May 26, 2016

by Diana Gaston | April 17, 2016

David X Levine did a Tamarind residency in September 2015. After the signing of his first lithographs, Tamarind’s director, Diana Gaston, asked David a few question about about his art, lithographs, and experience.

I've read that you have a rare condition called synesthesia*, is that true?

I DO NOT have synesthesia. I think it came out of my hypersensitivity to color. When colors were "wrong" for a certain situation, I would feel queasy in my stomach. When "correct" I would feel joyful. Like my love of music - when I listen to a singer or band over and over while I work, a color and pattern evolve for them, which sticks in my mind and I think of whenever I listen to that music afterwards. But, it comes from contemplation, not true synesthesia.

As a child of the 70s myself, I feel a great connection to Mary Tyler Moore, and am so intrigued by how she turns up here in your work. She was such an early role model for young feminists. I'm curious what meaning she holds for you?

MARY probably comes out of nostalgia for my youth in the 1970s, when my family would watch all those great programs together. And, it became a challenge for me to use nostalgia as a material, not as "merely" nostalgia. The image of MARY is a material, like a pencil or paper or a color. I'm not sure that I think a lot about gender when I approach art. But, you do hit on a core strength of Mary Tyler Moore: her independent force. I guess I could go further and talk about how that quality of strength ignites so much of the great comedy in the show, which leans upon the warmth of the cast. But, I have a difficult time saying anything at all about the work: I see them like poems, my talking about them will only explain away their meaning.

This print takes on another icon, Dan Flavin. Your use of color seems to mimic the hypnotic effect of those early florescent light sculptures. This is such a smart and funny print.

Although I came to Flavin late, the minimalists had an early and profound influence on my work. I began my life as a poet; then morphed into a visual artist. I think the concision and profundity of minimalism was an easy parallel for me to make. Although I absolutely admire Flavin, especially the drawings, it was more about the art joke than the work. Probably my earliest art-desire was to be in comedy. I made up this silly Flavin joke a few years ago, and it finally got into my art. In a way, it is maybe my most autobiographical work. But the REAL joke in the print is that I would spend so much time (3 to 4 weeks) to tell such a stupid joke, that only a very small percentage of the population would get. Yet through its making, it has a subtlety to it that belies its stupidity. To use something so OBVIOUS & LOUD and make it have subtlety is a joyful challenge for me. There is a POP quality to my referencing the MINIMALISTS, taking both schools as concept and as visual material. My hope is that they are as look-at-able as they are think-at-able.

What can you tell me about your experience of working in collaboration with the master printers here at Tamarind?

My greatest revelation about printmaking at tamarind - and most divergent quality from my own art-making – is its collaborative quality. Although my signature may be on the print, its creation was completely collaborative. AMAZINGLY collaborative. From concept to color to composition. The tamarind family was just that, a family.

I am intrigued by your liberal use of the ampersand (&)--both in correspondence and in the Flavin print. There is something graphic and gorgeous about the & symbol. I sense you have a strong affinity for type and graphic design, at least that is how I perceive your recent works that incorporate text, photographic images and color--as though the compositions are intended as a language of sorts.

I think the ampersand is the warmest & most beautiful linguistic symbol we have. Its shape seems both figurative & abstract, almost as if it is about to change form. Which makes so much poetic sense for a symbol that represents INCLUSION. 

You have hit on something I believe in deeply, the idea of composition as a language. I started my life as a poet & I have continued to have a deep interest in language, for both its meaning & its look. With my newest work I have been using words for both narrative & beauty. I view this work I make, & the work I admire, in poetic terms: its meaning is embedded inside of it. The best example of this for me was years ago when I was standing in front of a painting by Paul Feely, a painter I admire greatly. As I was staring I began to notice how ordinary looking it seemed: a centered composition, the restricted colors a little washed-out & dull.

​Yet I couldn't help feel its transcendent beauty: deep & untranslatable.

I realized that art wasn't on the surface of a painting, but underneath it. Its poetry is its beauty.


*Synesthesia (from the Ancient Greek σύν syn, "together", and αἴσθησις aisthēsis, "sensation") according to Wikipedia: is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.)

David X Levine created six lithographs during his residency.

Click below to see the details.