Taking nature’s beauty in her brush’s direction

by Victoria Zunitich, qboro contributor

The striking and realistic beauty of the city’s nature at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is ever more beautiful when paired with the paintings of Denise P. Levine now on display in the gallery at the visitor’s center.

The show, “Elements of Nature: Paintings by Denise P. Levine,” which is on display now through the end of June, is the first nonphotographic exhibit at the gallery in about five years, said curator Charles Markis.

The paintings are clearly based in the reality of nature but take flight from there, consistently exuding joy even when rendered in dark colors.

The show came as a surprise to the artist, who has a substantial internet presence but wasn’t at the time looking to show her work.

Levine shares a friend online with curator Markis. “And I saw her work there on the internet, on Facebook,” he said.

“Each piece represents what she was thinking at the time she created it,” said Annette Minkalis, a friend of Levine’s who attended the exhibit’s opening reception last Saturday.

Minkalis pointed out “Wisteria,” a rectangular painting that immerses the eye in the clumps of lavender and pink flowers that droop from climbing wisteria vines.

Levine’s next-door-neighbor Madeline LoPiccolo, who considers herself to be “a very dear friend” of the artist, wore a scarf with a Denise Levine pattern on it.

“She’s an amazing artist and she has a beautiful spirit, and it shows in her work,” said David Kroening, another friend.

Levine said the love of nature entered her art during an outdoor childhood of gardening, visiting Manhattan Beach and Rockaway Beach and camping upstate for weeks on end.

“My work is a tribute to Nature and is inspired by her elements — vivid colors, flowers, greenery, sun and wind, the earth and sky,” she said in an artist’s statement. “As a youth I did a lot of camping in upstate New York and going to New York beaches, so I fell in love with the beauty all around me — mountains, the earth, the stars and marine life inspire me.”

At age 19, Levine said, Native Americans taught her more about nature when she volunteered in the Taos Pueblo community and visited other reservations in that area.

Levine said there’s no particular school of art that influences her work, but when asked, she can see the inspiration of other artists.

Impressionism? “There’s some of that in there,” she said.

A hippie aesthetic? She sees some Peter Max in her “Green Sea,” “Fireworks” and other pieces. She remembers noticing Max in 1968, when she was 12. He appeared on “The Tonight Show” that year.

Markis sees Jackson Pollock in her “New Year’s Eve.”

Levine considers herself to be self-taught, but not quite in the group of untrained creatives known as “outsider artists.”

“I wasn’t an art major,” Levine said. “I remember just taking art classes and sometimes I was just drawing doodles, and they would want me to do other stuff.”

Levine did study welding and how to work with clay and wood and create sculpture.

“It’s my own style,” Levine said. “When I was, like, 5, I would fall asleep and I would see designs.”

There is one aspect of Levine’s art that comes from someone else’s creativity. Her friend of 35 years and fellow private-practice therapist, Sue Epstein, came up with the names for most of the works.

“She named at least 80 percent of the pictures, and she yells at me when she doesn’t like the names I come up with,” Levine said.

But her friend certainly appreciates the works, whatever their names.

“She’s phenomenal. An eclectic creativity,” Epstein said.

‘Elements of Nature’

When: Through the end of June
Where: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 175-10 Cross Bay Blvd., Broad Channel
Entry: Free. (718) 318-4340, nps.gov

Original article here.

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