Richard Levine and Iconic Imagery

With works that instantly call to mind feelings of childhood nostalgia from Levine’s use of iconic characters, to bold patterns and a return to primary colours. Richard Levine has been greatly inspired by the work of Piet Swart and Victor Vasarely. A graduate from Chelsea School of Art, Levin initially studied graphic design and illustration before changing over his practice into motion graphics. His work now balances on the tipping point between true representation and abstraction. Katherine Stewart had a chat with Levine ahead of this year's Moniker Art Fair for which he created the card Super M. 

Super M - Mixed Media

I found it quite interesting that you talk about Bauhaus and the Memphis group as influencing factors in your artistic production. Have you found it beneficial to trace your creativity back to such big names? 

I can trace my work back to many different influences, but I would say that the art and graphics of the Bauhaus and Memphis do stand out as having a significant impact on my work. I think that they were real pioneers and like the way they thought about cross disciplines: graphics, art, furniture, architecture, and product design. As my work has 3d polygonal mesh at its roots, I continue to explore different transformations and utilize them in diverse ways.

Where do you think your artistic identification with these particular movements in art stemmed from? Have explosive colours and the decorative arts been a longstanding passion of yours?

I am inspired by a multiplicity of artistic movements. When I was doing graphic design at Chelsea School of Art, I felt rather constrained, despite being encouraged to experiment. A friend showed me the work of Piet Swart, which felt so free, clean, fresh, and playful, compared with the graphic styles I had been exposed to up to that point. The energy in Swart’s work influenced me to start thinking laterally in my design work. It took me back to basics, to playing with primary-coloured shapes at school at a very young age.

Do you feel that your art expresses any particular mood or message of/for our time? 

I try to capture life energy through my own freedom of expression, with the aim of being as free of conscious thinking as possible. Drawing on my mental reference library, and many years of experience, my work makes small, faceted connections with certain images both from different historical and modern genres and media: comic book art, Bauhaus, Memphis, pop art, op-art, historical art masters, 3d design, animation, sculpture, and quirky toys. The result is a diversity of expression for today, filtered through my own creative prism. I would hope that it reflects the zeitgeist of the 21st century in as much as we are all free to access so much information and interpret it in our own way.

In your work you play with iconic images of people or characters which are imbued with historical symbolisms and meaning. Your relationship as an artist with your viewer is therefore often mediated by the prior existence of these images in previous contexts. How do you feel this reflects on you as an artist in your own right? 

The iconic images often used in my work are reflections of my interests and inspirations. Art has a lineage where one artist is influenced by another artist or art movement. I have scooped up as many as possible and thrown them back into the pot, with the help of new technology to provide a fresh spin.

For me, your work overtly demonstrates that images are never original, but rather, are historical and differential. If you agree, what result do you believe your art has on the meaning of these iconic images, are you giving them a new life?

I suppose that the originality of the images I use lies in the approach. The end result is like a kind of alchemy, where I take a well-known image and transform it into something else entirely.  The images are re-imagined through this filter of patterns and shapes to give them new life, energy and movement. I like the idea of the ‘story’ of the history of art, that it always needs to be re-explored and re-expressed through a modern day lens. Hopefully, audiences will interpret the work with a fresh set of responses to suit our time.

Do you hold any particular values - visual or theoretical - that you stand by when creating a piece of art? And was this affected in any way by the format of a postcard or by the fact that you’re participating in charitable cause?

I think it is important to be open and honest. I want people to get into the space and feel the vibe and energy of the work. I really enjoyed painting the small piece. It has made me want to do more work of that size. Also, making work for charity gives one a good feeling!

Finally, we’d love to know what you’ll be working on in the near future. Share with us anything exciting you’ve got lined up and we’ll be sure to support! 

The next endeavour is to translate some of the work into nice, sharp-edged paintings on wood, which I'm finding quite time consuming to get right. I also have many prospective projects on the go which haven't yet fully materialised as they as still in the discovery phase. My work will be on display at the Battersea Affordable Art Fair between 20-23 October 2016.

To see all the artists taking part in this year's Moniker click HERE

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