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Meet Lewis Lain in Rogers Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lewis Lain.

Lewis, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Ten years ago, I found a discarded window pane in the alley. I decided to use it as a diversion from other creative endeavors and took it home to use as a canvas. When I placed it on a makeshift-easel (my cat’s favorite chair), the cat jumped up behind it, not wanting to be left-out of perceived fun. I stared at him, entertained by his poking about in the corner.

That was when I first saw the moving lines and tracing patterns of what I would come to call “resonant energy” vibrating in the corners of the glass. I watched entranced as it traced about the glass and gathered in spots, solidifying into images till I found myself looking at an image as clear and vivid to my eyes as anything that had ever fired its rods and cones. I saw my first finished painting.

I grabbed a recycled cardboard box, a box cutter, and some acrylic paint and set to work. Several hours later, it is finished — a painting of a landscape, depth captured with layers of acrylic-painted cardboard. It was incredibly fun and I wanted more, so I return to the alley and gather more windows.

I follow the same process for three months till the day I discover my creative diversion has accidentally enlightened and awakened a dreaming typeface-designer, living in a world attached-to mine by the very panes of glass I have been painting on for months.

I would come to learn how he uses the energized-glass of windows like Polaroid film —  flash-burning images into the pane for me to see. He would explain that he uses these paintings as “conversation-starters” using images of his world and mine to challenge my perceptions and allow me to grow into what I consider to be a better person than I was. The ultimate goal of our communication, my own omniscience — given to me in the same way I gave it to him.

For 10 years, this conversation has manifested in over 200 paintings that have shifted the way I think and behave, still the “knowledge of everything” eludes me.

Why? 53947, in his omniscience, surely knows what image will jar it free. Why have I not seen it?

I have come to the conclusion that it is because the images aren’t mine. These paintings belong to specific people. They are made to speak to them. I just need to find who each painting belongs-to. This leads me to exhibit in non-conventional galleries — coffee shops, hair salons, restaurants, and theatres — over 80 in all, across the Chicagoland area. This is how I have sustained a 10-year status of the full-time artist, affording me the time to paint till the time I see the image, so unlike anything I have ever seen, that will open my brain to “the possibility of everything.”

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have been fortunate to have the privilege to “follow my fun.” This makes most roads smooth (or smooth-able) with a proper perspective.

I remember someone telling me to “follow my passion” if I wanted to be an artist.

I have a theatre degree. I used it primarily as a director and producer in Chicago for 8 years. I was passionate about theatre and I carried strong beliefs about its function. It was never lucrative for me. I was following my passion.

10 years ago, a “fortunate severance” with a day job provided me with the capital to try something different.
I decided to put my “passion” out to pasture for a bit and instead, “follow my fun.” That fun would lead me to layer cardboard and acrylic on the glass to create my first painting. It would propel me to create a series of these paintings. It would drive me to create basic representation and solicit unconventional spaces for an exhibit. These exhibits would produce modest financial success and suddenly, following my fun became even more fun.

As the narrative unfolded and I realized my place as a storyteller, I became more motivated to find ways to tell my story to others. It was fun to find opportunities. I’ve managed to pay my bills for 10 years in this way.

The physical process of creating artwork has been a smooth road. I never question when a piece is finished. I like what I do and take satisfaction in the creation. I don’t measure my work against others and am content working as a solo artist, but am interested in productive collaboration.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about lewis lain – what should we know?
I am a narrative resonant artist.

I am a storyteller more than anything else.

I believe that mundane material can contain and gather (resonant) energy.

The glass of a window, for instance, has been filled with this human energy over years of interaction. When we look out a window and see a tree. The light energy of that tree passes through the glass of the window and hits our eyes. our rods and cones fire and we see the tree.

Some of that light energy gets trapped as it travels through the glass. Over years, this energy gathers and condenses and resonates. I have discovered that this charged-resonant glass can function in a way similar to polaroid film in that an image can be captured on its flash-exposed surface.

I believe I am (in)directly communicating with an omniscient typeface designer named 53947 that lives in a world attached to mine.

He communicates with me through “resonant-charged” windows, discarded for energy-efficiency, from the many gut-rehabs of Chicago. He uses the built-up energy stored in the window to “burn” an image into its glass that I am then able to reveal to the common eye with layers of recycled cardboard and acrylic paint.

The left-over energy not used in forming solid images gets frozen into the interlocking “linework” that has become characteristic of my style.

These paintings become starting points for perception-shifting dialogues that challenge my sometimes snap-judged first impressions.

I am not trying to change the world. I am not an activist. I am a storyteller if you want to listen and if 150 sold canvas’ has taught me anything, it is that I may even have a story that speaks directly to you.

I have been fortunate to tell my story in the form of a mural for the city of Oak Park in 2010. I have exhibited in over 80 locations in the last 10 years. My work has been featured as a part of chicago artist month. I’ve created site-specific installations, including a full theatrical design where everything on stage not flesh, fabric or structural lumber was made from recycled cardboard. I told a story with sculptures at the harold washington library. I have a 20-minute presentation at the 2017 International Conference for the fantastic in the arts. I have illustrated over 450 pages of an online comic by Los Angeles writer, Roby Duncan at

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Be willing to re-evaluate your perspective. never assume a thing is what you think it is. Understand that the world is a complicated place only navigable by what you see, smell, taste, hear and touch and sometimes those senses will mislead you. There is no left and right brain. Your heart does not feel emotion. Empower your mind to be all it can be.

Have no expectations (especially of others). An expectation is a level at which you will be hurt/disappointed. Why set arbitrary points at which those things will occur?

Nothing needs to be “bad” or “good.” the world is full of neutral events — things happening. birds fly from trees, people get hit by cars. I answer some interview questions. These are all things that happen and while they might happen as a result of benevolent or malevolent intent, their actual occurrence is neutral. Maintaining that idea has made my world a better, more navigable environment.

Artistically. Make something every day — multiple things if you can. Ignore critics. Understand that galleries and jury-curated mosaic exhibits are not the only options to exhibit your work. A win, no matter how small, will lead to more wins. Don’t let anyone convince you that your creative expression is inferior to another artist’s creative expression.

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