[Note: Richard Baron is a photographer and essayist, with an emphasis on documenting arts and culture. He now lives in Albuquerque. The photo of Art is of course Richard's.]
Please read Richard’s profile of Art. It’s important reading if you’re interested in the soul of El Paso. Indeed, if you’re interested in the fronterizo spirit. And while you’re at it, read the entire selection of Richard’s profiles that are collected on Newspaper Tree. Richard’s idea was to capture the foundation of the El Paso arts and culture scene by profiling a number of its citizens, folks who may not receive a lot of publicity but whose presence really reflects the integrity of the fronterizo imagination. These profiles are important stuff, I promise you. I especially recommend the profile of Ed Patrycus.
Art moved to El Paso in the late 50s or early 60s—I was never sure when. But I do know that Art Lewis quotations litter my journals for the last ten or so years. He is an important part of my El Paso imagination, the way I’ve come to love this peculiar place that seems so much in the eye of the storm these days. In fact, after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks the U.S., I wrote a long poem trying to understand bin Laden and that whole chaos. Art Lewis served as a guide for me, a Virgil of sorts, playing his magical sax. Here’s a section from that poem, “The Soul of Osama bin Laden,” that’s in my book White Panties, Dead Friends and Other Bits & Pieces of Love:
Art Lewis walked in. Tall, lanky and very black. He was wearing a black suit and a black shirt and shiny black shoes and a very nice black porkpie hat. Art is growing old, but nobody ever asks him how old. Maybe that’s because he is a wise man. His wisdom is rooted in music. Every day of his life Art Lewis steps into the river of his life and prays into his jazz saxophone. His sacred horn blows away the stifling air of fundamentalism. Right and wrong, innocence and guilt are notes in the same piece of music. Improvisation as a devout way of life. It’s his spiritual practice.
Maggie brought Art Lewis a cup of green tea. Art, she said with a smile on her freckled face, you smell like marijuana, you better be careful. Art laughed, and gold glistened inside his mouth.
Art was wearing a long necklace of wide silver links and turquoise scattered here and there like stars. A cheap necklace really—not real silver, not real turquoise—but it was handsome hanging around Art’s black neck. Art, I asked, where did you get that handsome necklace? Oh, he said, a wino in the alley outside the Cincinnati Street Bar gave it to me. The guy was an Indian from some place called Acoma. He wanted me to play him some blues. So I played him some alley blues, and he gave me the necklace.