#94: Lewis Neeff
Photographer, sculptor and writer Lewis Neeff isn’t just interested in people as photographic subjects; rather, he reaches out to people, inviting them to participate in the process of telling a complete story, all in living color. Today, Neeff is borrowing ideas from the model of crowd-sourcing. For an upcoming exhibit, he appealed directly to the public via social media, asking people to sit for portraits and share personal diaries in the gallery. Read his answers to the 100CC questionnaire to learn about Neeff’s resulting Diary Library project — and more.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Lewis Neeff: Everyone is my muse. I like the lines of Everyone’s face. I love that Everyone has a story and an entire inner world, populated with another version of Everyone.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party and why?
Let me set up a situation here. Absolutely everyone ever is invited and expected to come to my next party. It would be total madness, but it would be a potluck situation, so don’t worry. We have enough dessert. Bring ice. We always need more ice.
I imagine it would go down like this: Right as everyone begins showing up, shaking hands and taking off coats, I’d try to find John Dee to see what manner of strange brew he could whip up to kick off the night and pick his brain about the strangest thing he’s ever encountered. Halfway through the night, I’d run into Eartha Kitt in the kitchen near the back of the house, sitting on the counter, telling stories. I’d just listen. She’d probably eventually sing a song. Later in the evening, I’d probably end up running into Terence McKenna in a smoky basement bedroom talking about running from Interpol, aliens and the transcendental objects, ultimately reaffirming my point of view that no one knows what the hell is going on.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
People in the art world are typically very sensitive. I think this is both the best and worst thing, especially because I can be a very blunt and boisterous, yet overly-sensitive person. It’s a funny combo. It takes thick skin to put yourself out there, and a certain sensitivity to make anything worthwhile.
How about globally?
I think what’s most exciting thing to me is the sheer amount of creative community there is globally. I don’t understand when people complain that “everyone is an artist.” I say, thank goodness. That means artists are still in contention, and we have a good shot. Sun Tzu says that "all is war." We should probably make more art!
I think the worst thing going on right now is that "All is War." Woof.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Nowadays, we take in more information in a 24-hour period than Richard Nixon took in over the course of his entire term. Ideas are having sex with each other and making new ideas faster and faster. It’s head-spinning. Everything is derivative.
I like the trend of people imagining a deeper, weirder and more human existence where we can blink in and out of different realities, speak to other worlds and create art that has its own deep sentient consciousness. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Hate is definitely a trend that is not worth following.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
In relation to my art, I want to turn Turbine Hall into a hazy treasure room, stacked to the ceiling with mountains of play treasure — coins, fake scimitars, big rubies — that anyone could climb, arrange, play in and even steal from. I'd like to have a staff of professionals that I can work with. Also, in addition to growing my Diary Library into an internationally recognized place of preservation, I have my heart set on a solid music career rooted in the arts. And finally — and this is a far reach — I’d like to go to the Vega planetary system. Wish me luck.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver, will you marry me? I am here because we are in a renaissance. I’m here because people are making and writing about arts. I’m here because everyone in my peer group works incredibly hard to make this city better. There’s really so much support. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Denver.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I can’t just name one person. I just can’t. Collectively, I think the people at PlatteForum are doing an incredible amount to empower youth through the arts; if you don’t know who they are, please check them out. As far as individuals go, Detour aka Thomas Evans is consistently holding it down.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I have a solo show called Vulnerable on July 29 at Dateline. I will be presenting (for the first time) an ongoing collection of other individuals' private diaries alongside their portraits. I will be asking others to contribute their diaries to future exhibitions.
I am building a machine for a group show called Axis Mundi: Environmental Melancholia, Collective Social Mania and Biophilia in September. It is a show about the psychology behind climate change. It’s going to be huge, as in multiple buildings, tons of artists, talks, a film and many participating organizations. Keep your eyes peeled.
I’m currently trying to start my version of a circus. Working on the permits now.
I’ll be building something with Jon Saiz for his project So Wrong It’s So Right at Leon Gallery. And I have a solo show at Leon next June.
So much more. So. Much. More. So. Excited.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
My buddy Will Meier. He wants to put glasses on the Benjamin Moore sign and can think faster than you can sneeze. He just went to bootcamp to learn how to push technological boundaries in art through code. In the meantime, he’s writing for One Good Eye. His writing is genius and worth a few hours of your time.
My friend Lori Owicz works here at the Temple with me. She makes all manner of bird, beast and various homunculi out of found scraps. Not to mention, she's single-handedly rehabbed and maintained the Temple from its derelict state. Her kindness is infectious, and her work is endearing and real.
Lewis Neeff launches the Diary Library with an exhibit, Vulnerable, from 6 to 10 p.m., Saturday, July 29, at Dateline. Visit the Diary Library website for information and to learn how to participate. Learn more about Neeff at his website, and visit his photo-documentation of Denver's art community online and on Instagram.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.