By Phil Levine
When I turned 40 years old (34 years ago) and living in Denver, I had this conversation with myself. “Philip, you think you’ve been given the gifts of music and art but you haven’t yet opened those gifts.” From that day on I committed myself to doing just that and began taking local art classes. Soon after, it occurred to me that maybe Denver could have a version of the renowned Art Students League of New York, and maybe, just maybe, I could be the catalyst to bring that to Denver. My background was in fundraising and organizing so why not me?
I spent a week in NY at the League working with Rosina Florio—then League Executive Director gathering information about starting a League in Denver. One year after returning to Colorado, the Art Students League of Denver opened its doors and is now celebrating its 32nd year. They even have a bronze bust of me there!
My own journey into art was just beginning. It became apparent that the figure was of greatest interest to me. I tried landscape painting but that never worked. One time I got on a flight to Phoenix, put 1000 miles on a rented car driving around the great Southwest and still couldn’t find one thing I wanted to paint. At the same time I saw artists tripping over each other to find the newest and latest ‘gimmick’ that would get them fame and fortune—or recognition. I wondered what the hell was going on here? What is this crap that people are calling art? What happened to the figure? Was it dead in art? Hell no!
Because I’ve spent well over a thousand hours painting the figure from life, it’s enabled me to create more interesting canvases with multiple figures using the camera. But if I was going to be painting the figure I damn well wanted the figures to be convincing.
When there was a weakness in my art I dove head first into overcoming those weaknesses. I read books and experimented with color theory. I went to museums and sketched the paintings to understand concepts of composition. I studied anatomy for artists and threw myself into instructed life drawing. And kept painting.
Early on, I thought the only valid art was representational. That changed when I happened to see a Joan Mitchell exhibition in Paris and was moved emotionally by her paintings. I even tried my own hand at abstract expressionism. It didn’t satisfy me and just pulled me back once again to the figure.
I’ve painted New York City street scenes, boxing (I boxed years ago), the Civil War, the Indian Wars and a series of imaginary scenes inside museums. The Civil War paintings were particularly challenging because I wanted to get a sense of physical movement in those paintings.
All that was a prelude to what I’m painting now—political commentary. I see how our country is being destroyed from within by a corrupt administration and my inspiration for these paintings comes from what I see happening. Making these paintings is better than throwing a brick through the TV when I see Trump lying and bloviating. I started this series of “anti-Trump” paintings six months ago and have about 20 of them completed.
To view more of the artist’s works, visit www.phillevine.com