Steve Levin

Opening – September 22nd, 6:00 – 10:00PM
by appointment until October 2nd

Dreams for the Waking

My pictures derive from a tradition of works going back (at least) to the 17th century in northern Europe. Those paintings, based on the wunderkammer, or curiosity cabinet were generally straightforward depictions of actual collections of this type. They might include representations of different classes of objects: objects of art (such as miniature paintings, small scale sculpture, or fine metalwork), objects relating to the sciences (elaborate compasses, astrolabes, or ivory carvings of complex geometric forms), and what were called lusus naturae, marvels of nature, (objects like coral, unusual beetles, or even specimens of a freakish nature like two headed lizards or albino animals). Much as did the actual collections, those paintings served as microcosmic models of the world, and were considered as fitting objects for scholarly contemplation.

My own pictures depart from this tradition in many significant ways, but they are also, in some senses, paintings of collections. The format of a clearly bounded space provides a context in which the objects are seen as components of a larger whole. While the juxtaposition of objects suggests that their interrelation might be examined, the unifying principles of the collection are not quite literal. Some are formal (“objects all of a similar scale”) or expressive (“a collection of serious playthings”) , or the result might even suggest some sort of portrait of a fictional owner of the collection.

In the history of painting, I have been impressed by the pervasiveness of the vanitas theme. There is a sense in which any still life can be seen, at least partly, as a memento mori. The representation of the inanimate seems to carry an edge of warning, and the stillness of a painting can seem more profoundly inert than the actual objects depicted. I hope that the pictures are not morbid but more nearly solemn in tone. Most of the objects are, if somewhat menacing, also quite mundane. They tend to focus less on any active destructive force than on a quiet process of decay.

Plato says in the Sophist “Should we not say that we make a house by the art of building, and by the art of painting we make another house, a sort of man-made dream produced for those who are awake?” I suspect that I read this in a sense different from that which Plato intended; but I would be gratified to see my paintings in these terms, as “dreams for the waking”.

Levin’s paintings have been shown nationally and are included in both private and public collections. Levin currently lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts where he is Professor Emeritus of Art at Williams College.

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