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Meet RH Levinson

Today we’d like to introduce you to RH Levinson.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I grew up here in Los Angeles. My parents both were writers when I was growing up, and I think when both of the people raising you are in the same profession, that influences the way you see the world. For me, that influence was a literary impulse: an interest in language and a belief in the psychological power of storytelling. Those things are intrinsic to the way I make art. The other really deep, almost parental influence on me is Los Angeles as a city. Formally, my work tends to have high-contrast light, saturated color, and a sort of slowly-unfolding pace, with complexity revealing itself in pockets. These have always been innate tendencies in the way I create images, and I do feel that they’re reflections of the light, color, and pace of the landscape I grew up in.

I’ve made art throughout my life though I also have always been very academic. My college degree is in American history. After graduating, I learned to paint at a school where the curriculum was exclusively working with live models, 20+ hours a week. To me, the studies of history and of perceptual painting shared a kind of obsession with the idea of “objective truth”: a reverence for that truth as being meaningful, but also an acknowledgment of that truth as being an interpretation. My work now really pivots around that question, of what’s real and what’s interpreted and when the interpretation becomes the reality. That is endlessly interesting to me.

Please tell us about your art.
I work in a variety of media, but everything I make is based on drawing and painting. In the past year, I’ve made a lot of digital work on my iPad – it’s an amazingly powerful medium I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of in terms of what it can do. But I still feel most sustained by the physical experience of responding to materials and touching what I make; I think that will always be part of my practice.

I don’t have a message in my work. I aim to create an experience of intimacy between myself and the viewer. I use imagery from my personal life because that affords me maximum specificity, but I want it to reach something more universal, to be a narrative the viewer can plug themselves into with their own projections and associations. I don’t leave things open-ended to be mysterious, I just share the information I feel is necessary for me to connect.

How do current events affect your work?
After Trump was elected, I did perceive a significant change in what kind of art people were making and interested in. The almost immediate return to figurative painting we saw made me realize the depth of healing that art provides not just for artists, but also for their viewers, to communicate visually about human experience. That actually made me feel a lot more urgency to keep making. But I also don’t think that power is limited to figurative art, I think that living in an anxious society generally reframes the ends that all types of art can serve.

Clearly, this is a historical moment where people are rightfully feeling scared, angry, depressed, all of the above. Being with a piece of art creates space where we can briefly enter our own imaginations and be physically present to something beyond language. And all humans have an imagination. So for me right now making and experiencing art doesn’t just offer a respite from the chaos of this time, but it also creates a relationship between the artist and the viewer that has the potential to be very humane. One imagination recognizes the other. I definitely treat my own art, my own practice, as an opportunity to create space for someone else to have a private moment that belongs to them.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I have work in two group shows right now, one at the Brand Library in Glendale and one at Hackett Mill Gallery in San Francisco. Both of these are up through late October. I also share my studio life pretty actively on my Instagram. I like using social media as a way for people to actually experience art. Not just for exposure, but to puncture the like, deadness of the scroll with an image that’s meant to reach you in that specific context. That’s really exciting for me.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All images copyright R.H. Levinson 2018.

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