How Peter Wayne Lewis Infuses His Artwork With the Spirit of Jazz

A new exhibit explores bebop and the Buddha

Buddha Plays Monk #6 Peter Wayne Lewis
Monk Time #13 Peter Wayne Lewis
Monk Time #1 Peter Wayne Lewis
The artist says he paints to music, improvising his brushstrokes in the manner of a jazz soloist. Peter Wayne Lewis

As a boy in the 1950s, Peter Wayne Lewis wanted to be a musician like his father, a jazz pianist. “I grew up listening to music and have a great appreciation for it, but I did not have that gift,” says the artist, who instead channels his love of rhythm and melody into bold, large-scale abstract canvases. Lewis says Monk Time #6—one of nine recent works on view this month at the Delaware Contemporary in Wilmington—is a riff on the pianist Thelonious Monk. “I imagined him in conversation with Buddha, who was a monk,” the painter says. “Both gentlemen were spiritual human beings.” Lewis, who was born in Jamaica and lives most of the year in New Jersey and Boston, deepened his knowledge of Buddhism in Beijing, where he has spent summers since 2006. While not a practicing Buddhist, he believes the religion and jazz have much in common. The two “monks,” he speculates, “would talk about the power of music and have a great laugh.”

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