The Inner Workings of Rosemary Lewandowski-Lois’ Machine Art
Rosemary Lewandowski-Lois is an incredible artist. She has transcended the impersonal aspects of the machine and renders the with human feeling. Each hyper detailed object in her oeuvre speaks of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s mechanical hold on daily life and human behavior while also taking on curious and magical aspects of the life force. These machines are not simply made of things, but of thoughts and emotion.
If the Lois part of her name sounds familiar, it is because she is married for 66 years to advertising’s Big Idea pioneer George Lois. They met and fell in love at school because both had the same passion for art and talent for drawing, and still do.
I’ve long admired her work. But I also wanted to know more about her life, which is shared in the autobiographical reflection below.
Zaphyr Oscillating Fan (1990). 60″x36″ Oil on Canvas.
Movieola (1882). 60×60 Oil on Canvas.
Cutters on the Jarva Tunnel Boring Machine (1967). 36″x36″ Oil on Canvas.
Remarks from Rosemary Lewandowski-Lois
I’ve always loved to draw. My mother drew with me when I was three years old.
When I was eleven, I told my father I wanted to go to art school in New York City to learn how to earn a living being an artist. He was thrilled, but his friends all told him he was wasting his money sending a girl to college because she’d only get married. But he sold his war bonds and bought a grocery store to save money for the tuition. During summers, I worked on local farms picking strawberries, etc. to help pay the tuition. In 1949, I went to Pratt Institute and met George Lois the first day of school.
George was in my class every day. He had just graduated from the High School of Music and Art and he immediately realized the teachers at Pratt really didn’t know anything about the history of art, design or advertising (which was his special interest). Every day he tried to get me to skip school and go with him to the Brooklyn Museum or The Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Modern Art. I had spent my teenage years saving to come to art school and I couldn’t bring myself to believe him and leave the classes.
Pratt & Whitney 9 Cylinder Radial Engine wiwth Propeller Hub (1968). 72″x72″ Oil on Canvas.
Waltham Automobile Clock Mechanism (1967). 60″ diameter Oil on Canvas.
Fird V-8 Engine: Pistone, Crankshaft & Camshaft (1962). 60″x40″ Oil on Canvas.
But the second week of school, we had our first drawing class. I had never drawn a nude model before. I was very excited. The teacher told us to draw for an hour so she could see what we can do. I took an easel nearer to the model and George took one a little behind me. Twenty minutes later, I was totally concentrating on my drawing when George came over to me, stared at my drawing and said, “Oh my God—can you draw!” I was annoyed by being interrupted, so I said, snootily, “Thank you very much.” So he went back to his own drawing. About ten minutes later, I thought I should be polite and look at his drawing, even though I doubted he was as talented as I was. So I walked over to his easel. When I saw his drawing I almost passed out!! I had never seen drawing like that! His line was so sure, and the drawing so stylized! I knew in a second that he was the real thing—he could draw!!! I would go with him to all the museums—and anywhere else!!!!
August 27,1951, we eloped. Four months later, George was drafted into the Army and sent to the front lines of the Korean War. I was terrified. I left Pratt and got a job as a designer with Reba Sochis, did freelance design for Herb Lubalin, became an art director for Fairchild Publications and then promotion art director for Mademoiselle magazine. In 1953 George came home.
CBS-TV Control Center (1983-1984) 72″x72″ Oil on Canvas.
IBM Circuit Tracer with Memory Transistors (1966). 54″x40″ Oil on Canvas.
Back of IBM Ciruit Racer (1966). 54″x40″ Oil on Canvas.
In 1958, I left advertising to be home with our firstborn son, Harry Joseph. I decided to try to be a painter. (You don’t know if you’re a painter until you paint.) When Harry slept, I painted—mostly portraits at first—oil on canvas. Then, about 1960 I saw a turn-of-the century typewriter. Each key was a different color because the originally white paper under the celluloid had turned a different shade of tan according to how often the human finger had touched it. The fact that the machine had been visually changed by being used blew my mind! That began my lifelong fascination with the relationship between man and machine. By playing with color and scale, I felt I was expressing the “personality” of the machine. And every inch of each canvas is true to the beautiful, functional form of the machine!
In 1967, New York Times art critic John Canaday said (in his review of my first solo show) that my work implies that Leger “emasculated machinery by changing it.”
Now I’m going back to my first love—drawing. Recently, I bought a deep pink hibiscus flower and I spent several hours studying it. At first, the petals were tightly closed around the pistil, but later they slowly started to loosen up. Then, suddenly, the petals opened and moved slowly backwards as the pistil “erected” forward in line with the stem. It actually looked pornographic!! And that’s how I drew it. It’s amazing what you can do with colored pencils.
Underwood Typewriter Patented August 3, 1893. 25″x31″ Oil on Canvas.
K&P Fancy Stitching Machine (1967). 60″x40″ Oil on Canvas.
Taylor-Wharton Nitrous Oxide Cylinders (1985). 36″x48″ Oil on Canvas.
Mechanical Man (1986). 48″x72″ Oil on Canvas.
American Dream Machine (2000-2004). 60″70″ Oil on Canvas.
8×10 Deardorf Camera (1962), 54” x 40” Oil on Canvas
Get the latest issue of PRINT to discover our annual list of 15 of the best creatives today under 30. Plus …
A look at the rebranding of an old industry made anew: marijuana
A Manifesto from Scott Boylston on the dire need for sustainability in design
Paul Sahre’s memoir/monograph Two-Dimensional Man
Debbie Millman’s Design Matters: In PRINT, featuring Jonathan Selikoff
And much more!