Local artist and poet Nadine Lewis has an eclectic and moving art and photography exhibition in the Steinberg Reading Room of the Elting Memorial Library, titled “yoU aRe > [more than] the sum of your parts.”
Those who have any significant amount of time in New Paltz will certainly recognize her black-and-white portraits of iconic New Paltz citizens in the 1990s, including the beloved Ed Brandeis, a/k/a Bojangles, who has now passed on, Jack Murphy and Seamus, who was “straight off the boat from Ireland and worked at the gas station on North Manheim. Everyone loved Seamus.” There are great photos of people sitting on the stoop downtown, and a vintage shot of Hoffman’s Deli, when it used to be located next to the Bistro in the 1990s, reflecting the historical building across the street.
Many of these people and portraits inspired various abstract paintings, watercolor creatures and chapbooks that bring a three-dimensional quality not only to her work, but representative of the artist herself. Lewis, also a poet, said that she sees this show as a “nostalgia-wrapped love letter to the town and village of New Paltz,” which has been “more than just a backdrop to many of the pivotal life-changing moments” of her story.
Born into a counterculture lifestyle — “My parents met on a rooftop in Berkeley…I think that sums it up,” she said with a laugh — Lewis started drawing and writing poetry at the age of 3 in their home in High Falls. “I grew up over the mountain, but I’ve always been drawn to New Paltz. I spend so much time here; there’s just something magical about this town that has always pulled me in and inspired me as an artist, a poet, a person.”
As a result, she has several chapbooks on display of poetry she wrote during various open-mic poetry readings, some collaborations like various paintings, others her own, some published in various poetry collections and magazines.
The more one looks into the display cases, the more of Lewis’ talent from a young age to the present is revealed. There is a black-and-white photograph that she took years ago of her friends’ faces together and smiling in the sun at Split Rock; a mini-portrait that was the first painting that she ever displayed in New York City; and a waterproof wrist-wallet bracelet made from multicolored duct tape.
There are larger abstract paintings exhibited, one of which incorporates the cover of her husband Gregory Bray’s published dissertation, as well as other intertwined images that are both visually inviting and textural, as she uses acrylic, sheetrock dust and sculptural paint. “I use whatever I have, and I enjoy mixing various paints and materials together to create the image and feeling I want to evoke in a painting,” she said.
She points to another canvas that was warped where the turpentine created vinelike lines throughout the piece. “When Hurricane Irene hit my studio was flooded, I lost a lot of work, but it made me more intent to show and save the ones that I could, even though they were altered by the flood. It shows how a painting also lives through time and space.”
As an artist, a wife and a mother of two young kids, Lewis has a magnetic energy and a passion for life that is palpable. She explains how she just returned from a four-day road trip and a three-day residency at Texas A & M, where she and her friend engaged in an intense program that resulted in her creating ten new paintings, 1,400 photographs and numerous poems. “It was a great trip!” she said with a smile.
A reception of her show at the Elting Memorial Library will take place on Feb. 21 from 7 to 9 p.m., where she will discuss her work, her process and “hopefully have some lovely wine and cheese!”