Paul Lewin and Afro-Caribbean Folklore
Two years ago, an old college friend of mine reached out to me on Facebook. She has been living in Washington, DC with her husband from Jamaica for several years now. And when she learned that I am now professionally collecting art and looking for international artists specifically, she texted me Paul Lewin's name. I was not exposed to the Caribbean Art before and naturally browsed his website, started following him on Instagram.
Fast forward to January 2020, I am at Almac Camera in San Francisco. We just finished photographing a set of paintings I brought, and this young man comes in to photograph his painting right after me. He sets it up on a pedestal, ready to be photographed. I look at his work. And it hits me. I remembered the conversation on the phone the owners of Almac camera just had with him an hour ago, and that he came here all the way from Oakland just to photograph this one small painting (1 hour on BART at least). It hits me that I have seen this style of artwork somewhere before, am I following him on Instagram? It hits me that this young man is from Oakland and Paul Lewin is also from Oakland, CA. Cannot be true, can it be? "Are you Paul Lewin? I've been following you on Instagram for a while.", I ask embarrassingly. "Yes, I am". "Weird", I think to myself. "Serendipity?" I think to myself.
And here we are. Paul might not describe himself as a Caribbean Artist, after all, he's been living in the US since 4 years old. Yet, somehow, in his imagination and on the tip of his paintbrush, these images and stories of the Caribbean, real and imaginary, live on and flourish.
In His Own Words...
My art is inspired by Afro Caribbean/ African folklore, nature, sci-fi, and Afrofuturism. I’m primarily focused on storytelling; a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, dating back to ancient Africa. My intent is to create alternate worlds, with various elements of African and Afro Caribbean culture.
The subjects in my work represent the ancestors. Ancient ancestors, futuristic ancestors, interdimensional ancestors, and all the other beings that inhabit the spirit world.
My creative process involves meditating on these concepts and allowing space for whatever comes up. I’ve always loved the theory of the artist as a conduit, transcribing visions onto a canvas. Or photographing dreams. I try to let each piece evolve on it’s own and not interfere too much. I’m not always sure of the meaning behind each painting, but I’m also not too concerned about that either. I’m more into the actual process of creating. I love getting lost in the details and watching an image come together from start to finish.
One of my favorite memories as a kid was running home after school everyday to lock myself in my room for hours just drawing and creating. Not much has changed.
Paul Lewin was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973. He moved to the United States with his family in 1977 and spent most of his younger years growing up in Miami FL. In 2004 he relocated to Oakland, CA.
Art has been a part of his life from as far back as he can remember. His father was his first artistic influence. From a very young age, Paul's father would assist him in various creative projects. And he was a great storyteller too. The young Paul Lewin loved listening to his stories of the old country in Jamaica while they worked. Listening about ancient societies, science, and history. His childhood home was filled with paintings, sculptures, and artifacts of many different cultures from around the world. These works, along with his love of sci-fi and fantasy art, inspired a lot of his early creativity.
Eventually, he began creating his own stories. Pencil and paper were his media of choice in those days. He was also into graffiti during his early years but as he states, he "wasn’t very good at it". Yet, it did teach him about having flow and movement in the artwork. That would lead him into his next phase in 1994 when he picked up a paintbrush for the first time and began painting.