Andrew Leventis is an oil painter who paints objects, miniatures, and still lifes. He earned a BFA in Painting from the American Academy of Art in Chicago and an MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London. His work has been featured in Norway at Kunstgalleriet, and in London at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, Matt Roberts Arts, and The Griffin Gallery. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Painting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become an artist? Did the realization emerge slowly?
The realization emerged slowly. I always drew pictures for my friends in grade school, and my aunt introduced me to oil paints when I was 12. But I had this idea that when I went to college, I would have to give it up, or at least, treat it as a hobby in order to study something more practical and lucrative, like graphic design. I didn’t decide that I wanted to pursue a career as a full-time artist until my late teens when I discovered a traveling exhibition of Victorian Narrative Paintings at our local museum in Charlotte. There were over 100 oil paintings in this exhibition that included artists such as John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. The exhibition was, admittedly, the farthest thing from being in-vogue, or considered, “cool” in terms of contemporary art. But since so many of the paintings were figurative, I believe it made the work accessible to someone like me, who was developing an interest in painting objects and the human body. I think at that point I started thinking I wanted to be an artist and decided to go to art school.
I also remember it took me a while to pursue an art career, because the word “artist” conjured up the idea of very large shoes to fill, because you think of all the historical figures recognized as great artists. There are definitely times, often after failures in the studio, that I doubt that I’m an artist. And there are many times that I feel uncomfortable with the term.
How did you evolve your style and favorite mediums?
I was lucky that my aunt is an artist, and when my dad and I would visit her on the West coast, she would bring out supplies and let me try them. She introduced me to oil painting, and taught me how to mix and clean them. I think this made me take to them early, and to bypass some of the struggle that many students feel when they are introduced to them only once they get to college. I also had some extraordinary teachers who pushed me a lot. Each day that I went into art school, I felt that I had accomplished professors and classmates who were pushing me. I remember thinking that I’d thought I knew what good painting looked like, but when I got to school there was a whole other level of what really good painting looked like. Even though I was often pushed to try other media than painting, I stuck with it because I always felt challenged by it. In hindsight, I probably should have been more flexible and tried other media my program recommended, but I just had tunnel vision for painting.
What are your time management techniques? Do you have regular working hours...or favorite times to work?
Generally, I go into my studio in the morning and paint throughout the day. Time management is difficult for me, because I’m an all-or-nothing person. I feel when I’m working on a painting, it consumes my brain, and I have to absolutely pry myself away from it to focus on other necessary objectives, such as class prep and teaching commitments. But I try to treat painting like a full-time job, working just about every day if I can. It helps to be obsessed with it, because I’m always trying to sneak time in for it when possible. There are definitely days I feel a painting isn’t coming together, or I feel like it isn’t worth the effort to finish it, and those are the days I put on a good podcast or album, and just try to push through. Last year I read a helpful David Sedaris quote about the practice of writing that is applicable to artists. He said, “You have to write every day… I write on Christmas, I write on my birthday, I write every day on my vacation. I can’t imagine not doing it. If you write every day, and you read, you’ll get better. And if you don’t, you won’t.” I feel like I try to apply that quote to my studio practice, and that about sums it up!
Do you work on more than one piece at a time, or primarily just on one?
I don’t always do the same thing, but lately I work on one painting until it is about 80-90% complete. Then I put it away and work on something else and come back to it after a break, when I have a more objective sense of what I’m doing.
What would you say is your biggest influence--that which keeps you working, regardless of all else, your most steadfast motivation?
I was recently trying to describe some thoughts on this to a friend and had a tremendously difficult time trying to say what I mean. But I think I keep painting because I have several artists in my head who I can’t (and would never want to) forget. Often as I’m working, I’m thinking of how far I want to push a painting, and I’ll have in mind the detail of Cindy Wright’s Nature Morte series. So I try to strive for that in my own work. But I’ll also have in mind the surface texture of Vincent Desiderio, and perhaps a painter like Hans Holbein’s work will inspire me to strive for more pattern and design. And so, these are tall orders, and I certainly do not feel that I’m able to do any or all of this. But it keeps me trying, and helps me to realize where I want to go with my work. I think that at a subconscious level, I’m working within coordinates of these artworks that stimulate me. I suspect that for me, and for a lot of artists who keep working, there’s a kind of roadmap made of artworks in your head, and the attempt to follow it and to apply it to your own work helps you to stay engaged with the challenge of painting.
Does trying something new and not knowing the rules -- the boundary pushing -- create anxiety or excitement in you? (Or both?)
I think it’s essential to have a sense of adventure when trying out new ideas in the studio. The current pandemic has left me no choice but to change my work. This change, in large part, is due to time spent in isolation. Sheltering-in-place also meant no more traveling to work on my latest series, which depicted the interiors of historical house museums and the objects stored inside them. It also meant that I had lots of time to think about the scale of my work and how, perhaps instead of making small paintings of small objects, perhaps I could make very large paintings of small objects, with the hope that I might invite the viewer in to scrutinize more closely these objects in an unfamiliar way. Recently, as I looked into my refrigerator, I saw how densely-packed and over-stocked the items were inside, and I shot several pictures with my camera phone. This resulted in the first painting of the new series I’m working on of perishable, refrigerated interiors that I think of as recent reflections on the historic tradition of vanitas. At this moment, I’m between two artistic bodies of work, and am looking forward to extending the number of paintings into a full-scale exhibition. So basically, I think it’s important to see where new ideas lead.
Do you enjoy having the "duality of both chaos and control" or are you happiest with a set plan?
I always try to start with a set plan, and then watch with dismay as it goes off the rails. Just about every painting I’ve ever made goes through stages of development where it looks like a disaster. I would like to have a set plan, but have never been able to find a nice, tidy way of executing a painting. I feel like my approach to each one is a little different, and I try to avoid set formulas that may cause the work to look too formulaic or mechanical.
Do you have any projects or events forthcoming?
There are several events coming up that I’m very excited about. My work will be part of a group exhibition this year at Gallery.23 in Athens, Greece from October 2-8. Also, some of my work will be featured at the New York Art Expo in Chelsea, and one of my pieces will be shown in the Wells Art Exhibition in the UK. In addition, I’ve worked with several artists to organize an international painting show called, The World Without Us. We’ve had an exhibition at APT Gallery in London last year, and our next stop will be at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art in Poland, where the pandemic has caused it to be rescheduled for July of 2021. I’ll be working really hard to get ready for these events, so please visit my website or Instagram page for more info on what’s coming next.
Freezer Box Vanitas
Oil on Linen
Oil on Linen
Orderly Refrigerator Vanitas
Oil on Linen
Oil on Linen
Oil on Linen, 2020
Oil on Linen, 2020
Oil on Linen_2020
Oil on Linen_2020