Visual Arts

Landscape artist is drawn by his environment

Many artists find success and inspiration in the world's major metropolitan areas. Fortunately for Kentuckians, Chris Segre-Lewis has been drawn to the history and beauty of the local landscape.

"In Kentucky, everywhere you look, there is something intrinsic about the land," said Segre-Lewis, whose exhibit of paintings, Signs, is at Ann Tower Gallery in Lexington through January.

Born in Jamaica, Segre- Lewis grew up mostly in Florida, where he was strongly influenced by the volatile weather.

"A lot of my work came out of a reverence for the power of the environment," Segre-Lewis said, noting that few of his paintings feature clear skies. Even in his paintings of the deserts of Israel, the skies are softened by dust. Heavy storm clouds dominate many of his paintings, including Strange Light and Tabernalle.

Although the Florida climate influenced the atmospheric quality of his paintings, Segre-Lewis found that in Florida, there "isn't a lot of deep history," which is what he thinks lends such expression to his landscapes, especially his scenes of Kentucky.

"Landscape itself is very interesting because it is the beginning of modern art. You begin to see things in a more abstract way," he said.

Segre-Lewis' work has the kind of effortlessness that painters dream of. Clear strokes of vivid color seem perfectly placed. Thin, oily glazes enhance the quality of light in the scenes.

Another aspect of the paintings is that the horizons are sometimes tilted. Often, the atmosphere blurs or obscures the horizon line.

"I'm not big into solid horizon lines," Segre-Lewis said. "Everything is depicted through the lens of the atmosphere."

The art is displayed without the confines of frames, a signature of his paintings.

"I don't frame the works because the idea is that the space continues to move on," he said. It was a decision he made early in his career.

Segre-Lewis came to Kentucky in 1994. He received a bachelor's degree from Asbury College and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Kentucky. In addition to teaching and exhibiting at Asbury, he has had his work featured at other Lexington galleries, including Main Cross Gallery and Tuska Center for Contemporary Art.

Signs focuses mostly on the landscapes of his travels, including Israel, Ireland and Indonesia. Like his other paintings, these are not precise examples of actual landscapes, but painted through a combination of memory and drawings.

The name of the show is representative of the depth of his subjects.

"Specific places in the world, specific landscapes, function as a sign of historical meaning or religious connotation," Segre-Lewis said.

He will sometimes work from photographs or sketches of a place, but often he builds them around an idea or narrative, so they "might be a true place but filtered through the human experience," Segre-Lewis said.

Gallerist Ann Tower, calls him "a natural-born painter," and she said she was immediately drawn to his work. "They have this marvelous quality; the paint is very luscious and worked but still depictive."

Tower saw Segre-Lewis' work at Main Cross Gallery more than a year ago and knew she wanted him to exhibit in her space.

Tower says he has been showing in her gallery's group shows for "about a year," but this is his first solo show there.

"It's great-looking," Segre-Lewis said of Ann Tower Gallery. Besides the appearance, he appreciates the opportunity to show in a nationally recognized space, and the enthusiasm and experience Tower has.

Tower said, "Chris' show is the difference between amateur and professional. These are extremely powerful and beautiful at the same time."

Segre-Lewis said he hopes to continue exhibiting at Ann Tower Gallery and is looking to expand his work to other major galleries in the United States. He also exhibits in Florida and Jamaica, and his paintings can be seen as a part of an international show, Charis, which is touring North America and Asia. (It will next be shown in February at the International Forum on Christian Higher Education in Atlanta.)

"Every show I do," he said, "I try to challenge myself and do something I haven't tried, learn new things and increase the complexity."