Old friends are the most valuable friends. They know your true name. That is, they know who you really are, stripped away of any accomplishments or well developed facades. They befriended the lump of clay in its raw, unrefined state. A life barometer, their praise, criticism and most of all continued friendship, slices through the layers to the man or woman behind the curtain. They are a cornerstone in the foundation of your life.
I lost one of these dear, stabilizing friends this week. Dennis Lewis, master painter, teacher, lecturer and most beautiful of human beings, husband to designer, Sheryl Lewis and 3 wonderful, creative children, Christopher, Nathanial and Christina. He left us after a brave multi-year battle with cancer.
Dennis and I met our first week at Chouinard Art Institute. I was sitting on the sidewalk, out in front of the school, during a break between classes. My back against the wall, staring at the ground, this was the first time I’d ever begun a school year without knowing anyone else attending. I heard, “Hey, man,” and looked up to find Dennis starring down at me. “This your first week here?” I responded that it was and he said he thought so, he’d seen me in his life drawing class. He explained it was his first week, too. We were both 18 years old, at the time, and this was the beginning of what became a 50 year long friendship. This was Dennis’ way, reaching out to anyone he encountered who seemed lonely, confused or needed help in some way. He had the biggest heart and kindest manner of anyone I’ve ever encountered. And he was so humble. He was one of the most talented individuals I knew in art school and that talent skyrocketed throughout his life. He’s responsible for the design of album covers for many of the movers and shakers in the recording industry, countless movie posters and several of his commissioned paintings hang on the walls of the Pentagon. Yet, he was constantly seeking out strangers of talent and asking them to show him how they did what they did, expanding his learning, only sharing his own work with them, if they asked. As a result of this, he could number many notables in art, as his friends.
I’ve been fortunate, in that Dennis and I have often lived in close proximity to each other. Many of the positions I’ve held have been packaged with the responsibility to recruit others, for assistance in realizing accomplishment of creative projects. Dennis never refused my requests for help, allowing us the joy of working together many times in our careers. He even packed up his family and moved from L.A. to the Sierra Nevada foothills to help me build a creative organization for a pioneering company, in the early days of computer game development, Sierra Online. I say joy, because Dennis is a hilarious guy. He tells a story like no one else. Anyone who ever attended one of his demos, can attest to this. They were not a demo you wanted to attend with a full bladder!
To some degree our lives traveled along similar paths. At 5 or 6 years of age, we both decided we’d be artists, after receiving praise from our mothers, for something we’d created. We both entered and graduated from the same art school in the same period and chose identical areas of study while students there. For most of our adult lives we earned our daily bread as commercial artists and recently, at the same time, without consulting each other, both decided to pursue fine art full time. Identically, we fell in love with the Sierras, during our time at Sierra Online and settled here.
Our being located near each other, in pursuit of fine art, has allowed us to paint and draw together on a regular bases, both in the studio and out in the pastoral locals Yosemite and the surrounding mountains offer. A tremendous gift, recent years with my good friend and creative sounding board. With his passing, I’m out of balance. On some level, I was painting for Dennis. His absence has left a tremendous void in the lives of all that knew and loved him and to know Dennis, was to love him.
Au Revoir, Bud, please keep a place for me on whichever plain or in whichever dimension you settle!