Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Matvey Levenstein with Phong Bui

Dealing with some deadlines and thus the lack of posts over the previous days. One thing of note is a great interview at the Brooklyn Rail with artist Matvey Levenstein. I met the artist at a residency a few years back and he is quite an engaging speaker with a fascinating story. Some solid areas covered in the interview - see his current one-person exhibition at Larissa Goldston Gallery, on view from April 2nd to May 9th.

Rail: I read Susanna Moore’s essay in your catalogue at your first show at Larrisa Goldston a few years ago, and she mentioned that you admired Ingres, and that you don’t trust any expressionistic impulses. Actually, one of the first books I bought was the Dover Edition of Ingres with a small text by Vincent Price, the actor, in which he wrote, “Ingres, in correct pronunciation, should be like the word ‘angry’ without the ‘y.’” Isn’t that perfect? [Laughter.] It stuck in my mind forever. In any case, a lot of credit has been given to Ingres because of what Robert Rosenblum described as his coolly disciplined and warmly sensual style. Picasso recognized in his paintings the acute visual perception that accommodates the abstract order. But David, his teacher, was just as radical: by adopting classical relief, he reduced the use of perspectival recession while maintaining the atmospheric effects and making the linear contours more pronounced—like figures across the picture plain.

Levenstein: Yeah, David can be thought of as kind of a punk reaction to the sophistication of Baroque and specifically Rococo painting. In any case, with the exception of “The Death of Marat,” I don’t like David and have always preferred Ingres. Ingres, I think, was both more complex and perverse as an artist when he combined Baroque sensuality with abstracted forms. Ingres is still fascinating to me.

Rail: I agree. We identify with his terrific and expressive distortions of form and space, which opened up another possible language to Cubism, the curvilinear structure that allowed Picasso to break away from his previous analytical and synthetic phases. In some ways I believe this was what de Kooning discovered. We can see that response in his standing and seated figures from 1938 to the greater dismemberment of the body in “Pink Angel” of 1945. Which actually, thinking of de Kooning’s sometimes garish palette, full of harsh contrast, blue, pinkish tones against bright orange and ochre, reminds me that it appears you deliberately heighten certain local colors in such objects, perhaps more with the last group of paintings than this new one. In a painting entitled “Still Life” (2002), there were predominant green and violet pillows set in the middle of the turquoise blue arm chair, against the cadmium yellow wall in the back, or “Couch (Self Portrait)” (2004), with the Buddha’s head in ultramarine blue lit from behind, and the deep cadmium red couch on which your silhouetted figure sat on the far right. Is that a fair reading of those paintings?

Levenstein: I was using color as a way to figure out what is considered flat and what is spatial. To tell you the truth, while looking at de Kooning, I was also looking at a lot of Italian Mannerist paintings. This idea of combining a flat shape of either neutral color or black with a very bright color was crucial for me. How can you get black to be both the shadow and the local color at the same time?

image: Brooklyn Rail/drawing by PhongBui

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