CHARLESTOWN – Forty years ago, Eric Lutes left the track fields of Chariho High School and headed for the red carpets of Hollywood. Recently, he settled down into a chair at Higher Grounds Coffee House in Richmond to talk about his unique journey, the childhood that led him in that direction and the future he envisions.
“I was always the weird kid,” he admitted almost immediately.
“I was always dressing up as superhero characters and going around the neighborhood. A lot of the kids didn’t want to play with me because I didn’t want to play basketball. I wanted to play knights and stuff.”
The son of John Lutes, a medical practitioner-turned marine and landscape artist, and Claire Lutes, a nurse and astrologer, he recollected how, as a child, he struggled to find his place in the world.
“I’d watch the Brady Bunch and feel like if I could get on television, life would be normal.”
Describing himself as a “chubby” kid, he would observe the boys at school getting ready for track practice and that sense of not of fitting in would begin to stir.
“I felt like I was missing out,” he said. So he joined the track team.
“I started getting faster and going further. I lost weight. I began winning races. I had never won anything before.”
After graduation he attended URI where he majored in theater. Soon he was getting acting jobs in Boston and New York.
“I got commercials and soap operas,” he said. “Then I was offered work in Los Angeles. I didn’t want to move from New York. I was making money there.”
Within a month of his move to the west coast, he landed a role on the hit show ‘Frasier’.
“It was a gay character during a time when that wasn’t really accepted,” he said. “It ended up getting the highest viewing audience the show had ever had.”
Other roles followed on shows such as Ellen, Mad About You and Desperate Housewives.
“One of my weird claims to fame is that I’ve played two different dads to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen,” he laughed.
Nearly two dozen film roles were added to his resume in the ensuing years. Then, suddenly, he reached a pivotal moment in his life. Those hours he had spent in dressing rooms, wiling away the time with personal art projects meant something.
“My passion is, and always has been, painting,” he said. “Deep down I’ve always been an artist. I trusted my ability in painting more than my ability in acting. I never doubted my ability to sell a painting. It gives me good vibes. I can’t even keep up with the ideas I have. I feel like a conduit when I’m painting.”
This conscious realization came on the heels of being afflicted with both Lyme disease and malaria and feeling like death “was right around the corner.”
“Life is short,” he said, “When I was younger, the Hollywood thing was all I was about. Now I’m older. Now it’s all about the painting.”
Last year, Lutes returned to his hometown and rented a little house on the river.
“In Los Angeles, everything was so surreal,” he said. “Fame was great. It was a lot of fun. I accomplished something. But its not who I am. I couldn’t wait to come back to Rhode Island. I feel like I have so much more now.”
While he uses his film and television experience to teach acting part-time at the Courthouse Center for the Arts and still plans on doing a handful of films each year, he is devoting the majority of his time to putting his visions on canvas; portraits, landscapes, buildings and animals. One of his favorite subjects is water.
“It’s all about reflections,” he said. “They are an alternate reality.”
Recently, he was commissioned to do a painting of the research vessel ‘The Endeavor’ which is now hanging in the lobby of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. The majority of his work is sold through social media and word of mouth though he hopes to get paintings in more galleries in the near future.
These days find him meditating and praying over a blank canvas where he often closes his eyes while working because “its more important to feel the brush than see.” Back here on the east coast, he finally feels like he’s found his place in the world.
“People always ask me ‘how do you make it’? You just keep showing up. You don’t always win the race but you still accomplish something,” he said.
“I believe there is a divine hand in everything. Even when its horrible. Its just the world, but its not the end of the world. Just write your own script and don’t apologize for yourself.”
Lutes’ work can be viewed on his website: www.ericlutesart.com