Pushing Impressionism

By Beacon Staff

Artistic talent can show itself in many forms, depending on when and where the artist needs it. For Thomas G. Lewis, his drawing and painting abilities spent 40 years in the graphic design business, but evolved to new, impressionistic levels when he moved to Montana 10 years ago.

“The whole thing was kind of an adventure coming up here,” Lewis said. “One of my goals was to get serious about my painting.”

Given his recent work, Lewis is definitely on track to accomplishing that goal. About 50 of his pieces are on display at Collage Gallery in Bigfork in an exhibit called “Pushing Impressionism.” The exhibit runs until June 24.

All of the pieces are work Lewis spent the last year creating and curating, and they are a different type of painting than he’s done before.

“When I first started to exhibit, I was exhibiting with a lot of abstract stuff,” Lewis said. “When I came to Montana, it tightened up a lot.”

His current exhibit is still impressionistic, but the characters and scenes are easily identifiable as ranch life and landscapes. Much of the inspiration came from Lewis’ life, his somewhat nomadic childhood spent in various communities across the west, punctuated with life on the ranch.

Visiting Montana was like coming home after spending decades in southern California and the Southwest.

“We came up here and I saw the trees and the mountains and the water and it reminded me of the ranch in Colorado that my dad had and that just yanked me back to something that I really loved,” Lewis said.

Part of his recent work includes 4-foot tall paintings of cowboys, inspired by the men he met as a child.

“These are the guys who would show up in the ranch in the spring and they’d be gone in the fall and I’d never see them again,” he said.

Other pieces, such as his painting of bison spanning 12-feet in length, were inspired by the time he spent in Northwest Montana.

Lewis said his “Pushing Impressionism” pieces are the result of his love of painting that laid dormant for decades while he pursued a successful career in graphic design.

He went to college at Arizona State University for commercial art, and from there opened a graphic design studio in San Diego that evolved into a big business, including creating the logo for Jack in the Box restaurants.

“We were pretty fortunate,” Lewis said.

He also started a publishing company with his sons, Tehabi Publishing, that focused on coffee table books. It was a fun pursuit, he said, but when it came to retirement, he felt the pull to get back to the canvas.

“I had some wonderful painting teachers (at Arizona State) and that built an enduring interest in painting,” Lewis said.

Since rediscovering his love for the craft, Lewis has tried to focus more on painting in the moment, with a technique called alla prima, meaning applying wet oil paint to other layers of wet paint. It requires quick and decisive work, he said, because it has to be completed before the previous layers dry.

Lewis also spent some time teaching painting workshops, and having to articulate his methodology enhanced his own painting because he understood it more concretely.

“That translated into my painting because suddenly I was applying (my methodology) and applying it in a planned way; not tight, but a planned way,” he said.

The result is his latest work, and a new chapter in his very creative life.

“I grew up on a cattle ranch and I had a real interest in the romance of the western life,” Lewis said. “I’m trying to translate all of this into this different voice.”

For more information on Thomas G. Lewis, visit www.thomasglewis.com. “Pushing Impressionism” will be on display at Collage Gallery in Bigfork until June 24.

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