If you are a follower of the African and tropical vinyl movement you will be no doubt have seen the energetic record sleeve designs of UK artist Lewis Heriz.
His unique graphic look has made an indelible impression on the African, tropical, hip hop and funk music scene in recent years, illustrating some of the most iconic releases from groundbreaking labels such as Stones Throw, Now and Again, Sofrito and Soundway.
A self taught Illustrator, he studied English at the University of Nottingham. A passion for tropical music led to putting on the excellent New York afrobeat band Antibalas at an obscure, out of town Polish venue, which ultimately led to his first professional commissions.
In parallel with the resurgence of vinyl, he’s built a fascinating portfolio of work which has a handmade quality that is rare in a digital world. Lewis’ work draws its inspiration from one hundred years of Twentieth Century art and design history, often referencing key styles in both folk and international art movements.
However, the value of the work is not in its reference points and influences, but in it’s energy and authenticity.
Lewis’ work has a close relationship to Lemi Ghariokwu, the self taught artist who rose to prominence illustrating the iconic record sleeves of the great Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.
Ghariokwo’s works have a liberal and informal use of composition and colour, which has an energy and powerful aesthetic that is prehaps closer to folk art than the underlying formality of many western art movements. Lewis’ work, captures a similar sense of energy and has a similar sense of freedom.
Pieces such as ‘The Whole Truth’ and ‘Super Discoteca Tropical’ and ‘Night Of The Dead’ connect Mexican folk art with the work of New York artist Jean Michel Basquiat and classic comic book visual narratives. Different times, people and places collide effortlessly in these compositions.
Another key strand is the European, late 19th Century. The French poster work of Toulouse Lautrec is in evidence in the artist’s work, particularly in the hand rendered typography. Whilst Lautrec captured Parisian nightlife in what has become an iconic French style, Lewis’ work captures that essence and cuts it with 1970’s psychedelia.
Moving into the early Twentieth Century and perhaps the work that most closely references an international style in itself, are the pieces made for ‘Ondatropica’ and ‘Family Atlantica’, which turns the ‘heavy sentiment of Cubism’ into a fun and energetic illustration. This demonstrates the artist’s ability to capture a style and turn it on its head, the often dour and locked down sentiment of Cubism is switched into a colourful and ‘musical’ composition. The melancholy of Cubism becomes an immediate and joyful voice.
The collaging of styles in Lewis Heriz’ work is executed with a sense of the ‘handmade tradition’ but the works’ reinterpretation of different moments in art history is maybe a result of the digital age. The ability to access such great visual knowledge is resulting in a visual multiculturalism that is both sentimental and fresh, simultaneously.
There are many historical references in evidence in his work, but it’s great value lies in its immediacy and ability to capture an emotion, sentiment, or just a feeling of the music contained within. If a sleeve on a record or book doesn’t capture the imagination, it may never be read or listened to, and the knowledge within remains unshared. Thank God for people like Lewis Heriz.
There will be an exhibition of Lewis Heriz work and Q&A with the artist as part of our event: Revolution and Change, Lagos 77 at Rough Trade Nottingham, Friday 22 January 2016. Check the Facebook details for more information: