This month at Tribeca’s Untitled Space gallery, contemporary artist Rebecca Leveille presents a collection of colorful, sensual paintings for her latest exhibition entitled The End of Love. A former illustrator, Leveille has been attracted to a figurative style of drawing and painting and has influences ranging from Old Masters like Titian and Fragonard to contemporary artists like Walter Robinson and Kara Walker.
Leveille often draws figures from her own imagination, creating her own poetic language. Her paintings often relate to the female gaze, media imagery, and social phenomena of the art world, and feature one or more naked men or women engaging in sexual acts.
For instance, one work in the show entitled Peacocks features two identical women, sitting naked together holding hands with one of them revealing male genitals, as they are encircled by two curious peacocks. Another painting in the show also entitled The End of Love depicts a naked man with pink hair, stretched out naked surrounded by flowers and baby angels as he wraps his arm around a naked woman’s chest, suggesting a state of heavenly paradise.
Also intriguing is Hylas and the Nymphs portraying a naked four-eyed woman lying with her legs and back bent while being surrounded by a group of muscular, pink-haired men touching her.
You started your career as an illustrator and became very successful at it like Warhol. What is it like to cross over to fine art and how did illustration influence your paintings?
For me, it’s important to distinguish that while great work is created within commercial illustration, and great work is created within the gallery/ fine art world, the process of the creation of this work is based upon different principals. The problem that has existed in the past within this discussion is when increased vs lesser value is placed upon one type of work or the other. Great illustration is generally created to be in service and in support of a source text or previously written or conceived story- its collaboration between writer, illustrator and usually and editor. After a number of years and a fair degree of success there- I felt the undeniable and unstoppable need to do paintings that were not made as part of the above collaborative process. I wanted to deliver upon non-literal concepts, that while they employ narrative and figurative tools, are not in service to either narrative nor a secondary text or concept.
I take cultural symbols from both history, mainstream current culture, my own experience (and even my past as an image maker for pop culture) to make an emotional moment and create questions rather than answers. I will and always have been driven by a language of pictures.
I would not say commercial illustration is an influence in my work other than my use of my past there to make commentary on pop culture – but I will say the application of narrative (which IS used in illustration as well as all art through history) IS an important component. I’m welcoming the dialogue and the opportunities that are starting to happen within fine art and the current work – but I had to start from square one when I left Illustration. I had to go from being “somebody” – to being absolutely nobody (with the added challenge of having had a past in publishing, which even as recently as 6 years ago – when I actively left commercial illustration, was something that would do me no favors) – and work my way up from there with the new work. But it gave me the freedom – this breaking down of identity- to grow a new skin.
Can you elaborate on your process and inspiration for “The End of Love” which you are showing at Untitled Space form May 2 until May 13th?
The mechanics of the process on any art creation are frequently very mundane.
You get up every day and you paint. The tools are similar day to day – and the “practice ” the work itself, allows the generation of the ideas or range of ideas that leads to a body of work.
After a number of paintings, this summer and fall – all of which fed into each other (one idea usually comes while painting another and you either mold it into the current piece or it becomes the next painting) – the questions I was asking myself in the work became the intention for the whole show. Then I employ my skills and the tools of my craft to convey what I’m aiming for – looking around it and through it – and turning it over and upside down. I’m more interested in asking “what is the End of Love?” – and all the meanings that can have than showing or telling what I think it is.
Your opening was last night. How did it go? Do you get nervous at your own openings?
It was a great bustling wonderful crowd and I felt very fortunate! Some contemporary artist colleagues I have HUGE admiration for came – and that always feels just wonderful. I always get nervous before shows – I’m naturally an introvert that puts on an “extrovert” outfit to leave the studio – and when there are so much of your insides on every wall it’s impossible to not feel vulnerable. Once I’m in it I do well though.
What notable responses have you had to your work?
Last night everyone wanted to know about the water bottles! I was surprised given the amount of more controversial things in the show that it was the water bottle that was asked about so much. I love it in the pieces – and they are there for many reasons that are important to me – but I was not sure if it would spark with anyone else!
I never really want to explain it. I’m not making literal narratives as an artist – I’m implementing a sort of formless “pop culture passion play” in the work with the outward appearance of a narrative – but without a plot or deliberate conclusion.
Do you have any other projects or shows coming up that you could share with us?
I have a museum group show this summer and some other things in the works that will be fun to announce towards the fall! Right now mostly I’m settling with the feeling of this current body of work showing now and enjoying the moment.
At Untitled Space, 45 Lispenard St., Unit 1W, due to popular demand the show has been EXTENDED until May 19th. The gallery is open weekdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and weekends from 12 p.m.- 5 p.m.