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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
About The Cover: Brin Levinson
In the war between man and the natural world, it would appear, judging from Brin Levinson’s unpeopled, postapocalyptic cityscapes, nature has won. Levinson’s worlds—washed in dour grays, ochre, and sepia brown—suggest the landscape before us is already becoming a relic. The brightest colors, the occasional burst of blue sky that breaks out from behind cloud-crowded sky, the flash of red graffiti on a rhino, pop off the canvas.
Our own Elisaa Schappell talked with Brin via email to discuss a graffitied walrus, our latest cover (for which he supplied the image), and the use of humor in his work.
Elissa Schappell: Your recent paintings have a very post-apocalyptic feel. It would seem a global environmental catastrophe, or war has, as far as we can see, wiped humankind from the planet. Either because of man, or in the wake of man, wild animals roam an industrial landscape. The rhino on our cover, tagged with graffiti, appears to have both suffered at the hands of man, and survived him. Do you foresee a future that looks like the one you capture? Are the paintings visions of that future or warnings against it?
Brin Levinson: I don’t necessarily foresee a future that looks like my paintings. This theme has evolved into them over the last few years, but I’m careful about it. There are many possibilities for what the future world will look like. Maybe my images are of a specific extraordinary circumstance. If cities do become ghost towns without human maintenance, the plants and animals will surely come back. However, at the point where humans are on the decline, I’m sure most large animals will already be extinct. I painted “Empire Builder” (on the cover) around the time that the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct. We are currently living and participating in the Holocene extinction event in which species are dying faster than the dinosaurs did. So, by painting animals taking over our abandoned cities, I’m painting a very optimistic idea. That’s why I think my paintings have a hopeful tone. This is the moment of calm after the storm when nature has a chance to come back.
ES: In one of your paintings fish swim down a city street completely underwater–you might imagine that this is the aftermath of a flood or some other natural disaster. After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy it seems rather prescient.
BL: “Deep Streets” is a painting I did after visiting Venice Italy last summer. As we know, Venice is sinking. It floods every year and you can see the high water line on the bricks. At night, the city has a greenish glow and a sort of watery feel as though it’s getting prepared for going under. Our modern coastal cities are going under too but they’re not ready for it. They still have an all-powerful arrogance even in the wake of rising oceans and hurricanes. But maybe that’s starting to change with more disasters being so devastating.
ES: For as dark as some of the work is—the graffitied walrus in the switching yard made me terribly sad—the work is quite often slyly funny—witness the graffitied walrus in the switching yard. How important is that humor to the success of the work?
BL: I like to have a certain amount of absurdity in my work because it’s interesting. If someone thinks an image is funny and another thinks it’s troubling, that’s great. If it’s the same person that has both reactions, that’s probably even better. A painting can be like a story with high points and low points, drama and humor. If it all works together, then it’s really successful. Some people see nightmares while others see beauty in the same piece. That’s really interesting to me and it’s great to hear different reactions. My main focus is on making images that are interesting and beautiful.
ES: Are there any particular artists, musicians, writers who have shaped your artistic vision?
BL: Yes, there are many and inspiration comes from pretty much everywhere. Currently, many of my favorites are contemporary painters and surrealists. Any good piece of art or music or photo is inspiring no matter who made it or what the medium is. I have a studio at the Falcon art community, which is filled with great painters, and it’s very inspiring.
ES: One of Portland’s nicknames is the City of Bridges. Quite of the few of the nicest ones are represented in your work. What is it about the bridges that appeal to you? Do you have a favorite?
BL: One of my main focuses is to make structures feel especially large. I really like the dynamic of scale. The bridges are huge amazing sculptures that are icons of Portland. Nostalgia is a feeling I try to create in my work so the older bridges are perfect to me. I love the Steel Bridge because it’s a 100-year-old artifact and has an awesome presence in the middle of the city. It’s like a grandfather clock. All the cables, weights and wheels that make it lift are exposed so you can see how it works.
On top of this incredible cover, we’re also thrilled to announce that we’re now able to fulfill digital subscriptions to the magazine. Every new print subscription comes with access to the digital version, which you can enjoy alone for $19.95. This has been a long time coming and we hope you’ll continue to enjoy the magazine in whatever format you prefer.