KINETIC ENERGY: AN INTERVIEW WITH J LOUIS
Bella Harris / MAY 1, 2018
The work of J Louis is nothing short of beautiful, but his subjects convey more than just beauty… as all strong women do. The figurative variances seen through strength of character, form, emotion, texture, and color create an atmospheric balance that works seamlessly alongside his notable brushwork. I had the opportunity to speak with J, and we, at Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, are delighted to share with you a more in-depth look at his passionate, creative sparks.
Several of his works are available at Arcadia Contemporary and Shain Gallery so be sure to visit each location for further details and purchase inquiries. Stay updated on his latest paintings and exhibitions by following along his website and Instagram.
About the Artist:
“At only 26 years of age, Chicago-based J Louis is a promising, young talent who depicts elegant, female figures, set against energetic, abstracted fields of color. His bravura paintings are studies in contrasts; soft and sensual faces seem to slowly emerge from tempests of forcefully applied swaths of pigment. In J Louis’ works, intimacy and frenzy co-exist to create imagery unlike any the gallery has ever seen before.” – Arcadia Contemporary
J Louis’ fascination with moments of human connection exhibits itself in his work through cleverly posed subjects and his use of texture and color amid abstracted space. Through the juxtaposition of female figures in space, he captures the exquisite strength and intricacy of women and contemplates the nature of connection. His works push the boundaries of contemporary figurative art. Drawing from a vibrant palette, he combines figurative and abstract components with a use of pose and brushstrokes that reveal the influence of Vienna Secession painters. A student of classical fine arts and industrial design, J Louis experiments with the representation of emotion through texture and color. His explorations in material and texture lead him to find unexpected opportunities in his work, and by delving into color he creates moments of connection between viewers and the representational story he paints within an abstracted world.
When looking at your work, I notice many things at once. Vibrancy of palette, grit, texture… even if your subjects were faceless, their expression communicates through other forms. So I’m curious, what do you feel is the most significant aspect of your work?
This is tricky. Visually, I am a strong advocate of maintaining the gestalt, or unified whole, of a painting, so I work to maintain a visually appealing balance throughout the entirety of the work. Every mark no matter how insignificant it may appear is calculated and intended to balance the painting. I love to test the balance between finely detailed, representational features and abstracted planes of raw pigment.
I would say that my mindset while creating this work is the most significant aspect of my art. My paintings are of empowered women with remarkable character and strength. I have had the good fortune to come in contact with such wonderful women throughout my life, and I feel such a powerful desire to recreate the grace and wonder I feel every day from such loving individuals. My wife is my primary inspiration when creating my work. I create a work of art with more emotional weight by using a subject that is empowered and of exceptional character.
How do you explore and maintain the integrity of your vision each time you begin a new painting?
When I am at the easel or wall if the painting is too big I paint exactly what I want to paint at that moment without concerning myself with maintaining a certain “look”. By painting this way, every work is 100% original. I do my best to paint how I feel at the moment because I feel art should be honest.
I imagine new compositions, new stories, techniques, approaches when I am away from the easel. I have an unlimited canvas at the back of my mind in which to explore new ideas. I take these ideas and translate them into physical images as quickly as possible to keep the idea fresh, although there is a limit to how quickly I can paint. When the work takes form, I find intentional and unintentional moments in the work that I either emphasize or deemphasize in future work. Making intelligent art is like the evolution of a species. You create work, keeping what “succeed” in presenting your vision and removing what “detracts” from your vision. I use an iterative process of self-examination to improve my works and draw from past successes. Just like anything, it’s not about just putting in hard work, it’s about working smart about critically examining past efforts. It’s an exciting process that I look forward to every day!
On this same note… without feeling the need to suggest your “actual” creative process, will you, instead, share some of its most important factors?
Happily! First off, the most important element in any work of art is its story, what does this work of art communicate, so I try my best to focus on what I am actually saying in my work. I can’t put the story for each work of art into words, which is exactly why I paint instead of write, but I have a strong feeling about the moment I try to convey. In order to create my story, I design a mood board of images, icons, color schemes, etc. that convey the story. I then photograph models to create images I use for my work. By working with live models, I am able to validate whether my story feels right. I really love this part of the process because the energy and mood of my work start to come to life at this point. As an artist, most of my time is spent working alone, so I enjoy opportunities to collaborate with another professional in creating my art.
Although I enjoy working with live models, I can explore different options through manipulation of the reference photos. It allows for more spontaneous and exciting imagery to work from than a sitting model. I teach this process in workshops held all over the States and hope to teach internationally in the future. Here’s a link to my current schedule.
How has your creative vision changed or evolved over time?
My creative vision has changed dramatically over time. Before pursuing a career as a fine artist, I was in the pool for the US National Soccer team using my creativity more as an athlete. Then, athletics opened the door for me to study Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design where I ended up designing a variety of products from medical instruments to driver bit cases for Snap-On Tools and later footwear for Frye Boots in NYC. I loved flexing my creativity in design and on the athletic field, but I always found myself in the studio painting whenever I had a free moment. I would gladly give up sleep for a few hours at the easel. While at SCAD I painted for friends and family, and before I knew it, I had a constant stream of people commissioning various works. Many of the works people requested were animal paintings, so that is what I did. I painted all through college and upon graduating decided to create art full time, creating animal paintings for clients and practicing figure drawing for myself.
My transition from painting animals to figures was rather abrupt. I had been painting and drawing figures on my own for over a decade before sharing anything with a gallery or even outside of my family. Once I was ready to share my figure work, I began working on figure painting exclusively. My figure works changed dramatically over the years as I experimented until I finally came to a point where I felt pleased enough to share my work with the world. What you see now is the result of years of exploration. Currently, I am exploring the impact of material application in my stories, by altering my paint application and using tools other than the paintbrush. At times, I scrape away paint, leaving the smallest trace of its existence, and at other times, I sculpt the hair of my figures to sit an inch off the canvas, working with light as a sculptural element on the painting. I am pushing the work to honor the brilliance of traditional techniques complementing it with a more contemporary approach to art making.
What has been your most memorable moment (to date) as an artist?
My most memorable moment was my recent exhibition with Arcadia Contemporary in the LA Art Show earlier this year. It was a wonderful experience and an honor to be invited to exhibit alongside so many exceptional artists.
Describe a place that has become inspirational to the creation of your artwork.
Two very different places come to mind. The first is New York City. I visit New York City often and fall more in love with the atmosphere and culture every time. The energy of New York City is infectious and the individuality of the people never ceases to inspire my work. Second is Bali. My wife and I took a trip to Bali last year for the first time, and aside from NYC, it is the most wonderful place I have been. The culture is so different from what I normally experience that I can’t help but think differently. I also love it hot and humid, so the weather there is perfect.
My wife and I enjoy traveling, and I’ve found that often times, my best ideas come while I am heading to or from a new destination. The car, train, bus, and plane have been great places for generating new ideas.
Many things, as you know, inundate our daily lives. What role do you feel art and the artist still have in today’s society?
I feel art plays a greater role in our society than ever before. We’re bombarded daily by images that are trying to manipulate us to buy this or that. Art, on the other hand, is about life itself, about feeling, experiencing and thinking beyond the contents of our wallet. Art gives us an opportunity to appreciate and contemplate beauty. When I look at artwork, I am lifted by a feeling that transcends daily life and I am reminded of the beauty of the world and the people around me.
Art is also more accessible than ever, with apps like Instagram, just about anyone with a phone may have the pleasure of viewing artworks daily. Although it is wonderful to experience artwork on our phones and computers, it’s still impossible to compete with the impact of a work in person. Every work of art has a physical energy about it that is not conveyed through the screen. I encourage everyone to support their local galleries, museums, and muralists by simply visiting and experiencing the art in person, find a work that catches your eye and examine it for a few moments longer than you normally would. The work will start to say more than you expect if you’re ready to listen.
Plans, hopes, and projects… what’s next for you?
Right now, I am finishing up works for my next show at the Shain Gallery in Charlotte, NC on July 13th and will continue to create works for a few group shows later in the year. I am very happy to be working with Arcadia Contemporary and have enjoyed teaching recently. I will release a full schedule of workshops for the year soon. Luckily, my art has been very well received by artist, gallerist, and collectors from all over the world, so I hope to get more of my work outside of the States through shows, workshops, and lectures over the next few years.