"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner
Frescoed walls once portrayed religious and mythological figures, or the glorified owners of the villa. Ancient churches and even synagogues had frescoes telling religious stories. In his current collection of work, Los Angeles artist Lawrence Levy uses the images of the people from his past – both real and imaginary -- to create a series of photographic frescoes, as though ripped off the walls of that past. Levy’s artwork plays with the idea of impermanence: while the fresco is meant to remain on the wall of the villa for future generations, these frescoes can also be transported. It is as if when leaving a villa, Levy carried away pieces of the walls…taking with him some of his history…
Photographed by the artist, or in several cases, by long-gone members of his own family, the models are mostly Levy's friends and relatives, like his cousins playing Adam and Eve, the mythic progenitors of us all, or a friend as a horned satyr.
Others are homeless men and women on the streets around Levy's studio in Venice, CA—the irony being there are not even actual walls in their present lives.
As an award-winning filmmaker and graphic designer, Levy has experimented for years with transferring photographic images to other media. In addition to producing and directing documentary and dramatic film, he has created photo-narratives, including an entire issue of TriQuarterly (a literary magazine) produced as a single story -- with 180 photographs. No words. He later created a video with the sequential images. He co-curated another issue, largely photographic, solely devoted to conceptual and anti-object art. Levy also taught for two years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
His fresco work was featured on Edward Goldman’s KCRW Art Talk, followed by a piece in the Huffington Post. He had a solo show at the Castelli Art Space in Los Angeles and participated in two group shows at B.G.Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Just before the pandemic, he completed an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center.
It was while walking through an old palace in Vienna with faded frescoes on the walls, that Levy became enamored with the idea of making his own frescoes -- but doing them photographically. He developed a unique process of transferring photographic images to the wet plaster.
Thus began his creation of a mythology of his own past and present… moving somewhere between reportage and mythic illusion. When asked why he chooses certain images, he answers that “these are images I want to see, graphic images I imagine on the walls of my own mythic villa.” A critic said his fresco work is “cinematic, without being stuck in the clichés of cinema.”
The process: Levy photographs his subjects, and then, with the use of multiple printers, prints the images on vellum and transfers the images to the plaster in sections.
The eventual image is controlled not only by the artist, but also partially dictated by the printer, the computer software, the transfer medium, and the plaster itself…silent partners in the outcome…all of them affecting the look of the final fresco.
But as opposed to a painter who continues to work over a section of the painting he may not like, Levy’s process becomes fixed as soon as he starts applying the photographic panels to his “canvass,” the blank white plaster fresco.
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 control over the ultimate look of the work.”