The Sol Experience with Lewis Long

Sol Studio – Interview with the Founder Lewis Long

Charlie Lewis: How did the Sol Studio come about?

Lewis Long: We wanted to celebrate the African American community. And being so closely located to cultural institutions such as the Apollo and the Studio Museum of Harlem, as well as the national jazz museums that celebrate African American culture … we wanted to be a part of that. Another inspiration point was the photography of James Van Der Zee.  We initially thought it would be photography-related, and wanted to bring that visual to a new level with today’s technology and social media. This way we could provide positive images for and of the people in the neighborhood that allow them to feel good about themselves and share them to new networks.

Charlie Lewis: How long has the Sol Studio been around?

Lewis Long: Since 2012

Charlie Lewis: What has changed about the Sol Studio in three years from its inception?

Lewis Long: We had all the intention of going the photography route on the vein of James Van Der Zee. But that concept evolved once we began to build out and brought a contractor to complete the space.  One day, an artist came by and wanted to use the space to exhibit. Since part of our purpose was to reflect the people in the neighborhood, we agreed and we added track lighting to show off his artwork.  At the time, we weren’t thinking of Sol Studio as an exhibition space, like a gallery, but that direction found us. From that point on, curators lined up as well as artists who wanted us to showcase their work.

Charlie Lewis: How did the name of the Sol Studio come about?

Lewis Long: Since we started with the photography perspective, the most important thing is light. And another translation for that is “sun.” Sun in Latin “sol.”  And since it’s Harlem, we like the play on words with “soul.” To be directed to sun and light is the guiding philosophy. We want to show work and have images that allow people to feel brighter and lighter and transform their mood once they have been in the space.

Charlie Lewis: What style of artists do you tend to exhibit? Or what are some of the best works you’ve shown in the space?

Lewis Long: The work is as diverse as the spectrum of black people. I would say that while it has been as diverse, often times, we feature work by black artists.  But I show a lot of underrepresented artists … women, Asian and Latin artists. We have had group shows that cross the spectrum.

Charlie Lewis: How would you describe the style of work at Sol Studio?

Lewis Long: It’s figurative to abstract to contemporary, and emerging artists.

Charlie Lewis: Give us a flavor for your past exhibits.

Lewis Long: Highlights of our past exhibits include:

– Motown to Def Jam, expression by Artists

– Preston Sampson

– A group show celebrating the 40th anniversary of the poem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Isn’t Enough,” in collaboration with the Schomburg Center

Charlie Lewis: Have you done work with the Studio Museum of Harlem?

Lewis Long: I have not directly done work with them, but I see it on the horizon; I work close with the curatorial staff.

Charlie Lewis: What do you think of the art scene in Harlem? Do you think there’s a renaissance?

Lewis Long: There is an art scene … art world in Harlem, but I wouldn’t call it a renaissance. I feel that everyone has tried to interject that lexicon into the dialogue over the years.  We’ve seen it every decade since the 60s. What I see happening is multicultural and multi-income level, with a broad spectrum of people from around the world. So I think you have the core, but many other expressions.  We [Sol Studio] and the Studio Museum will maintain the core.

Charlie Lewis: Do you think artists see Harlem as a viable market?

Lewis Long: I think through our sales we see that there is a viable market. What will help Harlem is a more critical scale of galleries. The reason why Chelsea works is because of the clustering of galleries next to each other.

Charlie Lewis: Are galleries in Harlem doing anything to collaborate?

Lewis Long: There is some work on the way to create a scene, especially working with Harlem Park to Park. But most galleries are an independent business, and I wouldn’t expect there to be a monolithic view of how to show work and the selection of work. You want a scene that is vibrant and an expression of the owners.

Charlie Lewis: What’s your background?

Lewis Long: My background is in business, primarily in advertising and branding. So working with creative has been a part of my career, and that experience lends itself to what I’m doing today.

Charlie Lewis: As far as collections or exhibits you’ve shown at the Studio, who have you been most proud of?

Lewis Long: I’m proud of most of what I’ve shown, but some names that rise to the top for me are Debra Cartwright, Justin Gilzene and Preston Sampson.

Charlie Lewis: What is showing now at Sol Studio?

Lewis Long: There’s an exhibit called “Transformation,” which is music, technology and art. We also have a solo show for Nona Hendryx that features 18 pieces by the visual sculptural artist.  She has integrated her passion for music into technology, and displayed in a visual art form. She has a number of sculptural works where she coded and created the circuitry, along with music boxes and MP3s that are playing from result of some stimulation, light, voice and loud sound.


For upcoming exhibits, October 21st, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March with images from the photographer Roderick Terry. Fifty-five (55) images have been acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture from their permanent collection, and we will show a subset of that work — about 25 to 30 pieces celebrating the 20th anniversary.

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