Benjamin Alan
seduction and critique
 
 

Geoff Levitus is an artist whose marks are made for their evocative and aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, their notional and semantic content. In 'Fragmentary Travels', the seductive surfaces and subtlety of the paintings draw the viewer into the work while camouflaging its multi-referencing and its potential to destabilize.

The two words of the title need some examination. The cliché of the tourist - 'doing' lots of places in little time - is suggested. 'Fragmentary' reinforces the nature of this fleeting touristic visit, leaving a confused mélange of memories, overlapping each other as a romanticised and superficial impression of the 'trip'.

Levitus' travels have been quite different to this experience, although he is conscious of always being a foreigner in the countries he has visited. In the last few years these have included Vietnam, China, Cambodia, south India, Thailand, Morocco, the USA, Britain, Chile, Bolivia, Guatamala, Belize, Italy, Spain, Greece and France. However, extended stays, and a work practice that involves some effort to get below the surface, looking for visual clues that are signposts to the culture, have given him a significant archive of images upon which to draw.

The travels are not only to geographic places in present time. The visual clues he collects point to other cultures and earlier times. There are also travels in art history. Levitus consciously works his surfaces in different ways, referencing a number of periods in the development of oil painting practice. These seductive surfaces are heightened by contrast to the flatness of the collaged digital images which appear in small areas of each painting. These images in turn refer both to the importance of the technique of collage, and to the huge impact of photography on the history of modern and contemporary painting. Collage is, effectively, a colonisation of a new space by images from elsewhere, which parallels the process of actual colonisation of a country. There is a clash of cultures, a violation, an imposition of values and language, and something new and different emerges.

These meanings, a critical and deconstructive tendency, the use of irony and humour, the references to art history, all are revealed to the viewer who takes the time to gently peel back the layers, which are not obvious at first glance. Given this background, what may first appear as seductive and decorative in Levitus' work begins to take on some complexity, a degree of irony and an undermining of expectations. For the patient viewer, Levitus' work will provide many rewards.