Blog / 2014 / Adrienne Lewis and Me: 2 Painters, 1 Technique

April 7, 2014

Recently, a friend showed me the work of Adrienne Lewis. Her site is adriennelewispaintings.com, but if it isn’t up yet you can see more images on Facebook. My friend had discovered Lewis’ art on Craig’s List and, since it reminded her of what I do, she passed it along.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2011 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

When friends do that, it feels like it’s my birthday—like there’s a yummy treat just for me! And when I saw Lewis’ work, I was thrilled. A lot of what she does looks like what I do, but it’s also different.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2012 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

And that’s what I love about looking at work that’s similar to mine: it helps me to see where my originality is.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2012 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

It’s like playing peak-a-boo with your own personality. What is it about Lewis’ work that’s just her? And what is it about my work that’s just me? It’s hard to put into words, but I think it’s really obvious in a visual sense.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2006 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

After seeing all these, it may or may not surprise you to discover that Lewis and I went to school together. We knew each other only slightly, but we were both at Willamette University at the same time—I finished up in 2003 and she graduated in 2004. Maybe it was something in the water there or maybe her way of painting evolved like mine did. But I think the explanation is much simpler than that. I believe that Lewis’ style is influenced by mine.

Andrienne Lewis imitates Gwenn Seemel
screenshot of Lewis’ Facebook page

These images from a Throwback Thursday post on her Facebook page are what convinced me. I believe that Lewis began experimenting with my technique around the time of this enormous stylistic leap. Lewis claims that this change occurred during the course of just one year, from 2004 to 2005—or right after I had my senior show, which included works like this one.

I may be wrong. I don’t have a lot of information about Lewis’ life, but, from what I do know, it certainly seems like she is inspired by my work. And that’s not just okay: it’s really wonderful!

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2009 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

In the end, the interesting conversation about our technique doesn’t revolve around the question: “who did it first?” Instead, it’s about this question: “what do you like about the work?”

Because similarities between two pieces of art allow us to dig deeper into our feelings for the work. They help us be more observant. This is something that I explored with Subjective, a series of portraits of people painted twice, once by me and once by my friend and collaborator Becca Bernstein.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2006 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

When you look at my art and Lewis’ art together, you can really see who each of us is as an artist as well as what’s unique about our paintings. Our work demonstrates that, where originality is concerned, it’s not what you do that matters, but how you do it.

Gwenn Seemel’s art and Andrienne Lewis’ imitation
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2011 and Andrienne Lewis’ piece from 2014

And today I’m speaking about just this sort of thing at TEDxGeneva! The theme for the event is freedom in the digital age. With my talk, I’m addressing the importance of imitation in culture-making as well as how the copyright paradigm has damaged imitation. For more information about the conference, go here.

UPDATE

April 18, 2014

Lewis told me in a comment on Facebook that my work didn’t influence hers and that she never took a painting class at Willamette University.

I’ve asked her to talk with me more about the evolution of her technique and share images of her influences—other artists’ work or tools that shaped her marks like these shaped mine. I look forward to writing more about the fascinating ways that artists discover their styles very soon!

UPDATE

November 17, 2014

Lewis has not responded to my attempts to contact her, so I made this video. You can see my TEDxGeneva talk here.

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