(Presidential Guide to Cartoon Birds(detail))
“When you’ve lived in Boston your whole life, your favorite sport becomes hanging out indoors with your friends at bars; just drinking and talking shit about whatever comes to mind. And for me, these conversations continue to rattle around in my head long after they’ve ended; all that stuff just builds up inside and needs some sort of outlet. These interactions both temper and create a need for me to express myself.”
I’m willing to bet you haven’t seen Charley Saint Lewis‘s work before. For the past fifteen years his creations have been incubating in his Malden studio where the artist has experimented, self-educated, and felt his way through the process of “finally taking a teenage hobby more seriously.”
As an engineer, Charley spends his days running projects and traveling around to various job sites, but by night, he retires to his studio; channeling the musings of a busy mind onto canvas. or metal. or enormous handmade wooden boxes.
(Prole Drift(Corner 4))
“A big part of the process is the inspiration from what’s around me and closest to me. Hanging out with friends in apartments, bars, wherever and talking smack about everything that comes to mind- movies, hoops, douchebags we’ve encountered, boxing matches, growing up, Dick Sargent vs. Dick York, fucked-up relatives, braised short ribs, the coke-rap genre, etc.. It’s from there a lot of times that skewed thoughts and ideas are precipitated, and that leads to 6 foot by 2 foot by 2 foot boxes with drawings and notes about Whitney Houston, cartoon birds and Yao Ming. Those ideas paired with my desire to create very tangible items are what push me along.”
The quest for tangibility is evident in his work; a desire to bridge the gap between sight and touch in an effort to enhance the aesthetic experience. This effort is demonstrated in his very first piece since returning to the visual arts, What You Need:
(What You Need(side 1))
“It started out aimlessly. I had a surgeons manual which tells you how to perform a hernea operation and so I created my own interpretation of this guide on a small wooden box. Happy with the results, I followed up the hernea box with a tendon sutchers ‘how-to’ on the next.. and I continued to create these basic instructional boxes as individual pieces until physically bringing them together and binding them into a cohesive work. There was no rhyme or reason as to why I ended the series there, it just felt right; the informational package was complete. And this project was what really sparked my interest in exploring tangibility. It may sound superficial, but I would want someone to have one of my boxes like they would want to have an Hermès bag or a luxury sedan; something you can hold and touch rather than something you simply look at.”
Outside the studio and away from the manuals, the artist is fascinated by his surroundings. As a life-long Bostonian, he looks at the structures, the people, and all the other visual stimuli this city has to offer; even deriving inspiration from something as simple as dents on a beat-up delivery truck or equations on a blackboard.
(Ferocity and Tragedy(side 4))
“When I was an engineering student, I would sometimes daydream during class, like in Calculus III.. and I remember looking up at the blackboard towards the end of a lecture, seeing a sea of numbers and equations jumbled all over the surface and thinking ’hmm, there’s kind of an artistic quality to all of that..’”
Whether it’s calling out the broad generalizations of the neighborhoods he calls home or the perceptions of the people who live there, the artist relays his stories in an unapologetically honest and unfiltered way.
(Map of Boston)
“This is Ringer park where I almost got jumped one time when I was 19.”
(Map of Allston(detail))
Potential tourist destination? ☑
In exploring seedy subcultures and the darker elements of the human psyche, he pulls no punches; exposing the corruption, greed, and dramatics of every day living. No matter if he’s commenting on the bizarre and unnecessary death of late Wu-Tang Clan member ODB or delving into the underworld of the drug trafficking industry, he presents these criminals as multi-dimensional beings. Often looking upon them with a certain degree of reverence and respect, Charley paints an unconventional picture of these characters, as if he is tasked with sharing their untold story.
“I’m fascinated with the whole industry of illegal narcotics and the logistics behind it. The fact that the Mexican drug cartels are running a multi-billion dollar industry that is so unbelievably organized and covert, that at the same time possesses an overly-glamorized and very public facing street aspect of it, it blows my mind. I have a strange sort of respect for the cartels, people that can triple a brick and sell it on the street, but then I have zero respect for someone who is a bigot.”
Much of the artist’s recent work turns it’s lens on bigots, racism, and other forms of “shallow hate”. In his large-scale piece Dumb Dumb, the artist tackles homophobia through scrawling a series of jokes that “homophobic meatheads” might say across the canvas, and subsequently obscuring these hateful words beneath a sea of wedding rings. He further castrates the remarks by the omitting their respective punchlines; inoculating and rendering them powerless.
(Dumb Dumb(side 1))
“I don’t happen to have any gay friends or family members, and I’m not trying to fight anyone’s fight, but at the same time the issues people have about gay marriage versus straight marriage really baffles my mind. I just think about the people out there who are expressing such hateful points of view and how 100 years from now this whole issue will be looked upon like pre-suffrage. Just..wow.”
Charley brings a new and refreshing perspective to the Boston Arts community; presenting engaging work that begs for discussion and incites intrigue. On a purely aesthetic level, the bold colors, shapes and large scale format of the artist’s work are initially what draw you in. Then, after acclimating yourself, you can either a.) appreciate the vibrant compositions and carry on with your day or b.) dissect the hell out of the text, diagrams and iconography of his work; going to great lengths to revel in the minutiae.
For me, my overanalytical mind dipped it’s toes in option “b” where I started my journey by Googling: “Sasha Harris“.
(Free the Birds)
For those of you who already knew who she was, I would definitely lose to you in bar trivia.
For those of you who didn’t, it turns out Sasha was the prostitute that Vince Shlomi, of ShamWow fame, decided to beat-up in 2009; an incident that snuffed out the dying embers of his infomercial empire.
Now, take this obscure pop-cultural discovery times a million and you will have just begun to scratch the surface of Charley’s analytical mind.
(Moggie and Whitney(detail))
When the artist and I met to chat about his work, I shared my initial observations of his creations. While I noticed there is certainly an outpouring of information and feeling of forthrightness about the portfolio, there is also an equally enigmatic aspect to it. I may have also used the terms “insane asylum”, “Basquiat”, and “A Beautiful Mind”..in an endearing way. He appreciated the insight.
Following this “professional” appraisal, I also managed to incorrectly guess the impetus behind the majority of his work. I suppose a conversation with me about your paintings can quickly derail into a Freudian pow-wow.
“Is this about masturbation?”
“Oh. I just…the hands..chicken..ok..”
It turns out that while, yes, his work tends to be raw and unfiltered, it isn’t meant to be particularly dark, heavy..or perverted. His paintings are merely an expression of his internal monologue and the things that “annoy or intrigue” him at any given moment.
“I try to keep it somewhat abstract and not explain too much, not in a ‘make you guess’ sort of way, but just kind of to keep it interesting. And that way my work becomes whatever you want it to become”
It’s never too late to revisit your passions. Charley is living proof that our desk jobs don’t have to define us and that a childhood dream can truly become a reality. All you have to do is click your heels three times.. and be willing to work like hell.
The Art of Charley Saint Lewis: Coming to a gallery and living room wall near YOU. ♥