Painter Catie Lewis finds blissful inspiration from her home in the Philippines.
By Madelyn Geyer, Photos by Kayla Davis
The global pandemic still restricts international travel, but Catie Lewis’ new collection transports whomever feasts their eyes upon it. In these lush oil paintings, a warm breeze blows through palm trees stretched over islanders drinking from coconuts. To purchasers, the subjects in the paintings are no more than arbitrary figures. To Lewis, they were once strangers from a half-remembered place.
The 23-year-old Austin muralist, painter and business owner doesn’t recall her adoption from the Philippines. At 1 years old she was brought to Connecticut. And while her childhood town boasted diversity, she was the only Filipino person she knew besides her adopted brother. In an exploration of her Filipino identity, Lewis chose to meet her birth family for the first time five years ago. Now they are no longer strangers. And the idyllic time on her family’s island paradise inspired her most personal work to date.
Doodles in middle school stoked Lewis’ artistic fire. But societal whispers of career instability in the arts prevented her from considering it a viable path. The drowsy streets of Charleston, South Carolina, became her new home after high school. But she felt increasingly dulled by a life of work devoid of creative pursuits. Like so many increasingly burned-out yet hungry Gen Zers, she escaped a stifling existence and explored Asia for four months. “The collection I did of my life in the Philippines was the biggest turning point [in my career]because I really did not know how [the collection]was going to go. I had never done oil painting before. I had spent so long talking myself out of doing realistic stuff and breaking away from simple, safe pieces of art.”
The risk paid off.
After Charleston, Lewis relocated to Austin in 2019, newly motivated to pursue her art career dreams. Effulgent murals covering walls throughout the city and coworkers showcasing their art at markets inspired her. “When I got here, I couldn’t even afford a canvas. I would paint on cardboard boxes from Trader Joe’s.” She began offering free murals to people on the furniture-selling app OfferUp. She posted on Facebook groups asking a simple question: “Anyone want a mural on their wall?”
Lewis explains vivaciously, “I hate everything that I make until the very end. I don’t believe it’s amazing until people say a painting or mural really resonated with them. I’m still trying to figure out what I want others to feel in my art and how I want to feel too.”
Lewis’ varied collections of oil paintings, digital portraits, minimalist line drawings and large-scale murals showcase her raw talent unencumbered by formal art training. Her initial self-doubt and inexperience drove her prices to “pennies,” with shocked clients offering to pay more for this marvelous yet undersold work.
The World Comes Knocking
It was no longer local salons contacting Lewis, but global corporations.
Lexus’ 2020 “The Art of the Driveway” event commissioned budding artists across the United States to create exciting murals reflective of their communities. Lewis felt defenseless against the magnitude of communicating with these huge companies, spending hours rearranging three-sentence emails. Would she say the right thing? Would she be taken advantage of? How would she stay true to herself? The panic nearly drove her away from opportunities.
Eventually Lewis did master the art of the email. Her desire to guide other artists walking through the forest of corporate communication resulted in Walls Talk Co. This collective of artists founded by Lewis onboards clients and provides support and resources to young muralists navigating commissions from imposing businesses.
Her accomplishments at age 23 can make any reasonably successful person feel lazy. But only after battling crippling fear and a fierce inner critic has Lewis achieved her dream of making art a full-time career. She humbly offered her talents and asked for trust in return, drawing strength from clients’ confidence and positive feedback. Lewis continues to hone her craft with continuous experimentation and exploration. She encourages other young artists to do the same. “You realize that there are people who will enjoy whatever you make as long as you enjoy what you make,” she remarks.
With each painting, she tells her story while being a voice for the people she wants to see more of in the art community. Young women of color with their own stories to tell. With talent as formidable as Lewis’, it’s a comfort to know she’s just getting started.