Dallas-area painter Caroline Camden Lewis may have descriptive notes for the abstract paintings in her Art Center of Waco exhibit “While I Breathe, I Hope,” but those stories followed the wordless impulse and emotions that her works express.
Better to see the works in terms of color as they’re roughly grouped in the center’s two galleries. There’s blue, the dominant shade in the main gallery and Lewis’ favorite. Red, for vibrancy, autumn and Christ’s sacrifice. Cream, for calm and a background for accents. Gold, attention-drawing flecks.
Most of the 37 paintings in “While I Breathe, I Hope” combine those colors in splashes, strokes and streaks, a blend of abstact and impressionism that communicate what’s in Lewis’ heart and head.
“These (canvasas) bring back memory and nostalgia for me,” she explained during a visit to the Art Center of Waco. “This is like walking through the past three years of my life and what I felt.”
The 31-year-old artist, granddaughter of Waco resident and arts supporter Margaret (Mrs. Spencer) Brown, grew up with art, but didn’t pursue it until adulthood. After a year and a half at Baylor University, she transferred to Southern Methodist University where she fell in love with history and majored in the subject.
She worked in communications for several non-profits on both coasts, rising to a national organization before deciding she needed to leave the high-powered, corrosive stress that came with it. Lewis returned to Texas and took up a brush to work out what was on her mind, starting first in watercolor, then on to acrylics.
Once those thoughts and feelings started to express themselves in color and on a canvas, Lewis could see patterns and meaning that led her on. Her abstract paintings find meaning in her faith, purpose in nature and reflection on her experiences, tastes and travels.
“Faith is a big part of my work. God is the creator of all things and when I see nature as an artist, I have such an appreciation of the creativity of God. I’ve got to try and take a little snapshot of God’s beauty and put it on a canvas,” she said.
“Venezia,” series of nine small canvases, remind her, with their reds, pinks, oranges and blues, of a trip to Venice with her grandmother. The vertical beige panels of “Honshu,” with trunklike strokes of burnt and raw umber, not only recall Japan’s Honshu forest, but the long painted screens of Asian art. The buoyant colors in “Crazy Horse” and “I Heart Birthdays!” hum with internal energy while the glass shards and fragments embedded in “Unbroken” carry a meaning beyond color.
Lewis’ venture into art not only has allowed her to find her voice, but she’s found an audience in the Dallas area and is open to commissions.
It’s no coincidence that the painting that provides the title of her exhibit, a painting in her favorite blue, speaks to finding a new purpose in life. “I found, through art, that there are still things to be joyful about. Life is still beautiful though it was broken,” she said. “God still has a purpose for us.”