Love, drama and landscape

Karla Hayward
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Artist opens new gallery in St. John's

Falling in love with a painting can happen in many ways. The feeling can sneak up on you slowly over time, a gentle appreciation turning into a deep romance. Or, it can tackle you full-force in an instant, tossing you over its broad shoulders and running off with you, body and bones.

Peter Lewis's paintings seem to overwhelmingly gather in the latter category. Maybe it's the vibrant hues. Maybe it's the emotional accessibility of his expressionist style. Maybe it's his choice of subject: dramatic scenes of Newfoundland, Arizona and Ireland.

Peter Lewis's paintings show dramatic scenes of Newfoundland, Arizona and Ireland. - Photos by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Falling in love with a painting can happen in many ways. The feeling can sneak up on you slowly over time, a gentle appreciation turning into a deep romance. Or, it can tackle you full-force in an instant, tossing you over its broad shoulders and running off with you, body and bones.

Peter Lewis's paintings seem to overwhelmingly gather in the latter category. Maybe it's the vibrant hues. Maybe it's the emotional accessibility of his expressionist style. Maybe it's his choice of subject: dramatic scenes of Newfoundland, Arizona and Ireland.

Whatever it is, Lewis's works are easy to fall in love with. Large canvases done in oil, often with a palette knife, they're being snapped up by established collectors and art neophytes alike.

Painting for Lewis has not been a long time endeavour. He says he only started pushing paint around in his 20s. A teacher by profession, Lewis began by creating backdrops for school plays and says he, "Just got used to working on large pieces."

As time went on, he took several sabbaticals to hone his craft, and sat with established artists like Jean Claude Roy, Gerry Squires, Tara Byrne, Bonnie Leyton and Jim Maunder. Lewis says he is also very much influenced by the Group of Seven, impressionists like Monet and post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh.

Lewis prefers to work "en plein air" - outside, with the scene he's recreating right there in front of him.

"Being outdoors is just enjoyable for me. And if painting wasn't enjoyable to me, I wouldn't do it."

Perhaps it's the enforced urgency of this method that shines through in his works. Dynamic and even a touch raw, each leaves you with the sense that a very specific moment in time has been captured.

Lewis has been showing and selling his art since 2006, most recently in an exhibition at the Masonic Temple in November, and also in a group show at the Bonnie Leyton Gallery in March. But now, the artist has decided to take a giant leap forward, opening The Art of Peter Lewis Gallery in a beautiful heritage building at the foot of Church Hill.

Of the works hung for his inaugural show, most are of Newfoundland scenes, but a fair number also show vistas from a recent trip to Sedona, Ariz.

Each piece has a story - which Lewis is happy to share. A 3' by 4' piece entitled "Slide Rock" of Oak Creek, Ariz., is populated with figures, many of whom often would stop and chat with Lewis as he painted. While they're simplistic representations, he manages to capture personality and movement nonetheless.

Interestingly, several of the Arizona scenes show strong similarities to Newfoundland with their saltbox style homes in brilliant colors. It was this very connection that drew him in, Lewis says.

And, he notes, when he was in Ireland painting, he found himself doing the same thing - looking for connect points to Newfoundland. Searching for the familiar in the unfamiliar.

That people are quite drawn to Lewis's work is undeniable. While his gallery was not yet officially open at time of writing, the artist had already sold several of the pieces hung for the show. One deal was even closed during our interview.

"I think it's the drama. The movement. The strong colours ... I think people like to buy something they feel connected to," says Lewis on his success.

"I think painting should make someone happy. This world is dark enough. The colours and movement should cheer you up," he continues.

The Art of Peter Lewis Gallery can be found at 5 Church Hill, St. John's. You can visit Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or by appointment. All are welcome at the opening reception, today from 7 to 9 p.m.

For more, visit www.artofpeterlewis.com.

Organizations: Church Hill, Group of Seven

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's, Arizona Ireland Sedona, Ariz. Oak Creek

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