Review: David X. Levine, "Drawings"

Neil Chassman

The John Davis Gallery is another very pleasing art ambience in Hudson. The room one enters is bright, just for viewing the pieces in this show by David X. Levine. The exhibit continues downstairs. There is a several story carriage house in back beyond a sculpture garden. These auxiliary components provide for the exhibiting of a number of shows at one time - which means that the opportunity for the visitor to "strike it rich" aesthetically is enhanced.

While "David Levine" is a frequently encountered appellation, the "X" makes the name more distinctive. Immediately, the silent-era film star Frances S. Bushman came to mind. He was called "King of Hollywood" until that honor transferred to Clark Gable.

The works are rather diminutive - engendering a personal interaction with them, although I understand that even though the medium - color pencil and graphite on paper - mitigates against large size, there exist some very sizable pieces.

Although I understand that Levine is self-taught, I can readily see that he has a familiarity with history of American 20th century art and that he is sophisticated.

The works are dynamic, with frequent brilliant color. The images are abstract, but not entirely so, and there is a nice play between hard and soft, angular and curved, neither one nor the other of the seeming opposites taking complete precedence. These ambiguities, if one calls them that, elicit interest on the part of the viewer and give them aesthetic strength and authenticity, and prevent them from falling into a shallow decorativeness. They are nice to look at to be sure, but their panoply of positives included a complex rhythmic play of colors, form and texture - a resting on the edge of readability, i.e., the uncertainty of the read gives emotional and intellectual enjoyment rather the way (although in very different format) Albers' "Homage to the Square" or his black-and-white linear geometric pieces did.

The "Untitled" work above - which is similar in motif, concept and structure to several other works he has done such as "Love Is All Around" - immediately brought Philip Guston's late work to mind; it is anthropomorphic in the same way. Many of the works hang on the line between figurative and abstract. In these works, the brilliant contrasts evoke surrealism as well - enigma of Magritte, flat puzzling moods of de Chirico, shapes of Picasso and even as I now read Andre Gide's "Amyntas" and Elias Canette's "The Voices of Marrakesh," a North African landscape, intensity of color - and vastness is suggested. Another very intriguing piece, somewhat large, evokes Arp, Ernst and Moore.

It's good to see a thoughtful and sensitive lyricism of 20th century art icons in terms of: masters, motifs and constructions. This is no "cutting edge" as they say. It is quietly innovative and has a satisfying originality. (This is not to criticize it.)

The titles of the works frequently play an enjoyable part and are from musical lyrics, pop/rock and jazz, such as "Just for a Thrill," which is written on the work:

"Just for a thrill

You You You

Made my heart

Stand still"

This approach makes the work superficially less serious but fundamentally more serious, because Levine allows himself to engage in straightforward play with a touch of the ironic.

The Boston Globe in 2003 didn't think so:

"If Levine had left his works untitled, with no guideposts, they would have been more enigmatic and provocative. As it is, he's making the mistake of asking us to view his intriguing drawings through his eyes, not our own."

The Boston Globe is wrong and perhaps unwittingly corrects itself in 2005:

"David X. Levine... sees colors when he listens to music."

(like Kandinsky)] "The works have a scuffed-up, humble feel, like you might have torn them off an elementary school bulletin board."

" ... the image is daunting, yet in Levine's typical style, strangely bright and easy."

Neil Chassman is an art historian and theorist who is teaching in the art department at SUNY New Paltz this fall.