Friday, August 2, 2019

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In the review of my recent show on Hyperallergic, author Lev Feigin notes, "Looking at her paintings, I couldn’t help but think of the autofictional books of Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, which focus a microscope onto the everyday minutiae of the authors’ personal lives. Like these novels, Levinthal’s paintings create a sense of unmediated access to their creator’s world and interiority." 

I knew Heti and Knausgaard, although I haven't read their work but admit I had never even heard of Cusk.  So I figured this summer that would be a good place to start my reading.  I just finished Outline, the first in a trilogy by Cusk and I'm so thrilled.  First, I loved the book.  And also, if my paintings could be writing I would like them to have a lot of what is here so I'm flattered.

It's a really unique take on a simple subject.  The narrator takes a plane to Athens to teach a one week writing course.  She tells the story by sort of retelling the conversations of people like her neighbor on the plane, a coworker, students in her class.  

I identified so strongly with her and yet she tells almost nothing of herself or her opinions.  She creates this complex character through erasure.  She's barely there yet you identify so strongly with her, she isn't easily definable but she is specific.  And through this way of writing the form becomes the function -- she is showing us what it is to be a mother, woman in a literary (art) world where men are constantly telling her things, people are speaking at her to impress her, students are challenging her authority.  

Cusk clearly wrote a book about her own 'everyday', unremarkable life and it is anything but expected.  While being highly aware that the book is about the form, its never just to show off her ability, its absolutely to make a bigger statement about her main character.  It's hard to explain the style, here is an excerpt where she is speaking to her seatmate from the plane:

“All the same, it seemed to him now that that life had been lived almost unconsciously, that he had been lost in it, absorbed in it, as you can be absorbed in a book, believing in its events and living entirely through and with its characters. Never again since had he been able to absorb himself; never again had he been able to believe in that way. Perhaps it was that – the loss of belief – that constituted his yearning for the old life. Whatever it was, he and his wife had built things that had flourished, had together expanded the sum of what they were and what they had; life had responded willingly to them, had treated them abundantly, and this – he now saw – was what had given him the confidence to break it all, break it with what now seemed to him to be an extraordinary casualness, because he thought there would be more. More what? I asked. ‘More – life,’ he said, opening his hands in a gesture of receipt. ‘And more affection,’ he added, after a pause. ‘I wanted more affection.”

Friday, July 12, 2019


I really can't get enough of Foujita.  Probably partially due to how rare it is to see his work, I have never seen one in person and the books are very rare and expensive.  There is just one in the library that I keep on renewing and pray no one else ever requests.  I absolutely feel this work.  His interests are unapologetic and require no artist statement -- looking intensely, self-portraiture, cats, line, composition.  Its so steadfast you think well what else could there be...nothing.  You are in his universe so you can't question it.  This is a painter.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Two Summer Shows

I'm in two shows this summer in NY.  The first is at my gallery, Nancy Margolis.  It's a show loosely around the theme of flowers.  I have this painting above, the one below and a couple others in the show.  Other artists include Kathleen Craig, Xico Greenwald, Gail Spaien and Anna Valdez.  I'm thrilled to see it and meet some of the other painters, the opening is Thursday June 13, 6-8pm.  Exhibition Catalogue

The other show is called About Face organized by Patricia Spergel and Director Shazzi Thomas at the Painting Center.  Its a big show with work from Dasha Bazanova, Jeff Bliumis, Alexandra Rutsch Brock, Deborah Brown, Pam Butler, Susanna Coffey, Kyle Coniglio, Donna Festa, Kyle Hackett, Ryan Michael Ford, Barbara Friedman, Lavaughan Jenkins, Catherine Kehoe, Aubrey Levinthal, and Elise Siegel. That one opens Thursday June 20th 6-8pm.  Exhibition Catalogue

I'll grab some install photos when I am up for these shows. Please come!

For K.R., 2019, Oil on Panel, 11.5 x 11.75 inches

P.S. -- The painting above, For K.R., is for Kay Ryan, the poet. I have tried a few times to make a painting in response to my favorite poem, The Light of Interiors. I so want to capture that delicate, simple island of flowers with no gravity but so much past she writes of. Here is her exquisite poem:

The Light of Interiors
by Kay Ryan

The light of interiors
is the admixture
of who knows how many
doors ajar, windows
casually curtained,
unblinded or opened,
oculi set into ceilings,
wells, ports, shafts,
loose fits, leaks,
and other breaches
of surface. But, in
any case, the light,
once in, bounces
toward the interior,
glancing off glassy
enamels and polishes,
softened by the scuffed
and often-handled, muffled
in carpet and toweling,
buffeted down hallways,
baffled equally
by the scatter and order
of love and failure
to an ideal and now
sourceless texture which
when mixed with silence
makes of a simple
table with flowers
an island.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Valerie Hegarty

Five Tulips with Wan Li Vase Elegy
Five Tulips with Wan Li Vase Elegy, 2019, Wood, canvas, wire, foil, epoxy clay, acrylic paint,40” x 33” x 9”

I love Valerie Hegarty's work.  Just through following her on instagram I found she is a writer and published a stunning story in the New England review.  I have read and reread her short story Cats vs Cancer.  It does what I wish my paintings to do -- it is visceral and haunting and felt in the stomach, but also appears somehow casual and simple.  Its so easy to get into and so difficult to forget.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Virtual View on Eazel

My show ends tomorrow!  The gallery did an interesting thing with a company called Eazel.  Through many photographs they have created an archived digital version of the exhibition which can be seen here.  There are quite a few galleries who document their shows this way.  While I hope it isn't the way future art viewing will go (and don't think it will be) I do think its a good next best thing to see scale/space if you are not local or able to make a show.  

Friday, May 31, 2019

Good Painters Getting Some Love

I saw two shows I'm so happy about.  The first was at Rowan, where I used to teach.  One of the art historians there is writing a book on Sylvia Sleigh so they put on a show of her work and other participants of the SOHO20, a co-op gallery for women artists in the 70s.  Here's the link...  

(detail) Sylvia Sleigh, Soho20 Group Portrait, 1974
 It brought to mind the group portraits Mimi Gross did in the 1960s, recently on view in a great show at Eric Firestone.  Link here...

Mimi Gross, Grand Street Girls, 1963

Then I dropped by PAFA feeling like, 'damn why can't they do something like that?' The whole time I was a grad student there I felt figurative painting was always about large scale, heroic man painting.  And then I was told to check out the new installation of the permanent collection and it blew my mind because it read my mind.  Joan Brown, Sylvia Sleigh, Kyle Staver, Judith Linhares, Mequitta Ahuja, Gertrude Abercrombie etc.  It was so good to see.  

And seeing two Joan Brown paintings in person was especially timely for me as I'm reading her monograph The Art of Joan Brown by Karen Tsujimoto.  

Here are a few really compelling statements in there that I marked to remember:

"When I found that the painting was getting monotonous, when the inspiration and the struggle were no longer there, no amount of success and money and fame would influence me to give up my freedom.  As far as I am concerned, success is an inside thing, a feeling of growth, of change of in-goingness in terms of the creative process -- and outside mean very, very little, if anything -"

I didn't realize how much success and fame she had in her early 20s, aligning with the Bay Area.  To completely abandon that work and receive such negative reviews as she did takes a lot.  Its a very important thing though to paint for yourself first, a necessity to be engaged and struggling.

"Raising a child I was able to explore and express another dimension of myself, the more I am able to express the various dimensions of myself, the richer and freer the art will be.  I'm not any one thing: I'm not just a teacher, I'm not just a mother, I'm not just a painter, I'm all these things plus and the more areas I can tap, the richer each one of the others will be.  I've always wondered why nobody has ever asked me how I did it and what I thought about raising a child...It's been tough from time to time.  Sometimes there's an overcompensation; sometimes I put out too much energy into one area and not enough in the other.  It's really hard to keep that balance but...everything really feeds into the other...I find that the work is a by-product of myself as a person and therefore it's much richer because I have lived and have been involved in other dimensions."

I've been of the pessimistic mindset recently that the idea of 'having it all' is utter bullshit.  That stereotype alone asks women to do too many things really well without any structural support like free preschool, which make feeling like a failure very easy.  But I like this take, that having a child and being a painter and teacher and whatever else creates a new and impossible other universe in which the parts work together and would not happen otherwise.  Its certainly true for my new body of work.  I feel the most connected to this show than any of my previous shows, I feel it is so much stronger because it is more vulnerable and personal and that is certainly a by-product of my life.  And that makes me care a lot less what the outside world thinks.  I definitely want my work to be seen but I don't care how it is received.  And she's right, there is a lot of freedom in that.
Good reminders from a trailblazer.  

Monday, April 29, 2019

Installation Shots and Gallery Talk 5/4

Here are installation shots of my show courtesy of Nancy Margolis.  

I'm going to be giving a talk in the gallery this Saturday, May 4th at 2pm.  I'm talking doubt and anxiety -- should be fun!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Exhibition Catalog and Announcement

The catalog for my show has arrived!  Click here to view the digital version.  

Here are details for the show:

Nancy Margolis Gallery
April 18th - June 1st, 2019

Opening Reception: Thursday, April 18th, 6-8pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, May 4, 2-3pm

Below is the text from the catalog essay by Samantha Mitchell.  I feel so honored to have such a thoughtful and gifted writer and artist respond to my work.

"In his definition of heterotopia(of which utopiaand dystopiaare types) Michel Foucault writes about the mirror as an agent of transformative realization of self in place – simultaneously illuminating and falsifying our own image: “I see myself where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface… [f]rom the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there.” 

Mirrors are a frequent theme in Aubrey Levinthal’s work, both literal and implied. Her self-reflexive paintings often feature figures that resemble herself and her family – a brunette woman, a bearded man, and a young child – and self-portraits in the studio with brush at hand are an homage to a classical tradition that is very much alive in her technique.   The work creates a narrative thread that explores a specific kind of contemporary domestic life that mirrors her own. These reflections present a complex, brooding image of young motherhood, at times a bright floral haze, at others a dimly lit miasma. 

Nursing (Boot)is at once an aggressive and tender depiction of motherhood, a feminist reimagining of Madonna and child. The body of the infant, almost indistinguishable, melts into its mother’s body, while the mother confronts the viewer with a direct, withering gaze and the sole of her boot. In Breakfast on 13thSt, a scene at a nuclear family breakfast table, mother and father appear completely consumed in deep, dark, thought while a baby stares intently out from the background. Seemingly unnoticed, a bouquet of flowers morphs into a surrealistic globular lozenge, bubbling out of a vase, suggesting the existence an alternate reality within the grim intensity of this one. Echoes of influences like Nicole Eisenman and Berthe Morisot reverberate through Levinthal’s uncanny mealtime scenes, where figures congregate with brooding expressions, rendered in thin, feathery strokes and washes.

Where Levinthal’s paintings are often celebrations of sumptuous offerings – food, flowers, ornately patterned wallpaper and textile – this current body of work casts these joyful trappings in a distinctly ominous and foreboding light, operating instead as memento mori. The bouquets are dark and wilting, flowers bent at the stem. Tables are littered with Chinese takeout containers and various fruit rinds, and the refrigerator is only occupied by condiments and milk. A scene from a flesh-toned office where a fashionable young therapist charges her Apple device while in session is a bright pink foil to the other largely greyed-out paintings, and features the same confrontational boots, now submissive in their spot on the analyst’s couch. In Double Mirrors, a woman stands in a bathroom with baroque wallpaper while the faucet runs, considering reflections of her shoulder and half of her face cut up between two mirrors above the sink. These moments of decorative indulgence are counterpoints for the figures within, who are at once intense and absent, slipping between presence and invisibility. 

With this work, Levinthal offers the viewer a world within her own that is simultaneously real and surreal. Familiar visual themes that appear throughout the work – face, flower, earbud, boot – are a refrain, arresting in the same way that one might recognize their own body within a dream. Like the mirror, the paintings both reflect and dissociate, opening an illusory space where narrative becomes fractured and plays out in a suspended reality."

- Samantha Mitchell, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Shows NY and Philly

I've seen a bunch of good shows recently.  Here are some highlights from Chelsea and LES, most of the shows are up through mid April:

Alice Neel at David Zwirner on 20th was freakishly good.  I have always loved her and felt a certain pride as she went to art school and spent time in Philly but something about the curation by her daughter-in-law Ginny was so spot on and timely, I felt even more in awe and thankful to her.  Mostly depicting pregnancy or stays in hospitals, this work was the pulsing, riddled, racing human condition at its rawest.

Milton Avery at DC Moore, its a small show of four paintings but these were gems.

Jackie Gendel at Thomas Erben

These three paintings Temma Bell(detail above), Gwen Strahle(left) and John Goodrich(right) were part of a nice show at First Street Gallery put on by the still life collective Zeuxis.  A lot of good perceptual work there.  

I need to get better at taking more pictures and also taking better pictures.  
These basically function as notes, but there were a ton of good things I didn't take: John Bradford, Susan Lichtman, Ying Li...I know everyone takes photos and galleries probably like it at this point.  But I still feel like I have .005 seconds to snap a covert photo before getting yelled at for some reason...

Angela Heisch at Davidson Gallery

Polina Barakaya (detail) at Monya Rowe Gallery

Jonathan Gardner at Casey Kaplan

Susan Jane Walp at Tibor de Nagy, this show was all paintings around a foot square simply framed and hung in an even order around three walls.  They were so cared for and had such integrity, I don't think a painter could not admire them.  I love her work so much.  Its a reminder among a sea of loud and slappy stuff in LES about the kind of painter I want to continue to aspire to be so I can be working in 30 years.  These are paintings that I would kill to live with because they will continue to give the slow secrets that went into their making.

In Philly two of my favorite people and painters are having concurrent solo shows at Gross McCleaf Gallery.  These are Evan Fugazzi, and the color embraces you.  Its a welcome relief from the shitty weather and state of the world.  Thank you Evan.  Nice review of this show in Hyperallergic by Stan Mir here.

Rebekah Callaghan's work is generous like that in its color but much different in process.  The relentless search and rich subtlety that results from that in person is sublime.  (Side note: I started thinking about a few words: sublime, haunting and exquisite.  If work in person can hold any of those it's tops.  I've been trying to demand that same feeling for myself in the studio...easier said than done)

It also got a well deserved review on Two Coats of Paint by Bea Huff Hunter here.

And next week Sarah McEneaney has a solo opening at Locks Gallery.

It's finally feeling like a hopeful season.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Create Magazine Interview

Happy to share an interview I did with Ekaterina Popova, a Philly based painter and founder of Create Magazine.  It's a beautiful publication and I'm thrilled to see it in print.  They have a very active Instagram but also have issues available for purchase here.

Here is the full transcript at a legible size:

Tell me about yourself. Were you always interested in becoming an artist? What has your creative journey been like so far?

I think I have that typical, boring story of a painter which is I always liked to draw and always felt like it was the thing I was good at. But I think a lot of people love to draw as kids, I’ve just been fortunate enough and stubborn enough for it to keep working out.  I get a lot of satisfaction out of creating something tangible though, I think graphic design would be a much harder job for me than something like tailoring. I’ve always found ways to work with my hands, I love to cook and rehab furniture and stuff like that.  

I went to Penn State for undergrad which was a good program, I had a great experience on a semester abroad in Florence at a tiny art school too during that time.  And that made me really commit to doing my MFA at an art school, which led to PAFA. I wanted to be in Philly, I’ve always found it an interesting place to live, and a place that is affordable.  So I stayed and after a few years I found a great shared studio space in a quiet building and have been there for 3 ½ years now. This is the first year since my MFA in 2011 that I am not teaching alongside my practice.  I am in the studio four days a week now working towards my show at Nancy Margolis in April.

What are your paintings about?

I hope my work is a real, tender accounting of my particular visual life.  The paintings can be inventive and distorted, as I often work from memory and through process, but I want them to carry resonance of my experience, which happens to be as a painter, woman, mother.  I am influenced by the work of painters of intimacy and autobiography like Bonnard, Porter, Hockney.  But I think by the very virtue of being a woman painting ‘the domestic’, ‘the intimate’, the ‘everyday’ there is a slightly different assumption there.  I want to take that expectation and not subvert it, but kind of nudge it open a bit for the multifaceted, nuanced, difficult, anxious, lonely way it can feel.  So I’m not making a statement by painting myself pregnant or nursing or my husband or child, I am just trying to add my perspective as authentically as I can. 

I am also very interested in the relationship of efficiency and complexity.  Meaning, I like to make paintings that feel approachable and simple, I am mindful of having careful, purposeful marks and decisions.  But I am trying to see how much complexity can be revealed after that initial read.  I think this way of working speaks especially well to my content.  Everyone feels they contain multitudes, but ‘mother’ may be the most flattening of all titles. To make a still image, a painting, which contains these suspended layers feels like an equal and appropriate challenge.

How has your work evolved over the years? What was your early work like?

I’ve always liked to paint the tangible things around me – food, people, objects.  I really always felt I was terrible at large spaces and landscapes.  Since I was little that was not of interest for me. I like things that hold some kind of human scale and resonance for the most part.  

The thing that has shifted the most is as I started working seriously in high school and college I felt like I could no longer work from memory or imagination.  I got obsessed with the anatomical rightness of things and relied on working from life or photos.  Looking back that seems fairly normal, I was trying to get a grip on rendering, but it didn’t feel inventive enough, it got tedious.  Once I got to the point where I felt I could render anything, then came the real investigation as to what and why and more importantly, giving myself permission to let that be open ended.  I think the most important thing I have consistently done since then to help my work evolve is look at other work, it’s a way to grant yourself that permission to experiment.  

What advice would you give emerging artists in regards to taking creative risks and finding their voice?

I would say the answers are in the paint.  I used to sit in my studio and bite my nails, racking my brain for an idea that would give me a justifiable reason to paint.  But it’s kind of like brainstorming for writing where you need to just let things flow and then judge them later.  The best thing I found to do is use any impulse for a painting, whether it’s a color combination on a restaurant placemat or a desire to make a copy of a famous work in the museum.  Trying things as far out as can be imagined helped me realize what I wanted to paint by working backwards.  Meaning, I figured out what I never wanted to do again, whether because I found it boring or unsatisfying and that took off pressure of ‘figuring out’ what my work was about.

What are you currently excited about in your studio practice?

Infrastructure! I spent the last month installing new racks in the studio and organizing my work both physically and on an external harddrive.  And I just finished cradling these 20 new paintings and making the mouldings for their frames. So I’m feeling productive, even when the painting is tough and slow.  

What's coming up next for you?
I have a solo exhibition at Nancy Margolis Gallery in Chelsea, opening April 18, 2019.  

*All images are new work which will be on view in this upcoming show.