Chicago artist and FSC Member Lewis Achenbach can be often seen in jazz clubs and festivals, where he operates behind the crowd pouring his heart and paint onto a canvas transforming the onstage performance into a figure or abstract landscape.
The creator and curator of Jazz Occurrence, in his own words he ”interprets the music and atmosphere of an event in his artwork in the moment. It started with documenting live music through an imaginative process, but it has become much more.”
Lewis is FSC’s featured artist of the month and will be showcasing his work in our main gallery with an installation, live art exhibition and musical event on Friday, February 28th called TEATRO FUNDUS. We recently sat down with Lew for our monthly member interview
Interview with Lewis Achenbach
1)Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion for art?
Art as a passion? No. I’ve always considered myself as an artist. Even before I knew what an artist was. It just seemed like my job and my means of communication. My wife recently recalled a goodbye cartoon that I drew for her in 8th grade. You have to go with what you are good at doing. So art was always my thing.
2)Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
The process starts with taking the studio to the venue. Setting up in a concert setting. Then the process of painting live begins with paying attention to the space and intensive listening. Much like the deep listening process of Pauline Oliveros. Then it’s just about being present, getting out of the way, and letting the painting happen. I also imagine the music as being a physical entity in the room. This allows for confident abstraction, and purposeful distortion in representation.
3)What drew you to jazz and how did you decide painting performances could be a part of your medium?
Jazz invited me into it’s infinite possibilities. Creative music, free-form music allows for something close to full on freedom of expression. Performance painting demands that I act out this expression in full view of an audience. Like public speaking demands that you act the role of a confident performer.
4)What was the initial reaction from musicians when they saw what you were doing during their performance?
Percussion master Vincent Davis, back in 2012 at Multikulti, said ‘you paint like I play’. Harrison Bankhead told me that I had ‘the fire of compassion’. Katie Ernst and Coco Elysses agreed to collaborate for my first TEDx talk. Affirmations from players like these and Junius Paul, Jim Baker, early on let me know that I was in the right place, in terms of creative flow.
5)What is Jazz Occurrence and how did it start?
A JazzO is the marriage of the sonic arts and visual arts. It’s a cross influence in real time. It’s a collaborative experiment using these ancient tools of creative human expression; the arts. It started because I wanted to get closer to the musicians’ creative process. I wanted to be physically in the music; enveloped by it. I also wanted to see the sweat and wrinkles, the key frame body movements and workings of the instruments up close. Like a documentary filmmaker, I wanted to create an environment where it wouldn’t be weird if I was painting in the band, as opposed to sketching in the audience. This intimate proximity has benefited the artworks that I create (as authentic), and reinforced my emotional relationship with the music and musicians.
6)What plays the biggest roll in your creative process and/or success as an artist?
Being emotionally open to the process is important. Not putting preconcieved parameters on the final artwork is important. Again, listening and responding correctly is essential. I act as if the completed artwork exists in a future time and my job is just to be there, and not mess it up.
7)Are there moments when you question your career? Fiscally, yes. I’m doing what I was designed to do, but the money isn’t always there. But I can’t let that get in the way. I believe that if I’m true to the task, the living wage will follow, and if I’m blessed, maybe putting my kid through college by selling art and performing. But I don’t question what I’m doing. That’s right on.
8)If you could be born in another period of history, when would it be?
Early American settlers time would be dangerous. No time for creative endeavors, but interesting in a living on the edge way. Or learning from a master like Rembrandt or Hieronymous Bosch. Or living in the future would be cool, when the live painting experience will be so emersive that brushstrokes will physically surround the audience, like it does in my imagination.
9)Do you have a favorite book, film or painting, which inspires you?
Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker for books, Federico Fellini’s City of Women, Terry Gilliam films and the animated Allegro Non Troppo (for films). Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine, to be brief. But honestly, inspiration comes from the polarizing influences of the family foundation and the mystery of the unknown. Trying to imagine the mind of God infinitely starts me up.
10)What are you looking forward to in 2020? Exhibiting in Chicago.
Continuing collaborations with local Chicago and NYC creatives. Traveling to Europe and Canada for Jazz Occurrences. I never know when this particular process of a live painting discipline will end. So I’m soaking it in.
11)Tell us about the next Jazz Occurrence and where you would like to see this series down the road?
The next event, under the new title of Teatro Fundus happens on February 28th 6-10pm at Fulton Street Collective. We open and close with an art exhibition. 7-8pm Luciano Antonio solo (Brazilian guitar), 8-9pm the glorious KAIA String Quartet (Victoria Moreira, Naomi Culp, Amanda Grimm, Hope Shepherd - contemporary classical). These are my creative comrades. Live painting will be myself, Arthur Wright and Patricia Linninger Colmenero, Dail Kirkpatrick, Kristin Wenc, Catherine Daniels, Laura Schueren (FSC members). There will be free girl scout cookies.
Before that, on Feb 19th, I’m live painting with one of my favorite series; Jazz Record Art Collective.
After that, in early March, I travel to Richmond Virginia for a three day workshop and performance with elementary school students. My second Jazz Occurrence down there.
May 14th I’ll be the featured artist for the STUDIO 100 Fine Arts evening at Prospect Elementary School (Clarendon Hills).
I like to see the series move more into the arts & music education realm. I’ve been a doing series at the Oswego Fine Arts High School (5th annual in 2020).
In 2019, the digital live projection painting evolution happened. First with Extraordinary Popular Delusions at the Apple Michigan Ave store, and recently at Constellation with Marvin Tate, Matt Piet and Avreeayl Ra as Jazz Occurrence No.21 (short film coming soon).
The Jazz Occurrence name has always been a bit of a misnomer. I live paint to all genre of performance. I like to mix it up. Punk, opera, country, alternative, rock, pop and hip hop. It’s all in there.
Select works by Lewis Achenback