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Archive for February 28th, 2014

Martin Lewis - Late Traveler 1949I saw a Martin Lewis etching years ago and was transfixed by the crisp contrast of its darks and lights and the easy moodiness it gave off.  I knew nothing of the artist but it was obvious that he was masterful in his etching and in his artistic eye.  I had largely forgotten this artist until I came across a group of his etchings that are coming up for auction.  Seeing them rekindled that same feeling I felt years ago.  Mainly images from New York in the 20’s and 30’s, they often capture a feeling of urban anonymity and isolation, mining the same vein of emotion in which  Edward Hopper worked in his paintings.  This is probably not a coincidence since Lewis and Hopper were friends, Lewis having taught Hopper the art of etching around 1915.

Martin Lewis was born in Australia in 1881 and ran away from home at age 15, working rough jobs for a few years as he travelled and sketched his way through Australia and New Zealand.  He ended up in Sydney where he studied and did illustrations for a local newspaper.  He migrated to the US around 1900, arriving in San Francisco where he painted backdrops for the presidential campaign of William McKinley before finding his way to New York City.

Martin Lewis- Relics (Speakeasy Corner) 1928Inspired by the dynamism of the city at that time, Lewis worked as an illustrator and painter.  It was a 1910 trip to England, where he was introduced to the printwork of English artists such as James MacNeil Whistler, that inspired him to take up etching.  However, it was an 18 month stay in Japan in 1920 that set the groundwork for his signature work which captures light and air and mood so well.  He was active and increasingly successful from 1925 until about 1935.  However, the Great Depression brought a downturn to his popularity and by the 1940’s his work was out of favor.  His work never really took hold after that and he died in 1961,  largely unknown.  In fact, just finding some of the details on his life for this short blog post took some doing.

I think his work is wonderful and evocative and  find it amazing that his work ever fell out of favor.  But such is the nature of art.  But the etchings of Martin Lewis will persevere through the fickle cycles because they capture something elemental and personal.  And that is what real art does.

Martin Lewis- Shadow Dance 1930 Martin Lewis-Tree  Manhattan Martin Lewis- Little Penthouse Martin Lewis- Glow of the City 1928 Martin Lewis - Which Way 1932 Martin Lewis New York Nocturne

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