The past is not where you left it.
With his photographic frescoes, Levy has built on an ancient medium to create a mythology of his own past, both real and imaginary. But the past isn’t fixed…it’s “not where you left it.” Levy’s artwork plays with the irony of impermanence: while the fresco is meant to remain on the wall of the villa for future generations, Levy’s frescoes are moveable…as though, when leaving a villa, he carried away pieces of the walls…taking with him some of his past…
The actual images are contemporary…all photographed by Levy…sometimes friends or relatives (or even Levy himself), sometimes actors play-acting the subjects of ancient frescoes…cousins posing as Adam and Eve, a tattooed neighbor as an odalisque, or a brother as a satyr. These are all people and things close to Levy…tinged with some irony. A grocery store label can be seen on one of Adam’s apples.
The process: Levy photographs his subjects, and then, with the use of multiple printers, prints and transfers the images to wet plaster…sometimes adding touches of tone or color with pastels or pencils. It’s a unique process that the artist has invented.
The eventual image is influenced not only by the artist, but also partially dictated by the printer, the computer software, the transfer medium, and finally the surface of the plaster itself…silent partners in the outcome…all of them affecting the look of the final fresco. This “group” replaces the ancient fresco painter and his apprentices. The contemporary artist relinquishing partial control to the printer and the plaster.
Levy: “There’s an excitement with each panel I transfer to the plaster. And a drop of anxiety. Though I anticipate the look and make every attempt to control it, it takes almost a full day before the ink and the plaster completely dry and the final image emerges. Just like shifting memory itself, the materials exercise some control over the ultimate look of the work.”
Levy believes that these frescoes lie somewhere between photography and sculpture. Like the French artist JR, who has greatly influenced him, Levy also feels he is reflecting the world around him.
As an award-winning graphic designer, Levy was the art director of TriQuarterly Magazine and the artist behind many noted books, often incorporating photos in unique ways. (Directed by Levy, one issue of TriQuarterly printed as a book contained no words; the entire narrative was “told” with a series of 150 photos). He taught a course for two years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Shortly afterwards, he began to make independent films, and segued slowly from graphic design and art direction to film-making. Levy directed and wrote for television – both narrative and documentary work – and then went on to produce feature films. He has also made furniture since he was a teenager.
Levy believes that all his past endeavors have contributed to his current artwork. A friend recently said his frescoes are cinematic, without being stuck in the clichés of cinema. Wanting to incorporate photography and photo images, and use his woodworking skills, he developed the process of photofrescoes and the mythology surrounding it, and continues to refine it.
The name of one of the frescoes and the title of this group of work comes from a line in a poem by Ruth Padel called “The Cello.”