The Late Comedic Genius Jerry Lewis Could Do Everything—Even Avant-Garde Photography. See His Art Here.

He took a camera with him everywhere he went.

US comedian Jerry Lewis Photo: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images.

As America mourns the death of Jerry Lewis, written tributes and obituaries have recounted the legendary comedian’s storied career, from his work on stage and screen to the vast sums he raised for charity. But there is a lesser-known side of the comedian also worthy of reflection: his art.

Lewis, it turns out, was a dedicated avant-garde photographer, who took pictures obsessively and created an extensive body of light-based abstract work over several decades.

Jerry Lewis Unknown Title (Unknown Year). Photo: courtesy of MCQ Fine Art.

The comedian’s artistic career culminated with a show at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2014. The exhibit showcased approximately 200 of Lewis’s original photographs, taken between 1966 through the mid-’80s.

“Some of his earliest work was so experimental, [as demonstrated by] his use of light and reflection,” Las Vegas-based art advisor and exhibition curator Michele Quinn told artnet News in an email. “It would be looked at as something perhaps common today, but considering the time he was making these it was really groundbreaking.”

Jerry Lewis Unknown Title (1966). Photo: courtesy of MCQ Fine Art.

Photography was an extension of how Lewis saw the world, according to Quinn. “It was amazing to discover that his love for photography was a lifelong passion, he carried a camera with him everywhere he went.” she said, “He was a true artist.”

Lewis’s photography, she said, fit seamlessly into his work on screen. He even introduced elements of his practice into his day job. “[M]any people do not realize how involved he was in filmmaking and how he actually invented techniques that are still used today, such as the ‘rewind’ in the editing process,” she said. “This mastering of both film and still photography was inherent to his entire being.”

Jerry Lewis Unknown Title (1970). Photo: courtesy of MCQ Fine Art.

In an interview with artnet News, Barrick Museum director Alisha Kerlin noted that Lewis’s work in photography and filmmaking demonstrates how artists can channel their creativity through different mediums.

“I think that it shows that creative types wear many different hats and what you’re known for in the world may not be what you’re working on at the moment,” she said. “Over decades and decades, he was creating this really vast body of work, and I think that it’s really enlightening to demonstrate that what people show the public isn’t necessarily the only thing they might be interested in.”


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