J. LOUIS

Scraped into Fo­cus

American Art Collector - - Contents - Char­lotte, NC

Paint­ing is most of­ten thought of as the ap­pli­ca­tion of paint. But re­mov­ing paint has its own re­wards, as is the case with the art­work of J. Louis, who uses lay­ers of paint—some stacked tall and oth­ers scraped away to re­veal a soul­ful un­der­belly of raw color—to ex­plore the kalei­do­scope of emo­tion that can be found in the hu­man face.

“The face and the hu­man ex­pres­sion are the most im­por­tant,” he says. “What I like to do is use the el­e­ments around the face to draw you in around this solid, ab­stracted de­sign. One thing that gets lost in a lot of art is that it’s a tool for cre­at­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing an idea. To com­mu­ni­cate you have to have some­thing fa­mil­iar that peo­ple can re­late to, and a per­son’s face is a per­fect place to ex­plore those ideas.”

Louis, who re­cently made a big move from Chicago to New York City, will be show­ing new work start­ing on July 12 at Shain Gallery in Char­lotte, North Carolina. The show will fea­ture his largescale paint­ings that marry ab­stractly com­posed shapes and color forms with highly de­tailed faces ren­dered with a dream­like soft­ness.

“All of my paint­ings, the vast ma­jor­ity of them, are cre­ated based on photo shoots with live mod­els. I’ll take those pho­tos and work with them in a com­puter un­til it’s the im­age I want, one I find pleas­ing,” he says. “From there, it’s lots of prep on my pan­els with a linen and a museum-grade ad­he­sive. I find that this cre­ates a unique tex­ture to each work, and not a linen tex­ture, when I scrape away the paint later on I un­earth in­ter­est­ing el­e­ments. I’ll typ­i­cally start with the ex­pres­sion to get the right pro­por­tions and then the fur­ther I get in the more I start re­mov­ing pieces and re­paint­ing, whether that’s leav­ing an en­tire gar­ment so it’s just in the back­ground or scrap­ing every­thing so I leave it bare.”

Louis says his process doesn’t al­ways click into place right away. “It’s tricky and it looks re­ally wrong un­til every­thing plops into place,” he says, adding that he knows he’s done when the paint­ing com­mu­ni­cates that to him. “It’s just a feel­ing, and you know it when you come to it.”

The re­sult­ing work is both star­tling in its simplicity and its de­sign, and also in­tox­i­cat­ingly col­or­ful with large chunks of color—cobalt blues that smell of salt wa­ter, plummy pur­ples of sub­dued bril­liance and a yel­low that can be seen from or­bit—that are sand­wiched around peace­ful fem­i­nine fig­ures with de­tailed faces. Elec­tric Dis­po­si­tion fea­tures a fig­ure seem­ingly float­ing over four blocks of raw and ab­stracted paint scraped down to the very foun­da­tion of the paint­ing. Tsunami fea­tures a fig­ure, arms out­stretched, amid two mes­mer­iz­ing shades of blue. The artist, who says he’s heav­ily in­spired by Gus­tav Klimt and An­to­nio Mancini, cre­ated the sur­face she’s lay­ing against with a sin­gle brush­stroke across the en­tire can­vas.

With all the work, the viewer is see­ing paint that is there and paint that was there—past and present ren­dered around the hu­man form. “I love play­ing with ma­te­ri­als, so much that I don’t think of my­self as a tra­di­tional painter, but more a ma­te­ri­als ex­pert,” he says. “I just love play­ing with the three-di­men­sion­al­ity of paint.”

1Tsunami, oil on linen­mounted cra­dled panel, 48 x 48"2El­e­va­tion, oil on linen­mounted cra­dled panel, 35 x 35"3Elec­tric Dis­po­si­tion, oil on linen-mounted cra­dled panel, 40 x 52"4J. Louis paint­ing The Bridge, oil on linen­mounted cra­dled panel, 60 x 60"

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