After Hours...with Scott Lewis

photo: view of city skyline from subway

Understatement alert: NYU is a big, big place. Think of the dozens of people you might nod hello to on a typical day—in the dining hall, at the library, between buildings, or behind a particular desk. How many do you know by name? What do you know about their lives?

By day they are office administrators or landscapers, technology specialists or event managers; by night they’re parents and poets, activists and athletes—and so much more. They’re the dedicated staffers who keep this place running, and in this series NYU Stories will go behind-the-scenes at their day jobs—and also reveal how they let off steam after work. (We’re coming for you, dude in the Bon Jovi cover band!) Look for a new and often surprising interview every other week or so. You might just see a familiar face.  


Scott Lewis

Name: Scott Lewis

Title: Compliance & Communications Manager, New York University Procurement

Years at NYU: 27

Favorite way to spend lunch: At the Strand Bookstore

Dad to: Lydia, 21, and Josh, 15

What was your first job?
Mrs. Stahl's Knishes in Brighton Beach, and I lasted only about three and a half days. They told me I wasn’t wrapping the knishes properly. I said, “I can’t work like this—I’m an artist!”

And now you run an art show at NYU through the AMC, right?
Yes, we’ve been doing it for 17 years, and the support form the AMC community is fantastic. The artwork is very, very good—at times it’s great, even. It’s a wide range of work—collage, photorealism, my stuff, and so on. It’s all about being creative and finding something within yourself that you want to show others.

What is your art like?
Abstract expressionist, with a lot of detail. There are a lot of textures, and the titles are actually page-long short stories that I write to go along with the works.

Which artists do you look to for inspiration?
It’s funny, the artists that inspired me are not similar to the work I do. I love the pre-Raphaelite artists, because of the amount of detail in their work. Growing up in the ’60s, I liked magazines and pop art—the way they try to make things explode and grab your attention. One of my all-time favorite artists and an influence in what art can be is Peter Blume. He did a painting called “Eternal City” that really inspired me to be an artist. I also like John Singer Sargent. I find Andy Warhol very funny and clever. I like his idea that art is all around us.

You’re known around here as a punk music expert, too.
Yes, I had a public-access TV show in the 1980s called The Scott and Gary Show, which was like an alternative, underground American Bandstand. We had bands play live. My friend Gary and I were so naive about how to create a TV show that somehow we succeeded! I’d just call up the record labels of bands that I liked and say, “Would you like to be on TV?” We had the Beastie Boys, Butthole Surfers, a lot of emerging punk bands. I had friends from Channel 13 (where I worked at the time) come and work the camera, and we did about 18 or 19 episodes. Each show had a theme, like Valentine’s Day, or for our 13th show we did a bar mitzvah-themed episode.

Were you getting these bands before they were famous? Did they act like rock stars?
Because they weren’t so big yet they were really happy to be on TV. The Butthole Surfers had dropped acid, and they were, like, wild. It was great. We shot that on 23rd Street. Eventually we had to start shooting down in Maryland, because we were thrown out of studios here.

People who love that music must be dying to hear your stories.
Yes, the show has really taken on a life of its own. In the last five years I’ve been getting a lot of notice for it being very prescient. There was a screening of it at the Museum of the Moving Image, and there was my face on the big screen! Frightening, but very cool at the same time. I did a Q&A with the audience afterward and they took me very seriously—all because of this work I did 30 years ago. I was also interviewed about it a while back by VH1 for a “Before They Were Rock Stars” about the Beastie Boys. There I was in this huge studio, with a three-camera shoot, talking about 80s music. It was so cool. The funny part is I didn’t have cable when I was doing the show, so I never even saw it on TV. And now it’s part of the Fales Collection here at NYU—they’ve cataloged and documented it and it’s on file here.

How did it end up there?
A couple of years ago Fales had an exhibition with a whole section about the '70s and '80s and art in the Lower East Side—Lydia Lunch and John Sex and all these performance artists. I mentioned to [Fales Director Marvin Taylor] that I knew John Sex and a lot of these folks from when I used to go to clubs. I told him about the show, and he said he’d be interested in having it as part of the collection.

What are your all-time favorite bands?
Velvet Underground, The Cramps, The Sonics, Lee Hazlewood, Belle and Sebastian...

What do few people know about you?
I'm a very good basketball player, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at me! I play with a lot of guys younger than me, every Sunday—a lot of lawyers. I also am in charge of the opening day Little League parades in my town each year. I get marching bands and about a thousand people and lots of little kids in baseball uniforms. It’s the greatest thing!

Where do you take visitors when they’re in town?
My wife, Fiona, is English, so we have visitors from the UK a lot, and I always like to take them to Coney Island, because I grew up near there, and I think it’s pretty cool. There were these fleabag bars there when I was younger that really left an impression on me. In my art, I like people who are down and out, bar scenes, people who are a little out of control. I like bright colors and people depressed. [laughs] I also like Hoboken a lot. The view from there of the city at night is breathtaking.

What brings you peace?
I'm not a peaceful guy, if you know what I mean. I do like my dog, though. She’s very nice. But other than that—knowing I’ve been true to myself, exercising and eating well, and being able to keep creating as an artist.  

 

Read more After Hours interviews here.