Artist Rebecca Leveille in Conversation with Indira Cesarine
Imagine a world in which all of the perceptions we are taught to believe and adhere to become completely deconstructed, dissected, and re-interpreted to reveal the essence of what lies beneath. Imagine a universe where things we perceive to be ideals -“often built on faulty, weak and diseased foundations set forward and re-enforced by society and pop culture – are completely discarded, making possible the opportunity the truly experience truth. These are some of the very questions pondered in the American painter Rebecca Leveille’s first New York Solo exhibition, opening at The Untitled Space on May 1st, 2018. Already quite of reputable figure with a handsome international following as an illustrator of comics and graphic novels (under the name Rebecca Guay), Leveille is now recognized as a formidable figurative painter, whose works show “a distinct influence from the great Renaissance masters revamped with a fresh dosage of contemporary cleanliness and edge”. (Juxtapoz Magazine) Her newest paintings, titled “The End Of Love”, and on view until May 13th, 2018, burst off the canvas with sensual depictions of rich, bold color, and sexuality, revealing – at last – the truth of the female gaze, from a purely honest, female perspective. The Untitled Space’s founder Indira Cesarine, herself also renowned as a champion of thought-provoking, barrier pushing art (particularly those of female artists) sat down with Leveille to discuss what lies beneath “The End Of Love”.
Cesarine: I’m really looking forward to the opening on Tuesday of your first solo show at The Untitled Space!
Can you tell us what inspired the title of your new series of works, “The End of Love?”
Leveille: All of my work these days address duality and the multiple ways in which cultural influences effect us. This show turns over the and examines the sincerity , the dissolution, the other side of the idea of these things of love.
Cesarine: All of your work has a very strong narrative, what sources do you look to for inspiration when coming up with concepts for your artwork?
Leveille: I speak in a language of pictures.In a similar way that contemporary figurative painters such as Currin, Kerry James Marshall, and Robin Francis Williams use a sense narrative, I also use it as an artistic tool.This is very inspiring in its own right to me, the exploration of an image, not in service TO narrative but that employs these things as tools to make an emotional connection with the viewer.
Cesarine: If you could name one artist who has influenced your work the most who would that be and why?
Leveille: It’s hard to name only one because you get different things from different people. Different artists give us an awareness of a new possible, and each one offers something to ones internal conversation . I love Gerda Wegener for her whimsical sexuality, Frank Duveneck for the mastery of brush work and planes of form, Peter Doig for his deceptively complex poetic “un- narratives”, Alma Tadema for his simply astounding craft ( look close at at Tadema if you want the top of your head blown off), and Alice Neel and Jim Shaw and Walter Robinson and Inka Essenhigh and so many more.
Cesarine: You mention in your artist statement, “The female gaze must find a stronger manifestation; it is too often expressed as a reinterpretation of the male gaze.” Your work emphasizes the “urgency of the female gaze”, for you what does that mean? How does your work differ from that of the male gaze or other interpretations of the female gaze?
I will never be male, I am a woman.I’ve grown up in the weight of influence that women do and therefore I see and interpret things through a female experience.
Cesarine: Many of your paintings feature erect male genitalia and copulation – what draws you to depict erotic imagery?
Titian nudes and nudes of women throughout history have depicted women with hands at genitals, flushed cheeks, erect nipples, etc, what the world is actually LOOKING at in these is the outward physical evidence of female arousal. They are insanely sexual things- I’m just showing how a female painter might interpret the male form in this way.
As to sex in the work, it’s just part of the whole conversation.
Cesarine: Tell me about the inspiration behind your painting “Peacocks” it is very gender fluid…
Leveille: Yeah. That’s pretty much it.
Cesarine: What about the influences behind “Hylas and the Nymphs”? It seems full of myth and folklore…
Leveille: It’s a reinterpretation of Hylas and the Nymphs – which was a hugely popular Victorian-era theme.Some have criticized it for depicting male Victorian sexual fantasy, and I think it does, but I have no problem with that in the sense that all of art history has been an exploration of male fantasy so singling this one theme out for criticism seems absurd given the whole picture. I’m just giving my view on this and saying fuck it ( literally ) to innuendo.
Cesarine: The exhibit includes quite a few drawings and watercolors, can you tell us what your process is for creating one of your oil on canvases? Do you do studies first and / or underpaintings?
Leveille: Usually I start with a quick idea driven thumbnail that breaks down the major elements in the composition and emotional intentions I want. Very rough.Then I go straight to the canvas or the paper.
If I solve too many things in the preliminary sketch, the fun is over.
Cesarine: You have mentioned a personal determination to create something poetic rather than literal – can you tell us what drives that determination?
Leveille: I think some of the things I’ve addressed above are relevant to this question. My paintings are not in service to a narrative, and I hope- provide more questions that they give answers
Cesarine: How (and why) did you transition from your (highly successful) career in illustration to contemporary art?
Leveille: It’s true – I had a really big career there – traveled all over the world( in some instance to events named FOR me in Japan and other places)- and I have a great deal of gratitude for having had that.
I wanted to work that was not driven by the goals inherently connected to commercial illustration though, so I made the shift.
In doing so, I had to accept that I needed to start at the bottom again. Fame in one place does not translate to another.
Doing this work was essential for me though so I was willing to start at the beginning.
Cesarine: Do you find your gender influences your work as an artist?
Leveille: I have a perspective that is connected to my gender- and therefore an influence.
Cesarine: What challenges have you met on your path as an artist?
Leveille: I think the normal ones early on that many women face-
“You don’t draw like a girl” bullshit from male professionals and colleagues.
And, you know, the other things in a similar arena.
The other challenges are mostly around holding yourself together through rejection.
That’s what I think in the end makes for someone who can survive as an artist in any capacity and those who have trouble. We all FEEL the pain of failure, and anyone who’s had success has had failure in great huge doses – but if we let it get in our heads and stop us – then we hurt ourselves in the end.
Cesarine: What can we look forward to from you next? Do you have an idea about your next series yet?
I don’t yet- but I will wake up some morning, very soon, and I will know.
See more of Rebecca Leveille’s work here.