Interview with Jacqueline Levine
[First published on Fork and Canvas on February 22, 2012.]
Jacqueline Levine, the mind and hand, behind The Temptation currently showing at Flashpoint Gallery recently walked me through the exhibit. We talked about dreams, fears, intellectual art, and so much more! Truly, Jacqueline is an inspiring, motivated young artist who strives to make socially conscious art. She's eloquent and thoughtful, and it's young artists like her that give me hope that art should still have a significant place in our everyday lives. Her work uses the aesthetics of pop culture to draw your eye, but Jacqueline surprises us with the depth of thought embodied in her images. Cartoon-ish images are more than the eye sees as the artist explores the human condition and offers her solution.
The Temptation runs until March 16. If you are motivated by her work and mission, please consider contributing to her Kickstarter campaign to bring art to cities across the U.S.
Check out excerpts from our conversation below.
Fork + Canvas (F+C): What does the "temptation" in the title of the show refer to?
Jacqueline Levine (JL): The temptation refers to one's temptation to give in to his or her fear. This [exhibit] is a rebellion against that temptation. By expressing our individuality and being confident individuals and making fun and playing (playing is a big part of keeping your hopes up and keeping a positive outlook on life), that in itself is sending a message to others that things don't need to be dark and despairing...I want my art to convey a message that is positive to combat that fear. Now more than ever, we are dealing with so many trying factors. It is a trepidatious time in our society, and it's come to a point where all of our bad decisions -- well, we're just reaping what we've sown. We need to find strength in ourselves.
F+C: You have this dichotomy of fear and play, and I find that to be particularly interesting.
JL: The reason why these characters [in the mural and sculptures] are playful is because they are rebelling again fear, but at the same time, there is fear that injects itself into the characters regardless. Even though they are humorous, they are not fully devoid of fear. These characters come from me. There's a bit of my playful side, but there is also a bit of my darker side because all of us have a little bit of both...[I]n making them playful it makes it easier to digest those elements that are darker. It's an easier way of confronting one's fear, rather than making them completely dark, grotesque morbid characters, they are appealing in a way so that people can see there's a dark nature but at the same time they are not completely repulsed by them. How do we take our fear and turn it into a character or object that is easy for us to stand up to?
There are good guys, and [the sculptures] are the good guys. And there are bad guys.
F+C: Let's talk about your installation here. How did this all come together? Can you explain the murals?
JL: I painted directly [on the walls], and mural is freehand. A lot of the imagery you [see] started from my comic book [at the front desk]. Everything went from this book [that I did earlier], and it projected itself onto the real space.
F+C: So it's like you're doing the comic but in a 3-D, life-size space?
JL: The idea is to bring it into a real space, so you are in the world of the comic. As a viewer, you see the idea go from a really small platform to a large environment so you can see the progression, but the imagery and the characters are the same. In some cases, they are bigger; they are 3-D. You can actually live in this [imagined] world for a little bit. You are able to have an intimate moment. You can have this on your own, but then as a group, you can walk into the environment and collectively share this experience.
F+C: The eye on the mural - he is similar to an all-seeing eye?
JL: It is the idea of something orchestrating what's going on below. He is positioned above everything else. The [image below the eye] is the like the urban man-made. The blades of grass [surrounding the sculptures] is like the natural. This [installation] is a fantastical realization of life through my perspective, and the tension between the man-made and the natural environment is also incorporated because there is a strong relationship between how we as humans deal with our natural surroundings and how we deal with our urban environment. How does that affect us?
F+C: Your messages resounds well with city-dwellers and the idea of losing yourself in a city.
JL: The one time I felt the loneliest is when I was interning in New York. I remember thinking that for all the activity happening in this city, you can still be the loneliest person in the world. How do you make your mark in this world when you are dealing with external factors that are so overwhelming. How do I make a big difference when I'm so small. And you can! But you need to remember your individuality and what sets you apart.
F+C: Why did you choose to depict everything "natural" with color and 3-D? Everything that is man-made and built is flat...
JL: The creatures [sculptures] are very lucid manifestations of my dreams. When I go into the studio, I tend to escape. The elements that are more colorful are more fantastical versus the elements that are more dark and mundane, which are elements that might be pertaining to the more realistic aspect of our lives. I want to merge this colorful surreality -- that's the dream reality -- with the real reality. For me, reality is not as colorful as the reality I dream about. Color brings me relief.
The characters don't have names; they are just different good guys. Essentially, good guys work with the [P-forms] to fight off Fear. The good guys, in the comic book, aid the P's whenever Fear gets too close...Maybe these characters are figments of my imagination that help me as a person fight fear. For me, these characters are benevolent creatures.
F+C: What is your thinking process? About the sculptures?
JL: They have a light face and a dark face. Their shadow face is their dark side.
F+C: So each character has a light and dark side, but they can be brought together because they are in an arena of play?
JL: Exactly. It's not about denying fear; it's about acknowledging it and knowing it'll always be there. It's about how do you not go totally in that dark side. How do you balance it with a little bit of play and humor? That's really the anecdote.
F+C: What traditions of art does your art follow?
JL: Keith Haring [artist and social activist] is a huge inspiration for my work, and the way that I view my audience. In making these iconic, simplistic characters, I'm trying to achieve much of what [Haring] was trying to achieve, which is to reach as many people as possible outside the art community...I started to become more and more interested in community, and that relates to my minor in sociology...I wanted to speak to the community and present a positive message that celebrated life. A lot of his aesthetics and forms - I always had imagery that was inspired by dreams, but the combination of dream imagery with life imagery - that was simple enough for people to get something from and at the same time it has some intellect to it. My imagery is like a disguise. It seems simple and childish, but it really isn't.
The idea of pop culture and the ability to access images easily is important because we move very fast. That was something that really informed my aesthetic and when I started to change towards the actual brush and [away] from painting for the sake of painting. I wanted imagery that was powerful and actually said something.
Nick Cave was also a huge inspiration, and he was part of the 30 Americans exhibition at the Corcoran. He has lots of community workshops in his practice.
F+C: How many years has this project been in the making?
JL: This project has gone through several evolutionary phases, but I was chosen for the show [at Flashpoint Gallery] last summer of 2011. I started developing these characters in January 2011. I started getting really involved with iconic language at that time. At the time...I knew that I wanted to transfer my thinking from "making art because" to actually having a concrete purpose and looking at art as a form of visual language. That was the basic urge that led me to create this aesthetic.
More info about her show at Flashpoint here.
Short URL: http://bit.ly/wnzcWJ