I’ve been following Aubrey Levinthal since I first noticed and reviewed her debut exhibition at Monya Rowe Gallery (September 10–October 31, 2020) within the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown (months earlier than the vaccine), aptly titled Emptiness. As I wrote in that evaluate, I used to be instantly satisfied that Levinthal is “one of the fascinating and fascinating figurative painters at a time when many artists are working on this vein.” Consisting of 12 work, largely modest in scale, Levinthal’s second solo exhibition, Neighbors, Strangers, Gazers, Bathers, additionally at Monya Rowe Gallery (September 8–October 22, 2023), additional satisfied me that I used to be proper about her potential.
Though Levinthal has began gaining critical consideration, she has not turn out to be formulaic, nor does she keep inside the parameters she’s already established for herself. She finds her material in unusual, on a regular basis encounters — comparable to a younger girl standing behind a counter in “Espresso Store (Barista)” (2022) — however she doesn’t accept documenting it. Moderately, she regards this encounter as a problem, and is attentive to particulars that trace at a topic’s interiority and to the best way strangers are separated from one another. Every part she places into her spare work, rendered in washed-out colour, is telling.
Levinthal chronicles her on a regular basis life, family and friends, passing moments she experiences or witnesses in her neighborhood, which occurs to be in Philadelphia. Within the earlier work, quite a lot of work depicted a lady alone, using the subway, mendacity in mattress, sitting earlier than a virtually empty plate. What got here throughout was the sensation of isolation and melancholy one skilled through the months of lockdown.
Within the current work (all dated 2022), Levinthal finds her topics in each day life, as the town begins its return to one thing resembling normalcy. She continues to make use of a muted palette, making use of paint in skinny washes after which scraping it down with a razor. Compositionally, she creates layered areas by putting one factor in entrance of one other. “Crab Shack” (2022) is dominated by two rectangles rising from the underside fringe of the canvas. They’re brown paper baggage, one inside a celadon plastic bag, positioned on a counter, ready to be picked up.
Behind the baggage is a younger girl with blue hair, her head tilted to the suitable, presumably misplaced in thought. The purple letters on her T-shirt, glimpsed between the 2 baggage, seem to correspond to the portray’s title. Is she the client or the worker? What’s she doing? Initially, I assumed she was wiping her hair with a towel, however after a more in-depth look I used to be now not positive. The flexibility to create ambiguity is one in every of Levinthal’s strengths. I seen that each baggage appear barely too tall and are within the foreground of the portray, nearer to the client (or viewer) than the lady.
Are the lady’s eyes too giant? Is that why they’re riveting? What tonal shifts and jumps does Levinthal obtain through the use of washy browns and gray-greens atop a floor the colour of poached salmon? What temper do the colours set up? The girl’s blue hair jumps out in relation to the portray’s general comfortable palette. The lean of her head permits her to suit inside the portray’s rectangle.
Levinthal makes use of the layered house to convey the degrees of estrangement which have turn out to be a deep a part of our on a regular basis life. She has fastidiously thought of the position of every aspect inside the image airplane, as within the girl’s tilting head. Her use of colour and her sense of scale are in service of her material, which explores passing moments and the totally different voiceless emotions, comparable to tenderness, which can be stirred up when we’ve a transaction with a stranger.
Dozens of tomes have been dedicated to Edward Hopper’s depictions of city isolation. Hopper, nonetheless, was disinterested in shut encounters; he noticed every thing from a distance, the place he felt protected and in management. In his work, the isolation is felt by others; in Levinthal’s work, the sensation of separateness and sense of silence occur to all of us.
The younger girl in “Espresso Store (Barista),” with its pale yellow floor, is standing behind a two-shelf show case wherein we see a plate of Linzer cookies, an uncut carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, a slice of chocolate cake with white frosting, and different gadgets. The glass case comes as much as the lady’s face slightly below her nostril. What may we learn into this unusual element?
The barista wears a darkish inexperienced long-sleeved pullover with an unreadable determine printed on the entrance. On her left are two iced coffees ready to be picked up. On her proper, we see a part of a person’s face in profile inside a barely brighter yellow rectangle. A glass case separates us from the barista, whereas the person within the kitchen is framed inside his personal rectangle and partly obscured by a jar of biscotti. Everybody exists in their very own house, with some sort of bodily barrier underscoring these partitions.
Levinthal’s layered house shares one thing with Philip Guston’s breakthrough work, comparable to “Portrait” (1969), the place he depicted his hooded figures in inside areas outlined by a bubblegum pink floor. The distinction is that Levinthal implicates us as viewers by drawing us into the identical house as her topics, however usually bodily separating us from them. Whereas Guston’s loaded-brush pinks evoke cheerfulness and viscera, including a twist to his unsettling material, Levinthal’s palette of wan yellows, grays, and ochers inflects her home work with haggard emotions, traces of melancholia, and emotional imbalance. Levinthal, like Guston, doesn’t spell issues out. She makes complexly nuanced work that brim with sudden tensions and unlikely surprises out of on a regular basis scenes of moms and kids, two ladies crossing the road or shopping a rack of garments, a lady training yoga, one other mendacity in a hospital, or somebody leaning out of a window and smoking.
There may be nothing dramatic or intrinsically fascinating about Levinthal’s scenes, which is why I believe she is such an fascinating artist; from composition to paint to her selection of particulars, she makes every thing occur within the paint. On this exhibition, she has began to enlarge her repertoire of figures, in addition to discover totally different facial expressions, as within the haunting “C + J (Sister-in-Legislation)” (2022), which depicts a mom with a jaundiced complexion holding her new child in a hospital room with grey partitions. The mom’s giant, sunken eyes and outsized arms add one other layer of feeling to this gloomy portray.
In “Yoga Mat” (2022), which, in accordance with the gallery press launch, was “immediately impressed by the Egyptian sculpture titled Statue of Sitepehu (1479-1458 BCE) [in] the everlasting assortment [of] the Penn Museum, Philadelphia,” Levinthal has remodeled the sandstone sculpture right into a portrait of a self-contained girl in black sitting on a yoga mat. The black trapezoid fashioned by her barely darker leggings and outfit turns into an impenetrable wall above which her head and neck rise. Her lengthy black hair additional frames and protects her, because it reaches to the perimeters of the trapezoid. The synthesis of astute statement, reminiscence, creativeness, and openness to artwork historical past is a potent combination. I look ahead to seeing what Levinthal will do subsequent.
Aubrey Levinthal: Neighbors, Strangers, Gazers, Bathers continues at Monya Rowe Gallery (224 West thirtieth Avenue, #1005, Chelsea, Manhattan) by way of October 22. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.