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artist statementcurator, Caren Helene Rudman statement • Ann Landy essay

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bert leveille: essay by Ann Landy

It’s never easy for the critic to understand where an artist’s imagery comes from and how it evolves. Joan Miró, Arshile Gorky, and Jackson Pollock—three of Bert Leveille’s favorites—started off as figurative painters of one stripe or another and gradually moved through stages, often lasting years, toward a completely abstract language. For Leveille, the process seems to have been the reverse. In her large acrylic series from several years ago, paintings like Hair Revisited or Sacrifice, the human figure is treated almost like an afterthought, one of many elements in an explosive and almost apocalyptic mash-up of color and shape and line. Over time, though, the figure has come to take precedence, and in her most recent series, “Streaming Reflections,” these fluid beings, neither entirely male nor female, have a presence that is quite literally larger than life.

They swoop and bend and perform magical arabesques, both as solo performers and as animated partners. They are otherworldly, and yet strangely benign. In conversation, Leveille refers to these magical creatures as “mindful beings,” and adds that she’s hopeful that with a more universal, meditative presentation she can “have just a little part of helping people raise their consciousness.” While working on the installation, the artist—like the rest of us—was overwhelmed by news of immigrants’ struggles at the border of the U.S. “It’s not just that we’re related to mindful beings in the universe,” she says. “We’re not all that different from the people at our borders.”

The theatrical elements of her work have their roots in Leveille’s earliest experiences as a student at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, IL, a western suburb of Chicago. She was drawn first to the drama department, until she realized she did not really want to be an actress or engage with other aspects of the theater. At the same time, she was taking art classes and saw painting and drawing as a better form of expression for her. Over the years her mature work evolved steadily toward what is now commonly referred to as an “interactive art experience.”

About fifteen years ago, Leveille made an installation for a gallery that houses an atom splitter (an accelerator in which scientists staged the nuclear reactions that led to the development of the atomic bomb). For the inaugural exhibit, Leveille first used a silver ground on which to deploy her fluid characters. Not until 2015 did she return to the silver painting technique. She now starts with several layers of silver, but has recently added colored spotlights—and the lighting, she discovered, acts like another medium, bringing the walls and paintings to vibrant life. The lighting also highlights and ties together elements of the various paintings so that a magical ballet unfolds on all four walls.

In conversation, Leveille speaks of “spirituality” and her desire to connect with a “more universal consciousness.” These are sentiments very much of our times, when many turn to meditation, not just as a way of cooling our hyperactive brains but of tuning into a higher realm of being, where possibilities of ecstasy exist and can be accessed through art. Like Rothko’s large and dreamy canvases, Leveille’s installations invite us to lose ourselves in an encounter that transcends the irritations and limitations of the day to day. It may not go on forever, but it’s a welcome respite from an increasingly troubled world.

Ann Landi
Contributing Editor, ARTnews
Founder and Editor,





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