How long have you been painting?
Technically I started painting in a serious, trying sort of way in a high school class, I guess I was 16, so that makes it about 14 years.
What is your approach or process towards painting?
I am a studio painter. I like having a particular place that I paint, with my things around me. I like working on many panels at once.
When I was younger the hardest part of painting was figuring out what to paint, where to start. So now I have developed some strategies against that. I keep the first two pages of every sketchbook reserved for ideas for paintings. Anything from a shadow I saw on a walk to the colors used in a painting by Manet. I stay really casual about what that intial impetus was and trust that once something is down on the panel I have an entry point. Then I try to respond through form, what the painting needs. If I hit a dead end, I have a few options. I can turn it upside down, block out parts that aren’t working, start a new one of the ideas directly on top or let it rest and move to another panel.
What are your interests besides art?
Probably the subjects you see painted in my work….
Cooking and eating I love, I think I would have ended up going that route if I didn’t paint.
Walking, but not in nature. I like walking around Philly. And stopping in to shows at a museum or galleries.
Repurposing trash picks and old stuff. I get so much satisfaction out of finding ways to use things I find. I absolutely hate the idea of Michaels or AC Moore, they take all the fun out of it. To spend no money and work creatively with the materials you have is a great pleasure for me.
Do you ever have awful studio days?
Do you read often, does it influence your work?
Yes, I read a lot; articles, interviews, books. Love to consume stories, I love books, I love podcasts, I love TV and movies. I read a lot of fiction, this year the best few have been: A Tale for the Time Being by Ozeki, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami, A Fine Balance by Mistry. I read about 10 others but they were not influential on me in any way I can tell.
These four, yes, in my recent show I had a painting called Toru’s Spaghetti Breakfast. That is a painting that I started of myself at a diner in Paris but realized it was also the main character from Murakami’s novel so I tried to resolve it by letting both narratives live in the same painting. It’s not usually that direct, but definitely an influence.
What are your feelings on academia?
My biggest feeling is it is far too expensive for students and far too little pay for adjuncts. Not just in crippling both parties financially but it creates a strange dynamic. Students feel they are consumers and should be satisfied on a customer service level, and I don’t blame them, many of my students work overnight shifts to pay for their education. And adjuncts feel disregarded and hesitant to make the tough decisions because their jobs are so unstable.
I think it is very difficult to be an excellent instructor in the arts. You need to create an environment which is both open and communal but also one where the expectations are extremely high. Many students who I have as first years come in with the assumption that a drawing class is going to be easy. Very quickly they realize this is the hardest class of the semester. But I think its important because those who stay really want to be there and they really take off. It keeps me up at night but when I hear from a student a few semesters later it reassures me I am doing the right thing for them long term.
Aubrey Levinthal earned her MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her work has been exhibited nationally. She currently lives an works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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