Author's note: Artist friend David Levine invited me to contribute the following essay to the catalog of his new exhibition, "The Beatles are Dull and Ordinary: Drawings by David X. Levine," at Boston University's Sherman Gallery, 775 Commonwealth Avenue, Second Floor, Boston MA 02215, January 20 - March 27, 2015, opening reception on Friday, January 23, 5-7pm.
|David Levine, KISS, 2011, colored pencil, graphite on paper, 72x52 inches.|
As Kiss makes abundantly clear, David Levine’s is an art that routinely takes inspiration from and intermingles the high and low cultures of our time, pausing momentarily on pop tunes and performers, then abruptly halting us in our visual tracks with a reference to an historical movement or individual artist, in the process embracing feelings and ideas that are both ephemeral and lasting, as if they comprise not mutually exclusive phenomena but an experiential continuum. Conventional wisdom has it that such an art dissolves the categorical distinction separating fine art and popular art, when what it effectively does is enhance both via their interaction with one another, like an aesthetic hybrid reminding us that that’s how it usually is with complex feelings and ideas: The best of them, the ones most challenging and rewarding, tend in the lived world nearly always to range widely and wildly and combine unpredictably, they’re rarely if ever pure. In accepting their challenge, at the same time, we’re in turn rewarded with the full spectrum of pleasures that such an art was made to celebrate and yield in the first place.
The celebratory voice that inflects our understanding of the high/low nexus – I will call it David Levine’s signature voice – affects as well how we look at his art in relation to the modern and postmodern contexts in which it’s been developed. It’s a voice that in formal terms – including terms of physical size and scale and ambition – is largely grounded in the unalloyed geometries and grids and color fields of modernist abstraction, yet is at the same time sprinkled with photographs and narrative impulses and quasi-surreal inventions, all of which comprise a voice reflecting postmodernism’s democratic and accommodating openness to stylistic mixing and matching and a free-wheeling approach to finding and taking inspiration from art’s history.
Carl Belz is Director Emeritus, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University. He currently lives with his wife in Franconia, New Hampshire.
|Fred Neil, 2004, colored pencil, graphite on paper, 65x55 inches.|
|She Knows Me So Well, 2005, colored pencil and graphite on paper, 75x55 inches.|
|I'm Still In Love With Emily Kane, 2008, colored pencil and graphite on paper, 55x69 inches.|
|Charles Stevenson Wright, 2009, colored pencil, collage, and graphite on paper, 70x55 inches.|
|Scarecrow, 2011, color pencil, collage, and graphite on paper, 67x53 inches.|
|September 30, 2013, 2013, colored pencil and collage on paper, 60x48 inches.|