When local artist, K.O. Lewis, missed winning last year’s St. James Court Art Show poster design contest by one vote, he could have easily been discouraged.
Instead, he stayed true to his belief that, if you “put out positive energy, positive things come back.” One positive thing came in the form of a phone call in May informing Lewis that there would be no need to enter the contest this year. Instead, the committee had decided that his design concept was so impressive that his artwork would automatically be commissioned for this year’s poster.
This made 2018 the first year in 62 years that the St. James Court Art Show did not have a poster contest. Instead, Lewis was given until July to complete his artwork, which he completed in two weeks.
On Friday, August 3rd, Mayor Greg Fischer called a special press conference near the St. James Court fountain in Old Louisville, to unveil this year’s official St. James Court Art Show poster.
Fischer said, “K.O. Lewis’s work is a great example of how artists can reveal the unique character of our diverse and compassionate city.”
Lewis said he was surprised by the number of people in attendance for the unveiling. What he expected to be 10 or 15 people, turned out to be 40 or 50, as residents from the neighborhood began to gather in the court to witness the reveal of this one-of-a-kind piece.
Drawing inspiration from his hometown of Louisville and the majestic woman poised upon the St. James Court fountain, Lewis set out to create a piece of art that represented the heart of Old Louisville.
Staying true to his unique style of portrait work, Lewis created a colorful abstract canvas of fall colors as a background for the feminine fountain figure. He then had a decision to make. For the past year and a half, Lewis has been incorporating hand-lettered words of inspiration into his paintings.
When he completed the painting of the statue, he placed the image on Facebook and asked followers if he should add lettering to this commissioned piece. The vote was an overwhelming, “Yes,” with comments of encouragement coming in, “You have to — that’s your style.”
Heeding their advice, Lewis added his signature lettering, but with a Louisville-inspired twist. Rather than lyrics or words of inspiration, he added the street names of all five neighborhoods involved and the year that the show first started. To finish off the piece, he placed a large 62 in the far upper right corner, as if it were a postage stamp, signifying the 62nd annual art show.
According to The Old Louisville Guide, the St. James Court Art Show, “has become one of the largest open-air art shows in the country.” Each year, thousands of people fill the streets of Old Louisville to appreciate the work of approximately 700 artists and soak in the culture and the picturesque surroundings.
While Lewis has been participating in art shows for the last seven years, he has been attending St. James for the last five. Because Lewis is the featured artist this year, he will be set up in St. James Court, the most prestigious and difficult area to get into as an artist. While Lewis understands the importance of this opportunity, he will miss his usual location on Third Street, “Third Street has shown me a lot of love.”
Lewis draws his inspiration from other artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Tim Okamura, two visual artists that each paint unique interpretations of African-Americans. Lewis says, while “Instagram has opened up a world of art for me…the people I paint are influences in my life.”
Such influences include American trumpeter Louis Armstrong, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and “The Greatest,” professional boxer Muhammad Ali. While these historical icons may have provided the influence for Lewis’s art, his talent appears to be part of his genetic make-up.
“My mom was an artist,” Lewis said. Although he was never able to actually see his mother draw, he says of her work, “She was amazing. I get my skill from her.” His mother was not the only one with talent, “My father had really impressive penmanship…I’m still trying to figure out ways to get my letters (that) clean.”
Thousands of art enthusiasts will descend upon the streets of downtown Louisville and St. James Court this fall. There is no question, that, regardless of their taste in art, they are sure to find inspiration in the positive spirit and unique style of K.O. Lewis’s work.
The St. James Court Art Show will take place in Historic Old Louisville, October 5 – 7. Show hours are: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday & Saturday, and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday.