Sunday, August 28, 2016

USk Chicago Spotlight Sunday: Meet Lewis Achenbach

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a very talented artist and founder of a fresh new sketching experience. His name is Lewis Achenbach and he is an artist, painter and the man behind the “Jazz Occurrence” music experience. We’ll talk about “JazzO” a little bit later but I think you will find what he is doing to be quite inspirational and very much like urban sketching. I often see Lew with buckets of paints and brushes in his hand but other times he is sitting with a sketchpad and pastels or markers, capturing however the music moves him.

So without further ado, let's meet Lewis!

Wes Douglas (WD): Hello Lewis and thank you for taking the time to chat with me here today. I used to wonder, Lew, if what you are doing at the JazzO music events relates to “urban sketching” at all. I mean, you sketch on location, you draw/paint from observation, and you share your work online. Those are all Urban Sketching guiding principles and even one more “we welcome all styles and mediums.” That seems to fit withint the urban sketching manifesto if you ask me. What do you think?

 Lewis Achenbach (LA): Wes, let me first define my versions of the terms ‘sketching’ and ‘painting’, or at least compartmentalize the two via process and media. I use those terms interchangeably. ‘Sketching’ always comes off as an informal enterprise compared to the high-art word weight of ‘painting’. It is creating that is getting done, and that is what should stand out. 

I don’t differentiate between black and white and color either. It’s either dry or wet. Dry is sketching. Painting is wet. That is how I categorize the process. And the gig usually dictates dry or wet. But I will use the term ‘sketch’ to make it simple. 

WD: Why do you sketch? How does it help you?
LA: I create to music, mostly, or at least it is what I’ve become known for, which is cool with me. So I sketch to hear the music, in the way my brain likes to hear it. 
In general, I sketch to get a grasp on what is going on in the world. It’s my vehicle to understand; my default tool in my toolbox. Sketching slows thing down for me, so I can hear, and even rewind what I’ve just heard. I can look at a drawing the next day and residual hear the gig from last night, in a sense.

WD: What is your favorite sketching tool?
LA: I like the caveman grit of charcoal, right now. Pastel, chalk too for the dry work. Acrylic is the functional wet on-sight media. AD markers for small moleskine sketches.
WD: Where is your favorite place to sketch?
LA: I love Constellation Chicago. It’s the vibe of the place. I feel welcomed there, to create. And I have a mental archives of great sound experiences from there. And they have me formally paint large scale on canvas. Which you cannot do without permission from the owner, and blessings from the musicians. So it’s a relationship thing too. 
Also, sketching on the beach is becoming a haven. 
And I like to combine the music and exterior spaces thing, which is why music festivals have become a favorite gig.

WD: What is the inspiration for the sketches you selected?
LA: Well, music is the simple answer. But it’s really knowledge that I seek through sketching, and wisdom through that. How else, as artists, are we to communicate to others, except through our gifts/talents/tendencies? I get to ‘tell’ the musicians how I have just felt about the live performance, by showing them a live document of my experience. I dialogue through visual means. So my inspiration is also the ability to ‘be heard’.

WD: Why are these scenes special to you?
LA: So the artworks are special because they represent a personal memory (a concert) but they also embody this impossible task and continuing adventure. The task of capturing fleeting live music while it’s lingering in the air. And the adventure of documenting this impossible gig: trying to sketch something that doesn’t really visually exists (except in my imagination). And I’m trying not to force the colors and forms onto the music. I let the music tell me what to do. What colors and line quality to use. The music tells me what personal references to touch on, and use as push off points, to create an authentic artwork, where I am just a vessel, present in front of the paper/canvas, getting the music ‘out’. If that makes any sense. 

WD: What do you do when you are not sketching? Does your day job incorporate your sketching skills?
LA: I do a decent amount of organizing, networking and self promotion. Which has all to do with the Jazz Occurrence project; where I produce events so that I can curate and paint larger scale next to the musicians, and really physically get ‘into’ the music. If I am part of the show, I can cut loose and even influence the music happening in appropriate ways. 

I also educate; teaching improvisation and ways/means of cross influence and collaboration with students. 

And I paint houses. And I have a small animation studio in my basement, where I do free-lance animations and videos for various corporate franchises. It’s all brush in hand, clay in hand, col-erase pencil in hand kind of work. Actually the live music (in the moment, broad brush stroke) sketching bore out of a necessity of contrast to the tight pencil on paper draftsman day job of animating at a studio in NYC. But that’s another story (and I wont get into getting arrest for graffiti on the lower east side during the Mayor "RudyGiuliani administration).

WD: If anyone wants to follow you or to find out more about Jazz Occurrence, do you have any links online?

LA: Yes, there are a number of links where I post information about Jazz Occurrence and when the next events will be:

Lewis Achenbach 
Jazz Occurrence Art Exhibition 
Twitter: @lewisachenbach #jazzoccurrence
Instagram:     lewisachenbach #jazzoccurrence
(at TEDx Naperville 2015)

WD: Lewis, I greatly appreciate the time you’ve given us here today and I really enjoy how your Jazz Occurrence project has redefined common perceptions of what a “sketch” can be. I look forward to the next time you and I can hang out with one of your group of jazz musicians and sketch together. 

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually.  Now that our chapter has over 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every sketcher in person and have a conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.

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