by Ivy Wigmore
The word "inspiration" derives from the Latin "inspirare," meaning "to breathe life into." Inspiration is also something that an artist draws in from the environment. Similarly to the way we all take breath into our lungs to maintain life, artists take inspiration from their surroundings to fuel their creativity. Haley Lewis draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. "It could be almost anything," she said. "Music, film, or landscape, the look on someone's face, the eloquent gesture of a hand." The images that move her stay with her over long periods of time, and are often combined in memory with other experiences and visions before they eventually find expression in Lewis' powerful work. Lewis' recent show, at Details Past and Present, featured paintings inspired by the artist's experiences in India. Sometimes Lewis' creative impulse is born of a singular and striking image, burning itself into the artist's mind and memory. While she was travelling in India, one day she saw a man lying naked on the ground-an image that was at once shocking and very beautiful to her. The incident left such a strong impression that the vision was still fresh ten months later, when at last she began to paint the man. In the meantime, her subconscious had worked out how to best represent that experience. The ultimate result involved construction of a box to frame the painting, with doors and an altar to honour the subject and give the piece a greater weight of solemnity. For the most part, Lewis relies upon a period of meditation between experience and the physical creation of a piece. Although the initial impulse stays constant from the moment of inspiration, the means of best communicating her experience through art is something Lewis arrives at over time. Currently living in Paris, Lewis is often struck by things she sees in her travels through the city. One day recently, for example, she happened upon an elderly couple dancing on a street corner. Elegantly dressed and each totally absorbed in the other, they were performing a tango to scratchy recorded music. It was, Lewis said, "incredibly beautiful-the way they looked at each other, the whole experience." Although she didn't rush home to recreate the experience, that image was taken in and is sure to inform her future work.
Lewis says that she is usually working towards some end, most often an upcoming exposition. She will have a show in Paris in the upcoming months. Because of working towards an end, Lewis is constantly seeking images that are relevant to some chosen theme. However, she says that seeking can't be conducted in any kind of compulsive or exploitative way; her quest involves maintaining a receptive spirit, remaining open to the inspiration all around. The most important thing for Haley Lewis is to keep eyes, mind and heart open, and in that way allow inspiration, like breath, to enter in.