Ageist #5 Newsletter 10/9/15

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let’s get efficient

This week I am thinking about essentialism: getting rid of the noise, the clutter in your life, and moving towards your light—whatever that may be.

Time is short. Let’s get efficient. To borrow from this week’s interview subjects, let’s create art now. Let’s move upstate, now.

I have been inspired by both of these guys for going on 30 years. I’ve seen Joe Lewis grow from the ultimate downtown art insider to a man of significant gravitas. I’ve watched Robert Bentley go through more than one life-endangering health crisis and come out the other side stronger, more confident and more relaxed. So it’s with a lot of pleasure that I introduce you to both of them.

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joe lewis | los angeles
Joe Lewis is probably the best artist you have never heard of. He is also an extraordinary organizer. Before Banksy and Shepard Fairey could command hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work, street art was far too lowbrow for the rarefied tastes of the art market.

But Joe couldn’t get enough of it.

Together with Stefan Eins, an Austrian conceptual artist, he helped start Fashion Moda in 1978. The South Bronx gallery space spotlighted, among many others, John Ahearn, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Jane Dickson and graffiti artists dominating the New York cityscape, like Crash, Koor and Lady Pink. “We were making art because we had to do this,” says Lewis. “We didn’t think it was going to take us someplace.”

Koor ended up having a painting in the Museum of Modern Art two years later, says Lewis. Ahearn has had a successful career in his own right. And Haring’s legacy is far-reaching, including a piece on the Berlin Wall.

As for Lewis? He recently stepped back from his position as Dean of the UC Irvine Art School to create more. “I’m not going to be a rock musician—which is what I’ve always wanted to be—but I do write, and I do work,” he told me. “And I have a lot of things I’ve always thought about, and been in a lot of shows. Now I have the opportunity to just focus on that. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating.”

Yes, he wanted to spend more time with his 11-year-old son (he also has a 35-year-old daughter). But he also felt time ticking. He’d begun lifting weights again and working on core strength to keep in shape, but he wanted to make sure his mind was agile as well. He wasn’t interested in repeating the mistakes of his father and others in his generation.

“They didn’t take that experience they had and do something else with it,” he says. “I’m an artist. I believe that great art is made from experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a fabulous piece when you’re 21, but it takes you 40 years to learn how to paint, and takes you 40 years to learn to be a photographer … to really know everything, to know about what you’re doing. This 10,000 hours thing? I think it’s 20,000 hours, personally.”

He’s also starting to downsize. A few weeks ago, he turned in his BMW (and he really misses that sound system) and were his son not in high school, he and his wife would probably move somewhere more urban.

I ended up photographing Joe at his home in a bedroom subdivision of Irvine: perfect homes, perfect lawns; and I couldn’t help but think, “This is a long way from the South Bronx.” But he’ll keep busy with traveling. He recently came back from a trip to Iceland, where he was sketching. He’s also got this wild idea to produce a fragrance, Black Out – an idea born when he saw Britney Spears had one. “I thought, shit, all of these stars have a perfume,” he says. “Why don’t I have a one?”

Indeed. Why shouldn’t Joe have one? Or anything else he’s after, really.

“I look at it day to day,” he says. “I make plans, I have things I’d like to do. I don’t put very much weight on being 62.”