Marianna Levant

WHEN Through 2/18

WHERE Gescheidle, 118 N. Peoria, 4th fl.

INFO 312-226-3500

In Marianna Levant’s seven paintings at Gescheidle clusters of highly detailed forms float dreamily in space, their planes and curves suggesting both machinery and the natural world. All but one were inspired by clock or watch mechanisms; the exception, from an earlier group of works, was based on automobile parts. Throughout, her lyrical, rhythmic mix of repetition and variation conveys a delicate harmony.

Levant was born in 1979 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where her parents worked for the Bolshoi Drama Theater. “I was always into the spectacle,” she says. “The sets were hand painted by artists, and it was like layers of tapestries opening up for scene changes.” As a child, she says, she “drew like crazy, but nobody seemed to notice. I remember one week when I drew absolutely every object in the house.” On long walks with her grandmother she became “fascinated by the city. I loved the baroque details on buildings. I remember my mom telling me that there’s not a single row of identical windows in the city.” She also remembers Saint Petersburg being wrapped in fog in fall and winter. “Certain things disappeared, and others were revealed, something I came to appreciate much later in Asian art.” Decay also fascinated her: “Whenever you get a little bit away from the main streets, such as into apartment building courtyards, there’s this aging going on, garbage and dirt and chipped paint and the stucco falling apart.”

In 1990 the family emigrated to the United States, eventually settling in Dallas. “It was horrendous,” Levant says. “You had to drive everywhere, which limited your interaction with people, and there was no visual stimulation, no street life. I got obsessive about drawing because there was really no other outlet.” She chose to enroll at the School of the Art Institute after a visit here when she walked around downtown, then drifted south of the Loop. “I loved the beautiful refined facades and wonderful architecture, but also the big warehouses and the industrial feel, the gritty underbelly. The bridges reminded me of Saint Petersburg.” At SAIC, where she got a BFA in 2001, she took drawing, printmaking, and design classes; she earns her living today as a graphic designer.

While at SAIC, Levant walked around the city, starting in Pilsen, and drew buildings and architectural details. And in her senior year she made prints of piles of cars she’d sketched in junkyards. “I really liked the way these forms looked and the idea of something that used to be functional becoming more of a sculpture or monument.” She’d lived near a junkyard on Elston and began painting its rusting machines, whose textures she thought were beautiful. “I was starting to get into de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, and I did the machines with very rich painterly surfaces.” About three years ago Levant began painting car parts. “In my mind they were made kind of humanistic by the rust and peeling paint and weathering.” Later her car paintings became more about the juxtaposition of shapes and movements–in this show, Sculls & Clouds II shows an engine block with a fan on its side surrounded by tubes, hoses, and other objects.

Recently Levant has been inspired by the intricate detailing in paintings by Arshile Gorky, Roberto Matta, and Lee Bontecou–“the power and the energy of these immense inner worlds is just so expansive and exciting,” she says. That led to her current interest in the “wonderfully intricate mechanisms” of clocks and watches. She was also thinking about “the way people obsess over time,” and about transformation, spurred by many readings of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. “In Trembling Clocks II,” she says, “I like the way a fan can turn into a flower.” Despite some sharp angles, the conglomeration of shapes in this painting looks like it’s growing, blooming, creating a sort of garden.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Trembling Clocks II.