Tara Lewis (Misenheimer) '92
Describe what you are currently doing for work and how you got to this point.
I teach art at Phillips Exeter Academy, where I have been an instructor in painting, printmaking and photography. I have been working there for almost 20 years. Prior to that, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the Design Department, which was my first job after graduating from UNH. I designed signage and banners before computers were used, which was very related to the hands-on project oriented major that I had just completed and fulfilled my desire to pursue graphic design in an art-centered institution. I worked closely with other departments at the museum — this helped me to be a collaborative employee at my current school. Teamwork is essential to creative momentum and productivity. I decided to pursue an M.A.T. in art education at Tufts University and the Museum School because I missed the studio setting and love working with kids. That education led to my current teaching position. I have continually made my own artwork over the years and recently launched a more substantial studio practice in New York City, Tara Lewis Studio, that has opened doors to exhibition opportunities and cutting edge creative collaborations. I create figurative portraits that are contemporary and infused with objects that I screen print text onto. I am represented by Lyons Wier Gallery in Chelsea, the art district in Manhattan. I live in both Exeter and NYC and feel fortunate to have symbiotic professional experiences and interrelated growth in both settings.
How did your education in COLA prepare you for life after college?
The studio program equipped me with skills in drawing from observation and realism, which my high school did not provide as strongly. I was involved in campus life, so being in communities (cities, prep school campus) feels vibrant and inspirational to me. I am a people person. I also worked in the Art Gallery, now the Museum of Art, and took a Museum Studies course. This work experience was invaluable, as I was able to assist with all aspects of exhibition installations and daily work in the gallery itself between classes. I painted walls and helped organize the books in the gallery office. This was a taste of contemporary art that was hugely appealing to me. I developed an appetite to learn more about artists who were alive and having shows. This gave me perspective from a gallery standpoint and also broadened my knowledge of how artists evolve their work and professionally share it with viewers and document it.
What person or course most influenced you while at UNH?
I love Robert Hooper. And Grant Drumheller. And Arthur. I was acutely aware that they were always making their own work and admired their skill and diligence and critical feedback. Robert Hooper challenged us to draw a soccer ball with charcoal in the middle of a still life of older objects, which I thought was visually cool as a juxtaposition. He then told us on the day they were due to cut them up and isolate the ball and attach it to a new piece of big blank paper and draw a new still life around it. Very cool! I learned a lot about drawing and printmaking techniques. Especially technical skills in drawing. I wasn't afraid of big paper or canvas anymore after being in these classes.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known while at UNH?
I wish I had known more about contemporary art. And also how to prepare your work to send to galleries or M.F.A. programs. The B.A. program wasn't as intense as the B.F.A., and I was cognizant of that at the time. I was very social at UNH. Looking back. I should have done the B.F.A. for a more intensive studio experience. I just recently figured out how to 'manage' my art studio. The B.F.A. would have taught me that, as I would have had a space and mentor. I never dove into the "concept" part of my work and that program would have allowed me the space and time.
What advice do you have for students interested in your field?
Meet other artists and visit their studios! And there is not one way to paint. And lots of materials out there. Support other artists and go to their shows. Apply for things constantly and expect to get a rejection most of the time. Don't try to conform to an application or call for entries. Figure out what you do and how you do it and what it's about and it'll happen naturally. Let life experience and personal interests inform your work. I love fashion magazines and pop culture — always have. My work is prompted by this and it's super valid. Galleries are all very different from one another, just like clothing stores. Look around, read a lot, go to New York City and see shows at museums and galleries. Boston has an art scene as well. Most cities do. And above all, keep making work so it can evolve. Stay conditioned. Cold starts are awful. Being an artist is like being an athlete.