‘Untitled,’ 1982, by Gilbert Lewis (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Barton Rymshaw, 2017)

By William Valerio

I am excited to share with you that Woodmere will reopen on Saturday, July 25, with measures in place to ensure the safety and comfort of our staff and visitors. (Look for more about those measures in next week’s article.) Our first weekend will be for members only, so if it’s been your intention to renew, now would be a great time. Here’s the link.

With the reopening of the galleries, we invite you to experience a new exhibition, Gilbert Lewis: Many Faces, Many Figures. Lewis (born 1945) is considered one of Philadelphia’s leading figurative artists, although health issues have prevented him from working in recent years. A virtuoso in his chosen mediums of gouache and watercolor, he creates large-scale works on paper that are characterized by linear elegance, saturated color, complicated patterns, and a precision of form.

Working from models in his studio, Lewis painted as many nudes as clothed figures. The characters in his work are strong individuals. Before the age of social media, he showed how a generation of young men in Philadelphia self-represented through clothing, gesture, and body language.

He was also ahead of his time in expressing his queer identity in art, and his work has a real sense of humor: in one portrait, a subject in gigantic rose-colored glasses sits on a bright green sofa, surrounded by Siamese cats. The color of the sofa glows through the tableau, reflecting brilliantly off the surface of a glass-topped table, where another cat is perched. Lewis also worked as an art therapist at a nursing home in Media, Pennsylvania, and our exhibition will include, for the first time, a selection of portraits he made of the seniors who became his friends.

Part of our new normal at Woodmere, at least for a while, is that we are going to experiment with virtual opening receptions on Zoom. So, I hope you will join me on Friday, July 24, at 8:00 p.m. as I tour the exhibition and talk about why I love this artist’s work. Here’s your invitation.

Also, as usual, we have produced an episode of our podcast, Diving Board, to extend our reach and delve deeper into Lewis’s work, talking with his friends and colleagues. You can find Diving Board on the Apple podcasts app or follow this link.

Our exhibition will be on view through October 25. Lewis’s work is also currently being shown, and sold, at Kapp Kapp Gallery at 333 South 13th Street in Philadelphia, and online through Terenchin Gallery at terenchin.com. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ exhibition Only Tony: Portraits by Gilbert Lewis will be on view from September 9, 2020 through May 16, 2021. This is truly the artist’s moment.

William Valerio is the director and CEO of Woodmere Art Museum.