Chameleon Contemporary Colour Artist Spotlight #1: Chris Lewis-Jones

Chris Lewis-Jones is an Artist-Flaneur, a multi-discipline artist based in the East Midlands, holding a studio at Primary. He teaches drawing at Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham Contemporary, and the WEA. Chris is also an associate artist at Nottingham Contemporary, and “Head Gardener” at Nu-Urban Gardeners. I interviewed Chris in the run-up to his participation in Chameleon, Surface Gallery’s contemporary art Open.

What is your primary medium? 

I am an Artist-Flaneur: a hopeful traveller, who travels across media and disciplines. As such, I don’t have a ‘primary medium’. Having said that, drawing is probably what I do more than anything else (it’s the basis of so much isn’t it?)! I Teach drawing at NTU, Nottingham Contemporary and the WEA.

What is your background as an artist?

I studied at Stourbridge School of Art (Foundation), Sunderland Poly (BA FA) and The University of Derby (PGC and MA ADAPT/Fine Art). I grew up in my father’s studio and felt from a very early age that I was an artist. I’ve worked as a lecturer, a gardener, an archaeological illustrator, a community artist, a carnival artist, a musician and an actor; all of these things have informed and enriched my fine art practice. 

How have your life experiences influenced your artistic career?

Studying music for 10 years, being in bands, writing/performing poetry, working as an actor; all of these experiences have inclined me towards live art/performance. I enjoyed a ten-year collaboration with fellow artist Simon Withers, first with Cyril Seaton’s Cycle Roots, then with Nu-Urban Gardeners, which allowed us both to explore the performative side of our practice/s. We performed at Tate Britain, Calke Abbey, Tattershall, Castle, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Newstead Abbey, The Crucible Theatre (Sheffield), the National Theatre and at many other formal and informal locations. We also began to develop ‘facilitated derives’, which I now do with my daughter (Emma Lewis-Jones) as part of Dog’s Daughter.

Working with both Nu-Urban Gardeners and Dog’s Daughter stimulated an interest in all things folkloric, which has very much influenced my live art practice today, which includes contemporary takes on wassailing, maypole blessing, rituals and rites of passage. Working as an archaeological illustrator for over a decade enhanced my ability as a draftsman and my passion for both history and drawing. This (archaeological) approach to drawing culminated in the ‘Accoutrements of Domestic Ritual’ exhibition at the Lace Market Gallery in 2014. Drawing everyday objects that are pregnant with association has become something of an obsession!

Tell us a little bit about the work you've submitted to the Chameleon Contemporary Colour Open. What does your work aim to say? What inspired you to create your pieces of work?

The work exhibited in Chameleon (Military Head No1) was inspired by my visits to Belfast in spring and summer 2019, undertaken with Irish Artist Esther O’Kelly as part of the ESP project.  I witnessed an ‘impromptu’ Orange Order march and was deeply impressed by the murals of masked gunmen that were everywhere in East Belfast (where Esther has her studio) and also the murals of Irish republican fighters from the 1916 uprising and the civil war period that I saw on the Lower Ormeau Road.  Esther and I produced an installation of paintings based on the idea of ‘the masks we all wear’ (exhibited at PS2 Gallery in Belfast).

At about the same time I was introduced to and intrigued by World War 1 ‘Decoy Dummies’, model soldiers’ heads mounted on poles that were raised above the British trenches in order to draw fire from German snipers (who were then targeted by heavy audience). I was introduced to ‘decoy dummies’ by a Derbyshire Virtual School mentee Dylan, with whom I made several heads: some drawn, some painted, others, like “Military Head No 1”, jigged out of MDF and painted with acrylics and oils in vivid colours redolent of putrefaction. Whilst making the artwork I was ruminating on the futility of trench warfare war and the oppressive role played by Britain in its subjugation of the Irish people. I hope the extent to which the work is something of an anti-war statement is apparent.  

What is your favourite part of the artist process?

My favourite part of the process of painting is the way in which colour and gesture combine to make statements that always seem to take me by surprise.

What, or who, has been the biggest influence in your practice?

My favourite artists are Cornelia Parker, Richard Long and Mark Wallinger. Richard Long’s active engagement with land and landscape was a huge influence on my work with Nu-Urban Gardeners. However, my greatest influence has probably been that of my father, Maxwell-Jones. Although he didn’t do much in the way of quality control, he could paint well, and he painted with both speed and confidence. I was excited by his passion, his energy and his drive. He felt he could do anything, and, as a consequence, he did!

Describe yourself in 5 words. 

Artist, flaneur, performer, folklorist, anarchist.

Chris Lewis-Jones’ work “Military Mask No1” will be shown in the Chameleon Contemporary Colour Open, running from the 5th October to the 19th October. Opening night is the 4th October 6pm-9pm at Surface Gallery. Free entry for all.