Review: Amy Winehouse at Steven Zevitas Gallery

Cate McQuaid
01/25/2012

David X. Levine was still installing his works on paper at Steven Zevitas Gallery, organizing several small colored-pencil drawings into an installation, when I came through late last week. But his big pieces were up and lighted. The show is called “Amy Winehouse,’’ and many of Levine’s works reference popular culture; he seems to be channeling the energy of particular figures. In the large works, these include the late Suzanne Pleshette, the whiskey-voiced actress who played Bob Newhart’s wife on “The Bob Newhart Show,’’ and beat poet John Wieners.

“Suzanne Pleshette’’ is an ambitious and obsessive array of three nearly 6-foot-tall sheets mounted to the wall with binder clips. The first two are pure orange, filled in with colored pencil. The third has an obituary of Pleshette in the upper left, surrounded by an offbeat array of colored blocks and bands. The colors, the nearly invisible pencil marks, and the rhythms of the geometry add up to a brassy, crisp, albeit unsettling homage.

Levine is moving from curvilinear, biomorphic forms, which you can see in the smaller drawings, to rectangles. He told me he is striving to activate the picture plane the same way he does with what he calls his “wonky shapes.’’ That’s a terrific challenge: Wonky shapes make you feel wonky. Rectangles are orderly, safe. Yet Levine is rising to his task, and he does it with color, texture, white space, and an uneasy sense that order is coming undone.

“Scarecrow’’ features a lot of white space, with blocks of color running up both sides, and another slightly off-kilter assortment in the middle. Edges don’t quite line up. Marbled textures pull you in, and send you along visual paths. Colors bobble against each other. Some, collaged on, rise off the surface. There’s text, in cursive, near the top: “you’d love me if you could but you’re only,’’ a lyric Levine has toyed with from a song by the British 1960s folk group the Watersons. In the end, “Scarecrow’’ is effectively wonky: Bold, but wincing. Sure-footedly stumbling. Engrossing.