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Primarily concerned with color theory and critically analyzing the materiality and process of painting, Cory Van Lew’s offers his viewers a fantastical universe in which all characters are known as souls, and all souls are rendered in blue. Equalizing humanity with the color blue, in which race and gender are rendered obsolete, Van Lew philosophically questions our relationship with the world and to each other. Each color on the spectrum has a different function and ability, perhaps even a personality, and it is through this kaleidoscopic vernacular that the artist seeks to spread positivity and light in an unforgiving world.
Cory Van Lew, better known in some circles as “Lewy V” or simply “Van Lew,” is one of the most exciting new artists in the international art scene. His work has garnered the attention of art critics and celebrities alike. Now, Van Lew is looking to expose his work to an even bigger audience.
Born in Orange County, California, Van Lew had a tumultuous upbringing. With African, Cherokee, and Dutch-German roots, Van Lew struggled to find his voice from an early age. When he was just four years old, Van Lew’s family moved to Seattle, though Van Lew lived and traveled all over the world during his youth.
The divorce of his parents forced Van Lew to become a highly independent young man. This also made it difficult for him to focus on his studies. Fortunately, Van Lew had graffiti as a creative outlet. While spending his free time at skateparks, Van Lew developed his skills as a visual artist, adding designs to skateboards, clothing, and any material he could get his hands on.
At 17, Van Lew left home to try to carve out a life on his own. This proved to be a dark and difficult time in the young artist’s life. He turned to drugs and struggled to maintain a traditional job. Nonetheless, he preserved, and at 21, Van Lew secured a job as a graphic designer at an action sports company. It would take another three years before Van Lew realized his own potential as a painter. When he did, the artist known as Van Lew was born.
Van Lew longed to show his own creative ideas, rather than simply recreating the ideas of others. So, he put brush to canvas and started marketing his paintings via Instagram. Soon after, he secured a spot at a group art show in which he sold five original pieces. This early success proved to Van Lew that painting was more than just a hobby; it was his true passion. From there, Van Lew displayed his art at shows in Austin, Miami, and eventually New York City.
To help ensure the success of his business, Van Lew teamed up with his younger brother, Andre’, to form an official LLC in which to promote and sell his work. As an artist, Van Lew never felt particularly “business-minded.” Fortunately, his brother studied business marketing at Texas State University, which helped the duo get the business up and running.
At the time that the business began, Van Lew was still going by the nickname of “Lewy V.” However, he wanted his art to be an extension of himself. To demonstrate his growth and fully embrace himself as an artist, Van Lew dropped his old moniker and represented himself online using his birth name: Cory Van Lew.
Van Lew credits his brother’s business acumen and the power of social media with helping him build a fanbase early on. Since the first days of selling art, Van Lew’s business has since grown exponentially. “People want to own the pieces they love and cherish,” said Van Lew. To help get more of his work in people’s hands, Van Lew transitioned to prints, eventually creating prints of his entire collection. “Musicians have the luxury of connecting with the general public at any moment, so I wanted to create a similar kind of energy with my art; when you invest in a print, you get to enjoy the vibe of the piece and the artist whenever you like.”
The style of Van Lew’s prints and paintings is wholly unique, with bright neon colors, stark contrasts, and caricatures that reflect his experience as a young graffiti artist. Most of Van Lew’s most celebrated pieces focus on black subjects. As a talented black artist, Van Lew strives to recreate the beauty and pain of life as a black man in many of his paintings.
Though Van Lew wasn’t the first painter to market his prints on social media, he was an early pioneer of the medium, encouraging thousands of other young artists to follow in his footsteps. Van Lew views himself as the unofficial artist of the “SoundCloud” generation, and for good reason. He has done commissioned work for popular musicians like XXXtentacion and Teyana Taylor. Additionally, rapper Lil Pump acquired one of Van Lew’s paintings to display in his home.
Today, Van Lew is a well-established artist in Kingston, New York, though his paintings and prints continue to demand attention from fans across the globe.