it,” Lewis says. “I wanted art to be fun.”

So he followed his muse, drawing increasingly elaborate images pairing an instrument with an organ—a trumpet with a set of lungs coming out, a phonograph made of red blood cells, a pair of brains that doubled as headphones. He brought his sketch pad and pencil to coffee shops near his home, then in Falls Church. It gradually dawned on him that his unconscious mind was simply translating the experiences he was having at work in the hospital, giving shape to the abstract concepts behind the medical procedures he witnessed.

The drawings grew into a T-shirt line, followed by some experimentation with a black pen. Then he realized he could use the blade as a pen to make smaller and more layered designs. By January 2014, he had started making full pieces like the ones he’s now displaying, cranking out as many as twelve per month. The largest pieces—26 inches by 40 inches—can take between 26 to 38 hours to create, Lewis said.

Since then, Lewis has been focused on displaying his creations and, as of October 2014, selling them. All the while, he’s maintained a steady paycheck at various hospitals, including George Washington Hospital, where he currently works in the recovery area of the critical care unit. That job is less emotionally taxing than some of his previous ones, he admits.

Among numerous accolades, Lewis won the regional edition of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series contest last year and earned grants from the D.C. Commission of the Arts & Humanities for the last two years running. He’s done shows in Brooklyn and San Francisco, and he placed in the top ten of a contest at the Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street. Through a friend, he sent his work to the Morton Fine Art Gallery in Adams Morgan, which quickly signed him to a contract and supported him at the Art Basel convention in Miami.

Amy Morton, the founder of the gallery, took to Lewis’ style soon after seeing it, according to gallery assistant Julia Bancroft. The mixture of texture and simplicity, as well as Lewis’ local placement, make him a good fit for the gallery’s roster, Bancroft says.

“He’s just hitting it off in the city and gaining some recognition,” Bancroft says. “We’re just really happy to support him.”

Looking ahead, Lewis hopes to slowly make a foray into photography. Eventually, he could see his artistic career dominating his professional life full-time. But he’s in no rush to abandon his medical career.

“It’s scary to think about going from a regular consistent paycheck to relying on selling things that people don’t need. But you’ve got to take a leap when it’s time,” Lewis said. “I’m in no hurry.”

Art serves a meditative role for Lewis, but he’s more concerned with communicating indescribable experiences to the widest possible audience.

“Art has done a lot for me and it’s showed me a lot of things about myself and about others,” Lewis said. “And it’s something that I just need to continue to cultivate.”

Lewis’ exhibition will open with a reception at 6 p.m. tomorrow and run until April 27 at Morton Fine Art (1781 Florida Ave NW). The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.

Click HERE to view available artworks by NATE LEWIS.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: