While searching for the next artist to collaborate with for our Born + Raised tap handle series, we stumbled upon Chicago-based Kate Lewis. Toying with the concept of infinity and loops and female identity using bright colors, Kate’s work seemed like a great fit for Goose Island’s next handle “canvas.” —INGRAIN, Fall/Winter 2019
STORY / Erika Wojno
When Kate and I first met in our Fulton Street taproom to discuss the project, we looked at each other from across the room like you would look at someone on your first Bumble date. “Is that her? She looks like the pictures…”
We both laughed and quickly played into the joke. It became clear that she was a true delight: smiley, warm, and excited to collaborate. We exchanged random-ass stories, talked about art, drank some Born + Raised off the original Nate Otto tap handle, and then our conversation quickly digressed from anything to do with work. Overall, not a bad day at the office.
When we sat down on Big Delicious Planet’s patio a couple of weeks later to chat some more, we were both wearing various shades of pink (literally from head to toe) and we each ordered tuna melts. It was a sunny day, and we talked about feral cats (sadly, you won’t read that in the following interview) as well as how she became an artist. (This really is starting to sound like a good online date.) While the interview is just a snippet from our conversation, it is telling of Kate’s worldly views as well as how she finds inspiration for her work both in our hometown of Chicago and in the places she’s traveled.
Erika Wojno: Let’s start with something simple: What was your journey to becoming an artist?
I always did art growing up, and I would travel a lot. My parents always had us traveling around the country every summer. I started traveling on my own when I was 18, and I would do little journal entries and draw along the way. It was always with architecture. I would draw buildings everywhere we went. And then I got my degree in business and studied accounting and math for a long time.
Yeah. I had business jobs, worked in PR. I moved to New York, where I worked for a record label, and then moved to California. Then I moved to France for four months, and a restaurant owner saw me drawing around town a bunch. He asked if I would start drawing outside of his restaurant in exchange for meals, and that meant I could keep living in the town because I didn’t have a way of getting a job. I was teaching yoga based on donations and drawing outside of this restaurant for lunch and dinner to attract customers. Somebody else in the town asked if they could start selling my postcards; I was drawing on little cards.
So living in France that one summer really kind of got me in the mood to be creating more. It gave me the time and space to finally do it. I kept traveling for another, like, six months or so before I landed back in Chicago, and then I started dating another kid who I had been friends with for years. He was an artist. And he just encouraged that I do it, and so I just did.
Where in France did you live?
It was a little town called Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. I actually was going on a European road trip for a few months, and Saint-Antonin was the first place I went. I met the server at the restaurant where I got my first glass of wine, and he offered to give me a free apartment to stay in because his job was paying for it. I just stayed and never left that town. I never even went to Paris.
That is crazy.
So I just lived in this little town. We had this whole trip planned out, and I was meeting up with one other kid. I ended up telling him I wanted to stay in France, so he did the whole European trip by himself. When I came back to Chicago, he was the kid I ended up dating.
That’s great. What did they feed you at the restaurant? Did you eat snails and French baguettes?
It was lots of cheese and meat and wine, for sure. France is all about those prix-fixe menus, where, you know, you have your aperitif, entrée, digestif, the whole thing. So those were the meals I was having. It was really decadent, because I was like, “Why not?” They really were the best meals of my life, probably.
So you talked about traveling and developing your career from a young age. Were there any artists who influenced you?
I think the biggest one, who has kind of remained the big interest, is M.C. Escher. Yeah. So he was really into architecture and tricking the way the mind works. When I started getting into architecture, I loved his work. And then the guy I was living with when I came back to Chicago was encouraging me to study him more, start copying some of his drawings to see how he does certain optical play. I started incorporating it in my own way when I started doing this impossible geometry and stuff. This is funny, though, because this is me talking about the impossible geometry, but it’s actually the women on the tap handles that I’m doing for you all at Goose. I guess an easy transition with that is just to say, “Well, shit, variety is the spice of life, right?”
How do you think those women tie in to Chicago? I see it as the diversity, but I’m curious what you see it as.
So, yeah, that’s definitely a big part of it. I always try and have a different skin tone for every person. And in a way, I use my same M.C. Escher play when I’m trying to make these women. In my mind, I always want them tied together in a way that doesn’t necessarily make sense, but so they’re woven into each other. Then I keep trying to make the last woman be the end of the loop that feeds back into the loop. I like the idea of an infinite loop. The call to femininity and the tropical color palettes that I use probably have to do a lot more with my upbringing in Florida and always spending time in the tropics, and I’m really into surfing. So I feel like that was the draw as far as color palettes, wave patterns, and this art deco–like decadence of South Florida. But changing the skin tones and being more into the celebration of womanhood and supporting each other— that’s probably been a product more of Chicago than anywhere else.
If you could choose your dream spot to paint a mural, where would it be?
Well, I’m really anxious to do something outside the country, just to see what that might be like. I’m always shocked by how other cultures express themselves and how people respond to art. I know what it’s like in Chicago, and I know what it’s like in San Antonio, or Atlanta, or in LA, or in New York. But I’m really curious how that shows itself in other countries, with different mentalities and how they respond to it. I don’t know if I have a dream location. Probably by the ocean, just so I could be by the ocean while I’m making it.
Get that influence back in there.
And I’m all about the people I’ve been meeting recently through making murals. I was just describing to another painter last night that I feel like I’m falling in love with everyone lately. Like it’s almost a problem, especially when I’m meeting other painters and creative-expressive types. They’re just so fucking weird, and it’s amazing that these people have been able to last this long without being corrupted by, like, the normalcy of society. And so I’m really intrigued by the idea of doing mural festivals and meeting other artists who are doing that same kind of thing.
Well, when you find a mural festival, let me know where it is because I want to go as well. Okay, so we talked about a mural spot. You drink beer. Do you have a go-to beer?
I guess it depends on the season, because I feel like in the winters in Chicago, obviously, I’m always craving a dark porter or something, or a stout. Right now I would want a wheat beer, something light. Sours have been new on my radar and are so intriguing. I feel like the Chicago in me has bred the variety, like, to try a little bit of everything.
If you’re going to live in a city, you should want to explore it, right?
Right. That’s kind of the best place for it here.
So do you have a go-to hangout spot in the city?
Cole’s. I used to live in the house directly behind it. It was like you would open the back door to Cole’s and that was my house.
That makes it pretty easy.
Yeah. Before that, it was probably Innertown for the same reason, in Ukrainian Village. And for a hangout spot in general, I’d say maybe Humboldt Park or Palmer Square, stuff like that. I think those are probably the go-tos, if not my living room. That’s the primo.
[Check out our outside-the-Loop Chicago travel picks.]
Okay, finally, you said you worked for a record company in New York. What’s on your playlist when you’re painting?
Well, it’s always between music or podcasts. For music, Brian Jonestown Massacre has been my favorite band recently. Otherwise, I listen to a lot of heavier punk music sometimes, especially, like, chick singers.
I started listening to Alanis Morissette again the other day.
When I made the caption for The Other Art Fair, I threw an Alanis Morissette lyric into it. I even put in captions like “Shout-out to those who know.” I think it was a little bit of everything all rolled into one.
Who would be your local go-to?
Faux Furrs right now. They are the jam. And their shows are rowdy and fun and always in these cool spaces.
I’ll have to check them out.
And then podcast-wise, I’m a sucker for This American Life. I’m probably, like, 400 episodes back in time on that one, listening to election results from, like, 2003 or something, where they’re speculating what’s going to happen.
It’s nice to know the future before they do back then.
The tap handle series is part of Goose Island's long-standing commitment to local artists.