“For centuries, artists either devoutly emulated or defiantly rejected the work of their predecessors. Contemporary artists such as David X Levine take a subtler approach, gleaning from Old Masters to make work those forerunners would struggle to recognize. Giotto would probably be mystified by "Painting With Pencils," Levine's show at Gallery Neptune and Brown. But it features a set of large drawings based on one of the proto-Renaissance painter's masterpieces, the interior of Padua's Scrovegni Chapel.
Giotto's frescoes are religious in theme, of course. But what Levine takes from them are their colors, especially the powdery blue that makes the vault's ceiling resemble midday sky. The paintings' other major hues are presented as vertical blocks of pure color, while the chapel's architecture is reduced to white and brown bars, crowned with a white triangle.
Levine’s “Giotto.” (David X Levine/Gallery Neptune and Brown)
If the compositions are simple and regular, the colors are deep, dense and exquisitely mottled. The New York artist's technique can be termed "painting" because he uses Prismacolor pencils to apply pigment with small, overlapping and barely discernible strokes. After several months, the wax that binds the color rises to the surface and Levine buffs it off.
What remains is bright, clean and intense, combining minimalism's austerity with pop art's directness. In this post-Renaissance firmament, everything is hard-edged and Euclidean. Yet Levine still conveys the wonder of creation.”
David X Levine: Painting With Pencils Through Nov. 18 at Gallery Neptune and Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. neptunefineart.com.