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Henry Lewis Interview

Written by Trippe   
Wednesday, 17 September 2008 04:18
This SF based painter and tattoo artist has a show coming up @111 Minna on Oct 2nd.

Born in Los Angeles and having moved up to SF 8 years ago, Henry has learned and became one of the best tattoo artists working in San Francisco today. I'd first met Henry years back. Like a tornado he'd swoop into the bar, buy me a shot and then he'd be gone, off to his studio to work throughout the night on his oil paintings. I never knew how he did it. Tattoo all day, drink till 2am and then work till dawn. I envy people who don't need sleep. They get so much done. And Henry, not only got shit done, he got great work done. And resembling his tattoo career, his painting career has also been a quick asent passing many along the way. The guy is a pure talent... We got a chance to ask him a few questions before his show with Keli Reule opens at 111 Minna here in San Francisco on October 2nd.

Describe your process of creating a new piece. What materials do you normally work in?

I normally work in oil. I took half a year off of oil to start over, put it aside so to speak. My process for starting a new piece is inspired by the people I meet, and friends, along with day-to-day living. My favorite ones however are the people that inspire me to live. I like living slightly vicariously through these people's stories. Slightly. Ever so slightly... Oh, and I normally work with oil, but lately I've been working with Gouache.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, how would you do it?

To quote my friend Jordan Varay, I would say my style is "Baroque as fuck." Hahaha!

Tell us a bit about your upcoming show at 111 Minna. What can we expect?

Awesome. My upcoming show at 111 Minna has some of the same ideas and iconography as my last show at Corey Helford, but I wanted to change mediums to represent moving to the new shop, trying to reinvent myself as a tattooer, and the shift from my old ways at the old shop. Tattoo flash is traditionally painted in water color, so I'm using water color and gouache as a kind of tribute to tattoo and moving from one place to another. Oils are amazing and fun, my favorite medium. I'm not quitting oil, just putting it down for a minute to breathe. I'm just having fun using a medium that I'm not all that familiar with. There are a few portraits of people that I really admire for the way they live their lives and who they are. I've also gone a lot bigger than in the past, trying to play with value. I'm trying to push myself and having fun doing it. After this show I'm going to take a year off from showing, with the exception of a couple group shows, so that I can work on an upcoming show at Corey Helford, which will be March 6th, 2010.

How long have you lived here in San Francisco?

I have been living in San Francisco for eight, going on nine years. I came to San Francisco for two reasons. The first, to become a better artist. It was close to Los Angeles where I was born and raised. I was reading about the art scene out here and most of my favorite painters were living out here. It's a really fun place to learn. The second reason is the best tattooers in my opinion live in San Francisco and I wanted to get tattooed by them. So it was a win win situation for me.

You head down to LA often? What are some of the differences in the art scene compared to San Francisco?

Growing up in LA, I wasn't very involved in the art scene, but I know that LA's got it going on. I've only shown at two places in Los Angeles, and while there is a difference, I haven't figured out what it is yet, although I love both scenes.

What do you love most about SF?

I love the fact that I can take a ten-minute walk with my headphones and be in a different district in the city. I like not having a car, although I miss driving some times. The friends I am associated with here are a very motivated and it motivates me. It's good to have a circle of friends to keep you on the ball.

What are you really excited about right now?

I am really excited about my new job working over at Skull & Sword. Working with Gouache

When are you the most productive?

Between the witching hours until about 8 a.m.

Man, do you sleep? Work till 8am and then tattoo during the day?

If I'm lucky I'll get a good five hours, but I'm used to three hours a night.

How did you get into tattooing and how did you end up working with the great Grime?

Long story short... (super long story short), I worked at a print shop in Pasedena, and hated my job. A friend of mine who worked at a tattoo shop up the street said they were hiring a shop janitor, and I knew I'd rather be working in a place with creative people than where I was, so I took it. The owner, Jason Schroeder, saw me drawing in my black book and asked if I was interested in tattooing for a living. I was always fascinated after seeing the work he did on my friend, so I said why not! My apprenticeship lasted three years, with a few bumps in the road, but I remained persistent. Jason eventually got me a job at Mom's in San Francisco with Barnaby Williams. Fast forward the good and the bad years, I landed in one of my favorite studios, Everlasting, with owner Mike Davis, who is one of my favorite tattooers and painters, heading it. I worked with Mike for five years, until I felt like I needed a change. My art studio is right down the street from the world famous Skull & Sword so I wend in and had a conversation with Grimey, telling him that I was looking for a new kick in my life and to expand my knowledge and perspective of tattooing. I have always wanted to work with Grimey because he's in my opinion, one of the best tattooers in the world, but too sincere, TOO TRILL! He said he had some room, and ever since then I've been trying to do the damn thing!

Weirdest thing someone asked you to tattoo?

Too many to fully remember, but I think the funniest was when I worked in LA. A college kid came in and wanted a Tazmanian devil tattoo. There was a woman taz hugging his left leg. On the right leg there was a male taz with a dick hanging down to his ankle and pointing to the right. Underneath in plain writing it said "I got it like dat." He was so happy with it, and his girlfriend had such a look of disgust on her face. But I laughed because at the end of the day, I'm not the one living with that.

Hahaha, my brother in law has the taz on his calf slam dunking a basketball!... Ok, what's the best and worst part about tattooing?

The best part of tattooing is when my client leaves having had a good time and being into the work they asked me to do. The worst part is shaving people! Once I shaved a guy's mole off and it was bleeding profusely but the most fucked up part was seeing the mole stuck in between the blades. I was traumatized for a while, and I'm still trying to get over it.. still.. STILL!

Favorite trip taken?

As a farewell to Everlasting Tattoo, we went to Rome. It was really fun going with every one from there, especially with Mike Davis because he's a self-proclaimed historian. Through out the trip he gave us history lessons on my favorite Baroque, and renaissance paintings.


Lately, I've been into a lot of San Quinn, EAski, Bun B, Mando Daio, Fela Kuti, the Album Leaf, Mars Volta and the Bronx. Oh by the way, TV on the Radio.

What were you like in high school?

I fucking hated high school. In high school I was a break dancing, graffiti writing, what-the-fuck. I used to spin on my head for money. Always drawing though. I was a bit of a dork.

Best movie you've seen lately?


Why you such a big MaCain supporter?

What the fuck?! OBAMA!

Upcoming projects/ shows?

The first show I am showing with Kelli Reule at 111 Minna, in San Francisco. Two days after that event, I have a show in Tampa, Florida at Red Letter One on October 4. I am showing in Tampa with Phil Holt and a guy named Edu.

Captain & Commander
Henry Lewis & Keli Reule
October 2 - November 1, 2008
@111 Minna Gallery, SF {moscomment}

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