by The People’s Minister of Information JR
I was recently introduced to the visual artistry of Paul Lewin at this year’s Black Comix Arts Festival that was held at the SF Main Library and at the Yerba Buena. His pictures were striking and reminiscent of the art that I witnessed in Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and Brazil, all of which are African countries in the Western Hemisphere that I have spent time in.
I love his frequent use of the color yellow, his depiction of Africanized elders and ancestors, as well as their symbolism, which consists of skulls and masks. His pictures are very modern but depict scenes from lives lived centuries ago, and they are rich with detail. They are sort of like a time capsule.
I want to expose the Bay View readership to this master painter who lives locally. Check him out in his own words.
M.O.I. JR: When did you get into art? How old were you when you noticed your attraction?
Paul Lewin: I was very young. Maybe about 6 or 7. I loved just having paper and a pencil and I would escape into other worlds for hours at a time.
M.O.I. JR: Who were the early artists that you gravitated to?
Paul Lewin: The very first painter I ever was into was Ernie Barnes. I loved seeing his works on re-runs of the TV show Good Times. I loved the way he was able to capture the mood of the Black community in his exaggerated depictions.
M.O.I. JR: When did you start to create your own work?
Paul Lewin: I began painting in 1994 when I was 21. That’s around the time I started to gain my own style.
M.O.I. JR: I notice a lot of symbolism from African and the Caribbean. What are the themes that most inspire your paintings?
Paul Lewin: My current work is inspired by Afro-Caribbean folklore and African culture. A lot of the stories and rituals of the Caribbean have been passed down from generation to generation through the traditional art of storytelling. I like to take bits and pieces of different rituals, folktales and festivals from around the Caribbean and create my own stories with them.
M.O.I. JR: Do the masks and skulls that are prevalent in some of your work signify your reverence for the ancestors? If so or not, what do they symbolize exactly?
Paul Lewin: The skulls do represent the tradition of honoring the past ancestors. In parts of Afro-Caribbean culture, the dead walk amongst the living and are at times consulted for different religious occasions. The cultural masks are used to depict different spirits or gods that the mask wearer becomes when putting the mask on.
M.O.I. JR: Today, who are some of the visual artists working now that excite you? Why?
Paul Lewin: I’ve really been liking the work of Loyiso Mkize, Khinde Wiley and Joshua Mays. I like work that depicts people of color in ways that we have not traditionally been portrayed. And all of these artists also have mind-blowing technical skills.
M.O.I. JR: What made you become a vendor at the Second Annual Black Comix Arts Festival in San Francisco?
Paul Lewin: Well, I was very inspired by comic book and sci-fi art growing up. I also think that the Bay Area is hungry for more art and fiction that’s outside the mainstream and which contains images we can relate to. I want my work to be a part of this, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
M.O.I. JR: Where do you see yourself in the next five years as an artist?
Paul Lewin: I want my work to get to the point where I’m doing art as a full-time job. I’m really interested in having my work take me to places outside the Bay Area and the U.S.
M.O.I. JR: Do you have any shows coming up?
Paul Lewin: I have a show this month on Feb. 24, 27 and 28 at Live Worms Gallery in San Francisco. It’s a group show honoring the late Octavia Butler. There will be live visual art, live music and spoken word performances.
M.O.I. JR: How can people see your work online and contact you?
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.