Cloud Venus, 2017
By Andrew Levine
Consider the possibilities of having access to the greatest supermarket of world-class artworks in one location and the tools to put together works of art that embrace the past, present and multitudes of global culture. The current work of Andrew Levine strives to do just that with technology joining the treasure trove of New York City’s vast collection of artworks. With the eye of the commercial photographer he is—scouting the museum and gallery environments—he creates mash-ups of world historical artworks and melds them together in unique collaged visualizations.
In his excellent book “Modern Art 1851-1929”, Richard R. Brettell writes of the “graphic traffic of images” and how the preponderance of these images were made available by the millions. This outcome of the Industrial Revolution changed significantly how artists approach art. Prior to Lithography and photography (and now digital delivery) access to artworks were the domain of a lucky few who could travel to cosmopolitan centers and engage personally with the original. This new traffic in graphics – at a low cost and easy accessibility – now allowed anyone and everyone the ability to be an art collector of sorts. Levine follows this path by taking this concept a step further. By visiting the numerous receptacles of artworks he does not bother to purchase the reproduction, but finds his own unique angle and captures it on a digital camera. This image is then uploaded onto a computer for later review and forthcoming artworks. A sort of personal armory of graphics for later trafficking.
The current piece, “Cloud Venus” is a mix of cut bits, processed images, and type fastened to a board. An image of Venus in bright magenta on a vivid blue cloud creates a figure/ground tension that thrusts the figure forward with the confidence of the serene. Clouds are not stable, yet the Venus emits a radiant calm. Levine’s collage style is also worth noting. After building the image in Photoshop, and then printing it out—just to slice it apart, and then put it back together again—puts in mind that all that we see is really a composite of many disparate parts. If instability is part of the pictures theme, the image cuts and slices— only horizontals and verticals—may bring us back to stability. An exclusion of diagonals also contributes to the stability. The horizontals bring us to a calm relaxed state, while the verticals reach upward to a higher level. A diagonal would disrupt the piece, allowing the surface to slip into depths unknown.
A habitual, even fanatical visitor to the NY art scene, it is a guess as to why classical themes are the current focus of Levine’s work. A devotee to the natural world—his past work consists mainly of flora and insects. But maybe like the natural world, the Venus is a signifier of peace, calm, and prosperity. Current times are not stable and a reach into that past is a way to counteract that instability. But how to explain the acid blues and magentas? The present is always here in spite of our attempts to transcend them.
Levine, a mix of spiritual and earthbound contributes to the centuries old philosophical dichotomy. Plato points upward to heaven while Aristotle points down to earth. Is it possible to meld the two together in one concrete unity? That takes hard work and may never bear an answer, but the search is worth the trip.