A Remarkable, Ordinary World
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AS if to emphasize that paint is his subject, when Levy first started painting after a long period of drawing and making prints only in black and white, he chose to depict the very raw materials of the painter: brushes, inks, bunches of charcoal sticks, pencils in jars, a paint-splattered rag, and above all, dry pigments (pigments in powder form). These, no less than such domestic still-life objects as a shaving brush or a spoon, come very close to an artist's essential accessories; they are symbol and part of him.Skip to next paragraph
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Extending this idea in a slightly different direction, Levy also paints ``art,'' for example, the self-portrait of Munch in the painting on this page. In another painting of a view out of a window, with a windowsill on which stands a bottle with a narcissus in it, a reproduction of a Velazquez is attached to the windowpane with masking tape. Levy studies the art of certain old masters and clearly sees himself as following a long tradition of figurative painting. To include some of their images in his own is not only to pay tribute to them, but also to show how they are as much a part of his vision as the objects he paints are.
Israeli born, Levy has lived and worked in Italy, Spain, Holland, and France. Today he has studios in both Jerusalem and Paris. Although some of his views through windows are identifiable as one place or another, his still-life paintings on the whole are stateless. They are universal, perhaps, in a way that landscape cannot be, and this universality is underscored by the kind of light that he prefers for them. He calls it ``timeless.'' It is not possible to tell the time of day from it.
But more than this, the light helps to lift an arrangement and ordering of objects into a kind of transcendent symbol, into his vision. If there is one old master Levy readily admits as a direct influence, it is the Spanish painter Francisco Zurbaran. ``Antiquities,'' with its ancient artifacts arranged with such sacred lucidity on a white sheet - like offerings on some altar - illustrates his debt to Zurbaran still lifes.
ONE further influence on Levy's work comes from the medium of film. The planning and editing of the films of Federico Fellini or Sergei Eisenstein fascinate him. His own procedures as a painter are very similar: an exhaustive and self-critical process of many takes; a tendency to think of paintings as ``frames'' that either succeed or fail and must be kept or rejected accordingly; a rigorous elimination of whatever seems to be distracting or unnecessary; and a highly selective discrimination of the final image. It may be to film that he owes something of the dreamlike nature of his work, its potency as after-image in the memory.
Levy is, in another peculiar way, a painter of memory rather than a depictor of subject matter. His method while painting - whether portrait, still life, landscape, or combinations of these -
is not to face his subject directly. His canvas or paper is not placed between him and his subject.
Instead he works facing his picture, and when he looks at his subject he turns sideways. In this way, he points out, there is an all-important split second when what his eyes see is transferred into memory. He then paints this memory image. It is perfectly clear from the intensity with which he describes this process that it is a great deal more than an idiosyncratic methodology. It is what critically separates the significance of his paintings from mere realism.