First published: Winter 2014
I remember vividly the day in 2008 when I was invited to see the work of the artist Larry Lewis, who had died in complete obscurity four years earlier. I had been intrigued by some pictures Lina Morielli, a friend and close collaborator of Lewis’s heir, Sharyn Prentiss Laughton, had sent me, but I wanted to see the work in the flesh. Morielli had told me the little that was known about Lewis’s biography.
Born in 1919, he took art classes in his youth and exhibited his paintings in the 1950s with some limited success, but for reasons unknown he withdrew from the art world. Married to a nurse, he lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he made his living as a secretary at United Oil Products.
But he did not stop making art. From the 1960s, almost until his death in 2004, Lewis worked on a series of extraordinary hand-painted scrapbooks made out of collages of photocopied pictures of Hollywood divas, Victoriana, newspaper advertisements, product labels and favourite works of art. But over those four decades he hardly showed the work to anyone, and neither did he leave behind any written explanation of what it was all about.