Release Date: 7/9/2010
Chaplain 'Father Andy' is St. Anthony's Artist in Residence
The Rev. Andrew Paul Lewandowski, full-time artist and part-time chaplain at St. Anthony's Medical Center, sits in front of one of the stained-glass windows of St. Anthony's chapel.
The Rev. Andrew Paul Lewandowski’s favorite quote, “Oh, hell, why not!” has served him well all these years.
He was born 63 years ago into an extended Irish-Polish family in the Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, then a working-class enclave where everybody looked after everybody else. He once read Shirley Jackson’s creepy novel The Haunting of Hill House in a single sitting one stormy night; and he’s has taught at venues including the rough-and-tumble Hales Franciscan High School in Chicago.
Father Andy now works part-time as a chaplain at St. Anthony’s Medical Center, as part of his service with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. A member of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart, he lives with his cat, Rascal, at St. Anthony’s Friary in south St. Louis, and offers Mass six days a week for the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.
For the last nine years he’s also been the source of hundreds of colorful and introspective paintings, has been featured in shows as distant as Great Britain and Italy and has earned critical acclaim for his work. His alma mater, Quincy University in Quincy, Ill., honored Father Andy in February as its 2010 Alumnus of the Year.
“I figure they probably couldn’t find anybody else,” quipped Father Andy, his eyes twinkling.
A self-described Catholic charismatic who makes his rounds in a long, brown robe with hood and fishermen’s-style sandals, Father Andy bears a greater resemblance to a disciple of Jesus than to a modern artist. He is a deeply religious man, yet he also learned nine years ago that artistic pursuits mesh with his calling.
“To be an artist is to share in what God does,” he explained. “God is the creator and artist of all of us, because we’re made in his image. I think to some extent everyone is an artist; because to live well is to be artistic and manifest the creative spirit God gives us, regardless of our occupation. We’re always creating something, either havoc or harmony, and the act of creation is part of the spiritual realm. Everything that is out there and moves and has life is because of a Creator. It’s part of our nature to create.”
Father Andy never envisions a title, or even an idea, for a work. Instead, he relies on an intuitive process.
“I ‘look’ into myself and allow whatever is there to emerge and express itself,” he said. “The result is a work of imagination that is spontaneous and childlike. In fact, in the process of creating, I attempt to get in touch with the child within. I use form and color to describe an inner world; which is sometimes jubilant, sometimes sad, but always honest and direct.”
He constructs his paintings only to deconstruct them, and then begins anew the process of reconstruction.
“Oftentimes, something much better comes out of it,” he noted. “It almost becomes like a Rorschach test, manifesting personal things that leap out at me.”
When he finishes, he often lets the work sit several days before naming it. Sometimes the title is appropriate; other times it’s based on an incidental observation. Some works he doesn’t name at all, preferring to allow the work to appeal to viewers on their own personal terms.
Among his favorites is a work called “Preaching to the Choir.”
Father Andy is a founding member of Whohadada (www.whohadada.com), a group of folk and ‘outsider’ artists. Outsider refers to self-taught or naive art makers, although Father Andy has been told he’s not exactly an outsider, since he holds a bachelor of arts degree with a concentration in art history.
“I remind people, Van Gogh also had art training,” Father Andy pointed out.
Father Andy never considered his work worthy of sale until he ran across a website, www.outsiderart.info. Intrigued, he responded to a request to contact the owner, who requested he send a few of his works. Soon after, he received a long-distance call from a super-excited art collector, and examples of his work now may be found on that site as well. His works are available for purchase at www.yessy.com, and he has built up a clientele of repeat customers.
He ranks among his favorite artists Willem de Kooning, Jean Michel Basquiat and intuitive artist Jesse Reno of Seattle, Wash. He’s also a big fan of children’s artwork.
“I don’t care for conceptual art at all,” he explains. I’m too much of a romantic. I find both outsider art and kids’ art fascinating. By kids’ art, I mean young: first- and second-graders who haven’t been taught yet that trees are green and skies are blue.”
When not creating, Father Andy packs his days full saying Mass, serving as confessor for the Poor Clare Sisters on Telegraph Road, connecting others with charismatic prayer at Theotokos House of Prayer on South Broadway and working as a chaplain at St. Anthony’s four afternoons a week. He starts his day between 6:30 and 7 a.m. with a light breakfast and continues with morning prayer and an e-mail check in his studio.
“It’s about guilt: it’s that Irish heritage,” he explained with a chuckle. “Rascal does not allow me to sleep in.”
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