What is an artist without his muse? Can there be a wellspring to create art if there is no source of inspiration? Is beauty subject to a certain aesthetic or will it translate with a seismic shift of emotion? These are the questions that come to mind at the latest solo exhibition of Julien Levy entitled “Without You I’m Nothing” in which answers don’t easily quell the depth of his exploration.
AF came to the opening last Oct. 9th greeted by one of his films projected at the front window. You are confronted immediately by abject beauty with his women and it is easy to quantify that it captures one’s attention. Levy is a filmmaker by heart and his forte is imagery so his license to skew our ideas comes through the base emotion evoked by the narratives in which these women are placed.
On one wall were the Tiny Pretty Things of frames lined up with 1 X 1 inch photos dead center in the middle where you can peruse each one with the use of a magnifying glass. The forced perspective and interaction makes the viewer selective of what detail of each portrait they’re focusing on. Some pictures are deliberately rendered sketchy or obscured as one presses on and almost kisses the frame. This eloquently proves the human tendency to obsess over details and even if our vision is clouded by prejudices through which we cannot really see the entire picture. Selective objectification is part of our biological conditioning. Our tiny tunnel vision could be a big detrimental stumbling block.
At the gallery’s lower level was a dark theatre set up that featured Levy’s recent series All We Have is Now and Chapter 1 of “A Summer Violence”. The film stars Japan’s It Girl – Kiko Mizuhara – with her stark visage up close that pulls the viewer in as the receiver of her breakup dismissal. Aggressive and unwavering, the ugly emotion of having love gone wrong never looked so enticing with Mizuhara’s fair visage spouting callously that it didn’t mean a damn thing. This is where we get the skill of Levy making a nuanced calibration of what raw emotion can bring forth as devastatingly attractive. However, to present it with a beautiful veneer is a great juxtaposition. Uncomfortable situations and harsh words align with hardness but if you can deliver it with a velvet glove then it takes a deft hand to cajole it out of sheer loveliness. To view it with the iron fence in between was like symbolically being a prisoner caught up in our emotions. Like a candle down to the wick or a flame flickering its last on a bed of ashen embers, it is a lovely way to die.
The room sized installation with the video “From there all I can hear is the batting of your eyelashes” was encased in a salon turned into a shrine with snapshots, sheets of notes or illustrations, and the soft lighting ambiance lulled one’s senses. It is at once intimate but reverberated with blunt honesty as the film’s dialogue once again throttles you back to sober realization.
Levy presented these sirens and goddesses as basically human with the same raw emotions that can cut and seer deeply the pain of it all. Sure they are all models and actresses but the relationship of artist and his muse gained a new level of symbiotic purpose for art. There is the subversion of beauty ideals that can be obliterated with the reality and unfiltered lens called LIFE. Yes, there will be pain, heartbreak, agony, despair and loneliness but that is needed to underscore what’s really beneath the surface. Levy does all of these with his works in a subtle way and with pure deference to his craft as a filmmaker. The image has to contain symmetry and dynamism even if it veers on total bedlam in its narrative. This delicate machination is not for the unfocused. Levy has successfully harnessed the reins of an otherwise volatile concept, which is to make the awful truth look devastatingly sublime.
The true beauty of living is being able to embrace everything about it. Love it. Mark it. Own it. Warts and all – because there is no exhaustive way or shortcut as it will hurt while you chisel away the extraneous bullshit and what you’re left with is your true beautiful self that was there all along.
To view our interview with the artist Julien Levy, kindly click below:
Julien Levy: Without You I’m Nothing / On View: Oct. 10 – Nov. 15, 2014
Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday (11 am – 7 pm)
Garis & Hahn. 263 Bowery. NYC, NY 10002
Art Review by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Video and Photography by: Max Noy Photo