Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Wonder Woman, Animal Crackers and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes are some of the subjects of works in “American Memories,” a one-person exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Leslie Lew that opens from 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 3rd at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries.
“Leslie is a contemporary, neo-Pop version of Norman Rockwell,” said ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries’ owner and director Virginia Miller.
“I’m grabbing memories,” says the artist. “Some of these are starting to fade.”
Featuring some of America’s most iconic images, Leslie Lew offers a nostalgic trip back to childhoods ranging from the 1930s to 1970s. Permission from The Walt Disney Company, DC Comics, and the Kellogg Company allows her to re-create comic book covers of America’s most beloved childhood heroes along with perennially favorite breakfast cereals.
“When faced with the legendary things and characters of our youth, rendered with unrestrained enthusiasm, it’s hard not to smile, to remember the pleasure of eating Animal Crackers, toting the box on its little white string; to feel a little girl’s aspiration to be Wonder Woman, and to be transported by cartoon lives—so familiar and yet so unlike our own,” noted Kathy Greenwood, a curator for Albany, NY International Airport’s Art & Culture Programs.
Contributing to the impact of her paintings is the artist’s special technique, which she calls “sculpted oil,” paintings on canvas in high relief to create a three-dimensional effect.
After earning her BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1982, Lew was one of a dozen artists selected to participate in a Whitney Museum studio program. She became a leading artist in New York’s East Village Art Movement, where she was friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat, who introduced her to Andy Warhol at her first opening in New York.
Lew lived and worked in a large Gramercy Park loft just above Julian Schnabel’s. Other well-known artists in the group included Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Kenny Scharf, and Keith Haring.
“Keith, Jean-Michel and Andy did a show of matchboxes in a pop-up gallery on 6th Street with me and other artists,” she recalls. “I did a painting of the opening, and I put Andy in the corner of it with his little Brownie camera. Andy loved young artists—he was always looking for the next new thing. He helped me a lot, introducing me to all sorts of people. We hung out together.
“I did my version of Andy’s silkscreen, 'Moon Explorer,' and he thought it was a hoot. He asked me to do a trade with him—my ‘Moon Explorer’ for one of his ‘Marilyns.’ Then he went into the hospital for a gall bladder operation and he died. I helped to archive all of his work for the foundation.”
Today Lew’s painting of “Moon Explorer” is owned—appropriately—by U.S. astronaut Robert C. “Woody” Spring. Her works are included in dozens of major collections, including those of Si Newhouse, the Tisch Family, Conde Nast, MCA Records, Sylvia Miles and Cyndi Lauper in New York; the Sainsbury Collection in London; and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“My first painting of ‘Animal Crackers’ is in the lobby where children are admitted to the Mayo Clinic,” she said.
Lew has participated with the superstars of the contemporary art world in a number of other exhibitions. To cite only three:
In 1985 the Holly Solomon Gallery exhibition “57th between A & D” included works by Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, and Roy Lichtenstein with East Village artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Leslie Lew. The following year Lew and Warhol were among the artists in “The East Village” exhibit curated by Richard Martin, editor-in-chief of “Arts Magazine”, at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Lew and Warhol also were in “Small Works by Major Thinkers” in 1986 at the Bess Cutler Gallery in New York.
The “Cafe Vered” show at Vered Gallery in East Hampton in 1995 included “Animal Crackers” by Lew along with works by Janet Fish, Audrey Flack, Red Grooms, Donald Lipski, Larry Rivers, Donald Sultan, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann, among others.
Lew has exhibited in numerous other prestigious venues, such as Jack Tilton and OK Harris galleries in New York City; the Light Gallery in Los Angeles and Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica; and in a number of museums here and abroad. In Manhattan, for example, her paintings have been included in exhibitions at the Visual Arts Museum, Parsons School of Design, SoHo Center for the Visual Arts, the Henry Street Settlement Museum, and the Alternative Museum. Lew’s paintings have been included in travelling exhibitions of the Carnegie Mellon Museum and Guggenheim Museum in this country and in shows in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, and Sofia, Bulgaria.
In Miami, Lew is included in the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, “recognized as one of the major collections of contemporary art in the world,” according to Newsweek critic Peter Plagens.
According to critic Peter Frank, “by appropriating two or three generations of imagery, from wartime cartoons to cold-war-era reading primers to the streamlined sci-fi fantasies of the space race, Lew seems to mark off the growth spurts of mid-20th Century America...Lew re-enacts the recent evolution of American visual culture without having to depict it. A child of our time, Leslie Lew has appropriated Pop Art itself.”
“We are delighted to have this opportunity to introduce yet another historically significant artist to our clientele,” said Virginia Miller. “Leslie Lew’s work is an absolute joy.”
“American Memories” will be exhibited at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries from May 3rd through July 2013. Along with our opening reception on Friday, May 3rd, additional receptions for this exhibition will be held from 6 to 10 pm on Friday, June 7th and July 5th.