Cambrian: Opinion

Art and architecture meet in cerebral artist’s work

Marshall Lewis of Cambria was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Marshall Lewis of Cambria was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.

I am an artist and I’ve been working…

I used to think I was pretty much up to date for a creative guy. I keep my electronics current, monitor several online news feeds; I’ve learned to be patient with Siri and even dabbled in tweeting and blogging (which to me still sounds like a slightly dangerous children’s cereal). I equated social change with evolution and kept pace. That is, until I realized that I kind of miss when things didn’t change so quickly.

What happened to classics and craftsmanship, sportsmanship and manners? Getting used to a “new normal” every time a disaster strikes or political firebrand threatens annihilation is definitely not normal at all. Lately I search everywhere for constants and celebrate those whose skills and talents demonstrate stability and strength with grace and dignity through tumult. Essentially I am drawn to artwork that exhibits tenacity as opposed to experimentation.

In the art world we embrace change because it is innocuous and exciting; sometimes we respect and even revere those that don’t change because we recognize that their skills were honed over a lifetime and burnished to a glow. While stereotypical artists are not usually equated with steady, unwavering determination, there are a rare few.

Meet Marshall Lewis.

Marshall lives in Cambria and allowed me to get to know him and his work as an architect and artist and to view his impressive body of work spanning decades. What a rare and wonderful treat to find that he knew from the age of 8 that he would always paint, and one day create artful buildings.

As a boy growing up in Detroit in a lively household, he would sometimes sketch details of the bas-relief plaster works he saw in churches. His father was a musician who played gigs every weekend and encouraged his son’s artistic inclinations. Marshall spent time with animals and in the library and continued drawing, not as a distraction but with determination.

Marshall Lewis3
Artwork by Marshall Lewis. Courtesy photo

He never thought about being different from other kids. He just knew he had to be better. In his teenage years he became fascinated with buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright was in the news at that time and gave a speech in Detroit eviscerating contemporary architecture. Marshall Lewis stepped onto the path of his future at that moment. Wright was a friend of the dean at Lawrence Institute of Technology where Marshall matriculated, thus cementing the influence and confluence of art and architecture in Marshall’s life to produce a lasting duality.

While a budding architect, Marshall’s second employer introduced him to the Los Angeles galleries on La Cienega Boulevard. In his typical determined and methodical fashion, he started knocking on doors to get his work seen. He succeeded in securing several exhibitions of his paintings that were seen as timely and engaging during the 1960s.

As a successful architect and cerebral artist, Marshall’s work is inextricably linked. He uses nontraditional materials found in construction and incorporates these into works of art to exemplify the fluidity of line.

Compositionally, Marshall is an assemblage artist, but at heart he is a painter who employs a technically perfect application of layers of oil paint on wood panels as a foundation for his nonrepresentational subjects. His deliberate placement of broken sand dollars and small rocks symbolize the fragility of nature as well as their endurance and curvilinear shapes. Materials may also include house paint, “Bondo” and screen.

Marshall is inclined to create things for the thinking person, whether a building or painting. Paintings take shape in his mind and are finished with precise execution. When asked about the inspiration for the somewhat spiritual nature of his compositional paintings, he replied, “Spirituality is my freedom to do what I do.”

He has developed an eye for convergence and elegance for over 40 years, producing a portfolio of timeless classic buildings and paintings that reflect well on his unchangeable determination to be better. A retrospective of his work would now be a gallerist’s dream, showcasing his steady hand and vision as cultural ballast.

His hillside home shows thoughtful acquisition of furniture that he knew would stand the test of time. A Noguchi coffee table, Eames chair and other simple pieces reflect the harmony of joined materials, nature and a peaceful environment that reflect well on his talents.

Marshall’s success as both an architect and artist has not diminished his determination, enthusiasm or skills. He remains as vital, thoughtful and steady as ever, continuing to produce timeless classic variations of his works that are as engaging today as they were in 1965. His body of work is as vibrant as his environmental esthetic. He is one extraordinary person who has stayed exactly the same, and for that I am grateful.

Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at


“Susan Jenkins: inside Out,” a solo exhibition of Cambria artist Susan Jenkins exploring the internal view of our lives and environment. Oct. 28-Nov. 11, Patrick Gallery, 815 Main St., Cambria. 805-909-9522.

Fall Juried Show, an eclectic exhibition of local artists. Sept. 28-Oct. 29, Allied Arts Association, 1350 Main St., Cambria. 805-927-8190.

“October Harvest,” Dean Crawford Jr. and Deb Hofstetter exhibit evocative photographs of the season. Oct. 1-31, Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St., Paso Robles.

“Fragments” may include decontructionist and unfinished works on the nature of fragmentation in a variety of disciplines. Oct. 6-Nov. 26, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St., San Luis Obispo. 805-543-8562.