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joe lewis, 62, artist

ageist EDITORS | october 6, 2015

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The 20,000 Hour Rule

Before Banksy and Shepard Fairey could command hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work, street art was far too low-brow for the rarefied tastes of the art market. And Joe Lewis couldn’t get enough of it.

Together with friends, the conceptual artist opened up Fashion Moda in 1978. The South Bronx gallery spotlighted Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring and graffiti artists dominating the New York cityscape, like Daze and Koor. “We were making art because we had to do this,” says Lewis. “We didn’t think it was going to take us someplace.”

Koor ended up having a painting in the Museum of Modern Art two years later, says Lewis. Scharf has had a successful career in his own right. And Haring’s legacy is far-reaching, including a piece on the Berlin Wall.

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As for Lewis? He recently stepped back from his position as dean of the UC Irvine Art School to create more. “ I’m not going to be a rock musician—which is what I’ve always wanted to be—but I do write, and I do work,” he told me. “And I have a lot of things I’ve always thought about, and been in a lot of shows. Now I have the opportunity to just focus on that. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating.”

Yes, he wanted to spend more time with his teenage son and 11-year-old daughter. But he also felt time ticking. He’d begun lifting again and working on core strength to keep in shape, but he wanted to make sure his mind was agile as well. He wasn’t interested in repeating the mistakes of his father and others in his generation. Its an Ageist theme: do it now or never.

“They didn’t take that experience they had and do something else with it,” he says.“I’m an artist. I believe that great art is made from experience. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a fabulous piece when you’re 21, but it takes you 40 years to learn how to paint, and takes you 40 years how to learn to be a photographer … To really know everything to know about what you’re doing. This 10,000 hours thing? I think it’s 20,000 hours personally.”

He’s also starting to downsize. A few weeks ago, he turned in his BMW (and really misses that sound system) and were his son not in high school, he and his wife would probably be somewhere more urban. But for now he’s traveling a lot more. He recently came back from a trip to Iceland, where he was sketching. He’s also got this wild idea to produce a fragrance—Black Out—an idea born when he saw Britney Spears had one. “I thought, shit, all of these stars have a perfume,” he says. “Why don’t I have a one?”

Indeed. Why shouldn’t Joe have one?

 “I look at it from day to day,” he says. “I make plans, I have things I’d like to do. I don’t put very much weight on being 62.”