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Curated Conversations: Cory Van Lew

Dive into the latest curated conversation where we discuss the artist background, his influences, and the inspiration behind his upcoming series "Sleep Demonz," which will be exhibited and on view with Mad Arts on August 3rd.

Paloma Rodriguez
Paloma Rodriguez,
Jul 01, 2024
1 min read

Curated Conversations: Cory Van Lew

Paloma Rodriguez
Paloma Rodriguez,
Jul 01, 2024
1 min read



About the Artist: Cory Van Lew

Born in Mission Viejo, California, in 1990, Cory Van Lew is a modern visionary who redefines the boundaries of visual art through his innovative theory of transmission. Van Lew's artistic journey is deeply rooted in his unique understanding and application of color, which he uses to evoke natural and profound emotions from his audience.

Van Lew's work is characterized by his intentional and evocative use of color palettes, designed to create a multi-sensory experience. His art transcends the visual, resonating on a deeply emotional and almost synesthetic level. Each piece he creates is not merely seen but felt, as if the pigments themselves were instruments playing a harmonious melody for the soul.

Incorporating elements of his personal experiences and emotions, Van Lew's paintings often explore themes of self-discovery, transformation, and the human condition. His theory of transmission—a concept that suggests a continuous cycle of receiving, processing, and expressing emotions through art—serves as the foundation of his creative process. This theory allows him to connect with viewers on a profound level, inviting them to engage with his work in a deeply personal and introspective manner.

Van Lew's artistic practice is a testament to his belief in the power of color and emotion. His vibrant, dynamic compositions are designed to move the viewer, not just visually but sonically, as if the colors were a symphony playing directly to the heart. His work is a celebration of the human experience, capturing the complexity and beauty of our emotions through the rich, expressive language of color.

Cory Van Lew continues to push the boundaries of contemporary art, creating works that challenge and inspire. His unique approach and dedication to his craft have established him as a significant and influential figure in the art world, with a growing body of work that speaks to the universal human experience in a language that is both timeless and profoundly modern.

About the work: Curator Note

Cory Van Lew’s latest series presents 18 evocative works in oil on linen, each varying in size yet unified by a profound narrative. This particular collection of work is deeply personal, rooted in Van Lew’s tumultuous journey through addiction and the consequential trauma of being absent from his child's life as a result. This pivotal period not only spurred his unwavering determination to pursue his artistic dreams as a whole, but ultimately inspired a body of work that delves into the realms of dream and nightmare.

Transcending the boundaries of reality, these works invite viewers into a surreal world inhabited by otherworldly protagonists and characters- what he calls his “Sleep Demonz.” These figures are not merely artistic expressions, but extensions of Van Lew's long term vision—his hope for the series to evolve beyond the fine art space and into mediums such as feature films, thereby continuing the narrative initiated on canvas. 

The viewer is immediately struck by Van Lew’s masterful use of color, shading, and light, which collectively elicit a powerful narrative. The interplay of light and dark, both literal and metaphorical, intensifies the storytelling and emotional depth of each piece. Renowned for his expertise in color theory and his unique theory of transmission— Van Lew’s works leave a lasting cognitive impact on their audience.

As the viewer navigates through this series, the evolution becomes palpably clear, with each piece offering a distinct yet connected experience—a lens into Van Lew’s own mind, where the viewer, like Cory, may find themselves as the hero within. 

See full catalog of available works in this series here

About Mad Arts: Exhibiting Partner

Opened in January 2024, Mad Arts is an alternative immersive art museum in Dania Beach, Florida, which showcases artists, designers, and creatives whose work disrupts, provokes, and transforms what art and technology can achieve. Providing a platform for local, national, and global artists, Mad Arts— located a 10-minute drive from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport and 15 minutes from Port Everglades—is dedicated to art from a wide variety of mediums, from light sculpture, to film, to blockchain poetry. No matter the form, Mad Arts is focused on fostering community and envisioning a new model for the 21st-century museum. 

Born from Mad, a full-service creative agency founded in 2001 that provides marketing solutions and branding strategy from print to augmented reality, Mad Arts uses the resources of the agency to assist artists in the realization of their creative visions. Exploring the cutting-edge and innovative sides of art, light, and technology, Mad Arts is closing the gap between artist and viewer to expand digital horizons.

Artist Statement:  Sleep Demonz’

Prophylaxis, 2024


A recurring nightmare stemming from past trauma that’s been held deep beneath the surface. During hazy, sleepless nights filled with anxiety about the unknown, the only thing that would ease my mind was to create until I was mentally depleted and HAD to sleep. These paintings are part 1 of me going into the unknown and making sense of these visions, visualizing the pit in your stomach when you’re in your most vulnerable moments. 

This first Chapter introduces our ‘species’ the Sleep Demon. They are demonic-looking versions of you and I. They are from a parallel universe where the last humans reverted to hunter-gatherers emerging from a caveman-like lifestyle. Although these demonic looking characters look sinister their intentions are showing survivors of the Blew World (Blue Faces who are controlled by AI cyborgs), that they don’t have to live hand in hand with tech. After a few encounters with some cowboy outlaws, the SLPDMNZ plan an attack against a cyborg scout ship and “free” some Blew people whom our main character befriends. 

Our Hero is whom we encounter first, Saying “See you later” to his family, not knowing when he will return from his journey, sharing one last hug with his wife and child. Along the way we get to know our species and see that they are not evil beings but reflections of ourselves that remind us to be the best version of us that we can. 

The interview:

Paloma: Your brightly colored works draw from your background as a graphic designer. How has your experience in graphic design influenced your artistic style and approach?

Cory: As a graphic designer, I’ve had the opportunity to be creative across multiple areas from creating album covers to product packaging and even clothing. This extensive experience gave me a strong understanding of not only design, but also color theory, which is now a fundamental aspect to my work. Additionally, it is programs  like Photoshop that allows me to construct and design my own scenes with compositions using multiple images, while Illustrator enables me to convert my drawings into vectors.

I was able to develop my skills as an artist by leveraging the techniques I learned as a graphic designer, using fewer physical tools than traditional painting required. With access to every color and an infinite canvas, I could freely express myself. When I transitioned to painting, these skills translated seamlessly, and I quickly noticed how easily I could mix paint colors.

In graphic design, the goal is often to promote something or make it visually appealing so that people engage with it. This principle carries over into my current work, where I create from a deeply personal space and share my feelings through imagery. My background in graphic design helps me ensure that my art is not only visually striking but also accessible, allowing viewers to process and connect with the ideas I want to express.

Paloma: Your series titled “Blue Faces” from 2020 or works such as “first response”  are well known for the impact and emotion carried in the use of color. Can you give a bit of background on how you first started to work with color and how it has evolved over the years?

First Response, 2021

Cory: I first became interested in the concept of color theory right before I started painting the 'Blue Faces' series. Two key moments were happening at this time: the spread of COVID-19 and the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd. I was overwhelmed by the darkness and sadness consuming the world, and my art at that time reflected those intense emotions—dark and angry. 

It was in the studio with my brother Andre that we ultimately discussed how to shift the focus of my art to reflect something a bit more positive. To create light in the dark, so with that we decided it was important to infuse my work with some positive intentions and symbolism. The starting point in this process was selecting a color palette that not only made me feel good to work with, but truly felt good when looked at.  This is where the colors of blue and pink came into play. Blue came first naturally to me; it flowed effortlessly from my brush in a monochromatic teal/blue that captured the elements of art I lookedd for beautifully.

Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 4.43.52 PM

The color pink entered my palette during a test to see if a predominantly pink COVID-themed painting could evoke a sense of purity and cleanliness at the height of the pandemic when everyone was locked inside and anxious about the virus. Furthermore,  it was around this time, I came across a book called "Drunk Tank Pink," which explores the psychology of color, symbols, and other universal elements. 

"The color Baker-Miller’s Pink was the result of an experiment by two commanding officers of a U.S. Naval correctional facility in Seattle, Washington, where the color was first applied to calm aggressive inmates. This finding inspired me to dive deeper into color theory and its effect on my art and its viewers." - Cory Van Lew


Over the years, my exploration of color has continued to evolve, allowing me to express a wide range of emotions and intentions through my work.

Paloma: Let's talk about your latest series, "SLPDMNZ" (Sleep Demonz). What inspired this body of work? 

Cory: "Blue Faces" emerged from a place where I was trying to visualize my happiness, though it started to feel artificial. I wasn’t genuinely feeling happiness; creating this art was more like a coping mechanism to experience something different then the real pain I was dealing with, similar to the effect of a drug. My inspiration for creating art began with me wanting to make something of myself. At 19, while struggling with drug addiction, god determined my life needed a change, and I ended up having a child. 

The experience was extremely traumatic. The mother of my son and I had no intention of being together, and she  ultimately decided it was best for us to have no contact and to go our separate ways. That was 14 years ago, and only now have I reached a point where I’ve worked hard enough to eliminate any reasons that would prevent me from being part of his life.

 This "Sleep Demons" collection represents the pain I’ve held inside all these years. It’s about bringing that pain to the surface and turning the page to build a relationship with my son.


What If?, 2024

Paloma: Your use of color is described as both intentional and evocative. How do you choose your color palettes in this particular series, and what emotions do you aim to evoke through them?  Would you say you are using color in this series any differently than previous work?

Cory: I feel the colors I chose for this body of work reflect the fiery rebirth my soul is experiencing in real time. I imagine myself emerging from the darkness of underground caves after spending years below the surface, seeing the world anew as the sun rises. The first wave of eyes to view the world as the sun returns after darkness. I use a morning glow or a sunset color to enhance that feeling of rebirth and metamorphosis. This idea has been a theme explored within my previous works such as the ‘Journey Begins’ or ‘Rising Sun’ as well. These works really express a sense of rebirth or metamorphosis and use similar colors to invoke and reflect that feeling of change. I think this is because I associate the colors with the Sun, and the Sun determines the beginning and end of our days. An easy way for me to capture a sense of something beginning and ending all at once. 

WAIT_FOR_IT_8275Wait for it, 2024

Paloma: The concept of a continuous cycle of receiving, processing, and expressing emotions is central to your theory of transmission. Can you describe a specific piece where this cycle is particularly evident?

GIVE_ME_THE_SUNSHINE_0733Give me the Sunshine, 2024

Cory: All of the paintings in this series explore this concept in various ways, but if there's one specific piece where it's most pronounced to encapsulate this cycle, it would be “Give Me The Sunshine.” In this piece, I imbue the characters with emotions through a powerful light source, capturing their varied reactions—similar to how viewers might respond to my new artwork or the integration of a new artistic skill within my work. I take this feedback and evolve the piece until I achieve a satisfying outcome or find new inspiration from it.. The demons in the painting appear to receive a transmission of light, and we as the viewers witness their reactions to this source as they reach and jump towards this light source.

Paloma: The storytelling across this work is evident and gives a sense of raw and deep emotion. Outside of personal influences are there any particular movies, books, or artists that significantly influence your work or the style you create? What aspects of these sources would you say inspire you the most?

Cory: I’ve always been drawn to Sci-Fi movies, specifically with Star Wars being my first cinematic introduction to the genre itself. More recently, I've been passionate about developing intellectual property for the characters I create, inspired by films like Alien, Star Wars, and Marvel movies. The ambition to create something on a scale that could inspire amusement park rides based on my characters and stories is something that motivates me greatly. Creators and artists who have achieved this such as, H.R. Giger, whose art inspired the Alien movies, has profoundly influenced my thinking. Viewing my body of work as a storyboard for a potential future film is a direct result of this inspiration and goal of mine.

alien-1979-008-h-r-giger-and-model-00m-ymmHR Giger, 1979

Paloma: Let's talk about the exhibition of these works. This body of work will be displayed and include animated overlays within the physical exhibition. What do you aim to achieve by integrating animated overlays with the physical artworks in the exhibition of this particular body of work?

Cory: My goal with the physical exhibition was to display my canvas work in a blacked-out room to bring all the focus to the artwork and make it more interactive. It’s a way to grab your attention and allow a piece to let it take you for a visual ride. Take away any distractions and take you to the depths of my mind where this artwork comes from.

Paloma: Your work often employs personal experiences, memories, or emotions. Can you describe the story you are conveying through this body of work? How do you see yourself within this narrative—as the narrator or as an active participant? 

Cory: The personal experiences and emotions I am conveying through this body of work start with the birth of my son. I was actively trying my best to be involved in his life, but his mother thought otherwise. So, despite my efforts to be present, circumstances prevented me from being there when he entered the world. When he was born I waited in the hospital waiting room to be called back or hear word that my son had been born.  The profound pain of being escorted away from the hospital by police officers solidified my determination to forge a path that would make my son proud to know me as his biological father. For 13 years, I carried this burden, channeling my emotions into my art. Now, as I establish a relationship with my son, I find catharsis in expressing and releasing this pain through my artwork.

“These images are not exact replications of things that happened, but windows into my feelings as I started my journey of transmutation. Not knowing what to do next, trusting in the path ahead of me, and working hard to find explosive results.” - Cory Van Lew


They offer glimpses into my emotional landscape as I navigate transformation—uncertain of the next steps, yet trusting in the path forward, and diligently pursuing profound personal growth.

Paloma: What role does the hero play in this story, and why is this character important to your work?

Cory: The hero in our story represents a personal inspiration, embodying the part of me that will face all odds and reach unimaginable heights. This recurring theme in my work reflects the mission I’ve been on since birth. My "Blue Faces" collection was built on this theme. Having a character like this in my work drives me to keep the story alive, to continue painting and building upon it. Our hero also represents the part of me that is eager to have a relationship with my son—the spirit that has driven me for years to build a family that can carry on my legacy long after I’m gone. It’s a hungry and hardworking spirit that fuels me, and I wanted to visualize that and share my story.

Over the years, I’ve heard many people going through similar struggles, and while it’s saddening, it’s a common theme in the Black community for fathers to be absent in their children’s lives. I want to share my story so others can find solace in their journey and be inspired to keep shaping the world around them. 

Paloma: This work employs a sense of dream and nightmare, can you speak to this  and more specifically in the creation of these sleep demons we see throughout the series of work.

TOE_TOUCH_8323Toe Touch, 2024

Cory: Over the years, I have been plagued by a recurring nightmare: hiding from an ominous presence lurking in the sky, leaving destruction in its wake. These scenes are inspired by those nightmares and are the result of my deep dive into understanding their meaning. The characters emerged from a specific set of dreams, where I repeatedly envisioned a creepy, slender, ominous creature, almost as if it were haunting me until I painted it. This is how the Sleep Demon was born. From that moment on, I continued to develop these characters, using my nightmares as inspiration.

Paloma: How do you hope viewers will engage with your work on a personal and introspective level?

Cory: If my Theory of Transmission is correct, the viewers of this body of work will each have unique feedback responses. I’ve released this 'transmission' into the world through "Sleep Demonz," sharing a chapter of a story much like the ones we love to enjoy. Those who interact with the work will have various responses, some of which could inspire further evolution of its message. When I first created "Blue Faces," my message was simple: use the colors I love and convey the feelings I want others to experience. Over time, it grew to be much more. I believe the same will happen with this collection. I've applied what I learned from "Blue Faces" and evolved my practice based on the feedback from that collection. Now, this collection is a product of that evolution, and I plan to process the feedback from "Sleep Demonz" to further refine and advance my work for the next wave.

RESILIENT_8420Resilient, 2024

See more of Cory’s available work with SuperRare here.