Benjamin Levy - Encounters

Praha

Od 25. 04. 2002 do 27. 05. 2002

An exhibition of watercolours and gouaches
Robert Guttmann Gallery
The exhibition runs from 25 April  until 27 May 2002
Open daily 9 am – 6 pm except Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

The work of Benjamin Levy is steeped in memories of his family. Many of the figures we see in his paintings stem from family recollections and stories. He comes from a large family with roots in Yemen that later moved to Palestine and settled near the port of Jaffa. His father, Ovadiah, did not have it easy in life. After the death of his first wife and two of his children, he remarried at the age of forty into a family from Turkey and, together with his second wife, Batsheva, brought up eleven children. The second youngest in the family, Benjamin, grew up in the colourful environs of the Yemen district of Jaffa. To this day his paintings are filled with exotic images from his childhood memories.

Levy has drawn a great deal of inspiration from his collection of family photos, many of which were taken before he was born. His paintings have absorbed a lot of the magic of these old photos, which is reflected in the distinct rigidity of his figures, the dream-like quality of his paintings and the theatrical setting of most of his portraits and scenes. Figures in full dress are arranged as if for a photograph, and the stage is fitted out with a curtain and scenes. 

Figures in Levy's paintings are like the residents of a small town from the past where time passes slowly and people move about stiffly like puppets, where nothing changes and everything stays the way it has always been. Strange contrivances are attached to their faces: they speak to each other through ancient mouth-pieces, while hearing-aids only serve to emphasize their solitude. They resemble figures from the Commedia dell’arte going through their never-changing stock of scenarios. 
This mechanical world, however, is disrupted by strange encounters: the moon, symbolizing the reverse side of our life, carries its figures under its arm. Some figures hold a yo-yo which slowly rises and falls as if set in motion by an unknown force that controls human lives in just as mysterious a way. In turn, coloured billiard balls are a telling symbol of the fickleness of fortune. The scene itself resembles a theatre or variety show, replete with magic wands and conjurors' caps, balls and clubs, monkeys and cats; there is also a tightrope walker balancing in a state of immobile equilibrium. Fish, the silent residents of the watery depths, are given wings like in a Chagall painting, hovering silently through the pictorial space. Strange encounters mostly take place between male and female images, almost always with erotic undertones, providing inexhaustible variations on the artist's eternal story.
Figures in Levy's paintings communicate with each other and with us through silence in the form of an almost forgotten language of symbols which permeates all his paintings. It is communication by means of gestures, views and symbols that follow on from an old tradition. Unexpressed messages are sometimes delivered by a small winged messenger, perhaps the inner voice of one's conscience or temptation. A little bird rests on some straw, a symbol of the human soul. Masks indicate the multiplicity of meaning and our ability to perform various roles. Levy's works are often in the form of letters, with some drawings made on the back of envelopes. Levy's barely sketched language of symbols links him to an old artistic tradition which surprisingly has something to say to us in the present.
In the mysterious and paradoxical world of Benjamin Levy, figures from the artist's life and his subconscious encounter each other in the space between reality and dreams. They send out signals which emphasize the unreal and dream-like space of his paintings and evoke an atmosphere that recalls the metaphysical works of de Chirico and Magritte. A spectral timelessness creates the impression that there is another scenario that is forever unfolding on the other side of our lives, in our dreams and in our unconsciousness. His paintings give us an unexpected sense of déjŕ-vu, recalling encounters with our own past, unconsciousness and dreams. All you have to do is stop and listen.
Arno Pařík Exhibition curator


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