Every so often, I chat with an artist who is so passionate about their work, I’m left feeling life-affirmed and invigorated, with a proverbial bounce in my step. That was the case with the young and inspiringly ambitious Baltimore native and artist of all trades, Megan Lewis.
Megan’s first-ever solo exhibition, “Language of the Soul,” was recently launched at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center in partnership with Galerie Myrtis, where her vibrant, pattern-filled paintings will be on display through November 20th. She imbues her subjects with bold colors and power-clashing patterns, with some of the pieces even embellished with textiles.
Megan has established herself as a masterful multidisciplinary illustrator within the Baltimore arts community, working across multiple mediums to reflect her critical view of social, historical, and cultural issues. She received her BFA in Illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL, and has since flourished as a muralist, oil painter, and furniture designer.
With a wise worldview, an unapologetic aesthetic, and an ambitious spirit propelling her forward, Megan is an exciting talent I was thrilled to interview.
(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’ve always wanted to be a gallery artist, ever since I was little. I’ve been drawing from a very, very young age. It just was something I was naturally good at, even though I didn’t know all the specifics of what being a gallery artist was. But that’s what I wanted because of who I looked up to. Artists like William H. Johnson and Ernie Barnes were my idols.
When my parents saw that I had an interest in art, they didn’t nourish it with money; they nourished it with their attention. As I got older, I could have been anything I wanted. If I wanted to be a doctor, they were cool with it. If I wanted to be a lawyer, they were cool with it. But it always came back to me wanting to be an artist.
When it came down to what high school I was going to, my mother convinced me to attend an art school. I wondered if I could be successful as an artist, and she was like, “Look, I make good money doing what I’m doing, but it’s not what I want to do. You’re young. Go to school for something that you love.” My parents were a great stepping stone for who I am today.
How has it felt having your first solo exhibition go up?
It was wonderful to have my work up in that way. Working with Eubie Blake was fantastic. They’re Black-owned, and I thought that was very important. They’re a part of the community, so it was a win-win situation for me. I’m still trying to process it, to be honest!
I’d always wanted to be a gallery artist, but it didn’t work out that way in the beginning. I’m known in Baltimore as a muralist. I have over 15 murals in the city. It’s kind of full circle now that I’ve had an exhibition because that’s what I’ve always wanted, but the murals took off. I felt like I had to wait and evolve as a person to get to the gallery setting.
The title of the exhibit, “Language of the Soul,” is all me. I also picked all of the pieces in the show. When I create work, I like to capture the moment of what I was thinking, who I was, and how I feel. I find subjects that emulate an expression that I feel, and I project that feeling onto that person. So, “Language of the Soul” is how I communicate. Some people are better at talking—I’m not. How I express myself is more visual. Hopefully, my work speaks for itself, and people know how I feel based on my paintings of other people.
What is it like being an artist in Baltimore specifically?
I love Baltimore. I’m grateful to be from here. Everything that I do, Baltimore helped me create. My interests, how I talk, how I walk, how I dress, whoever I am, whoever I’m becoming, whoever I’m evolving to, Baltimore had a say in that.
To have my murals out in the city, the community will tell you if they don’t like it. They really will! And to be in some of these neighborhoods, they welcome you. Even though I’m not from certain areas, it doesn’t matter. They see that I’m a young Black woman doing what I love, and they respect it.
I started doing murals in Baltimore when I was 26, and I’m 32 now. So to watch a young me grow and have it displayed so largely in different areas? It’s amazing. You know how you take a picture, and you think about who you were in that picture? I can do that with murals just driving around the city. It’s like, “Oh, I was 27 going through this in that particular moment.” It’s just amazing to have that on such a large scale.
What brought you to the world of murals in the first place?
I graduated in 2011, and it just didn’t happen. Someone then asked me to do a mural, and in the back of my head, I’m like, I really don’t want to, I don’t want to be a muralist, I want to be in the gallery setting. But I had to ask myself, what am I blocking? What am I not allowing to come my way because I have my idea of what my goals should be? I had to open myself up and be open to it looking a lot different.
My first mural was inside the Great Blacks In Wax Museum, which is a well-respected place of African wax figures. I couldn’t tell them no because they are a pillar in this community, so I did it. And then it was just back to back to back. So that little moment of me saying yes had a ripple effect, and I’ve been doing them ever since.
How have you developed your artistic style and aesthetic?
I was starting to develop my style in college, but then I didn’t want to do it anymore; I hit a wall at that point, and I started to do flatwork. I never do the same thing over and over again. I like to switch from certain things to keep my interest there. I feel like if I’m not growing, then the work isn’t growing. If it gets too repetitive, I have to stop and wait until I evolve, as a person, to get my work where it needs to be. I can’t really explain it!
Ideas just come to me. I have to be patient. Using fabric started when I went to South Africa, and I bought fabric, but I didn’t use it for like two years until I felt the urge and the ideas to make it happen.
From large-scale murals and oil paintings to making furniture, why are you compelled to work in so many different mediums?
All of the mediums I work in serve me equally. They’re all a part of the growth of the person. I wanted to be an engineer at one point in my life, and I think you see a little bit of my engineering ideas and skills in my art. I’ve always been really good with my hands.
My mirrors and my furniture are all just a small aspect of the person. I love a good idea. I can paint, but what am I doing to push it forward? What is the next thing? I’m always trying to think outside of the box. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I make my furniture myself. And that’s the thing; of course, it can be better if it was manufactured in a shop. But look at the idea of it. You’ve never seen that before. It needs to be fixed in certain areas, but it’s the idea that gets me excited.
Are there any other mediums you’re eager to try out?
As long as I’m learning from something, I want to do it. But I’m picky. I have to get drawn into something for it to hold my attention. I’ve tried sewing and clay because I have ideas for these mediums I want to incorporate in my work, but I’m forcing myself to learn it just because I have this idea. It never works because I get bored, so I have to wait.
I like to work where nothing can keep me away from my studio. If I don’t have that, I won’t do it. I have to be eager to do it—like nothing can keep me from it. I don’t have that urge right now with clay and sewing, even though I have ideas for it. It makes no sense, but I know how I work!
How and why did you start your #blkwomenperiod project series, and why is it important to you?
It started with the murals. At 26 years old, I became conscious, learning about my culture, my history, melanin—it was a big deal for me. So I would pick Black women and have just one Black woman in each of my pieces, and they all represented something that I needed, wanted, or learned about myself. It developed over time. I think I was four murals in before people started to connect me with that singular Black woman figure in all of my work. It’s something I’ve been developing as a person ever since.
What has it been like collaborating with big global brands such as Doritos, Target, and HBO Max?
I was thinking so small in comparison to what I wanted and what was meant for me. I always wanted to be a gallery artist, but this turn to murals allowed me to work with these bigger brands. I also have a community that has held me up so well. Because if the community doesn’t mess with you, you’re not going to go anywhere. The community has to like you. The brands that I’ve been able to work with reached out to me because Black women, specifically, like my work. I’m grateful. Social media has been a huge stepping stone for me because I’m not a social person at all. So the opportunities I get are from social media, like Doritos. Doritos needed someone in Baltimore, and someone who was following me who I’ve never met recommended me for that. It’s things like that. It’s community. It’s people from Baltimore who see what I do, and they see I’m so passionate about it, and they hold me up. I’m very thankful.
What goals are you working toward now?
More murals, especially more murals outside of Baltimore. (I’ve already done a few in DC.) To have my furniture factory-made and sold in stores. Essentially everything I’ve ever created, to have it cleaned up a bit and spread it nationally. More murals, more jackets, more furniture, more paintings, more everything!
One of the things I’ve learned is never to limit myself. To not think small, think big. To be open to what I want, or what I think I want, looking a lot different. Don’t put myself in a box. Whatever the universe wants me to have, it’s going to come my way. I just have to make the work and follow my gut. I can’t wait to see what’s next.