Translation to English: An exhibition entitled “IMMENSITIES” at the Art Base Gallery in Brussels opening September 24 by the painter and author of children’s books Tamar Levi.
The exhibition “IMMENSITIES” is a collection of great landscapes of Greece and Belgium and, as the author states, “Although my life between Greece and Belgium is a” permanent journey,” there are no boundaries in this collection.”
According to her, “What I want to share with the world is that Greece is beautiful and this does not only concern its most famous sights (Santorini, Acropolis, etc).”
Tamar Levi has painted several popular destinations, but also many “remote” parts of the mainland and islands and villages in colors that the viewer may not expect, from perspectives she wants the world to explore.
The exhibition includes large paintings, a monoprint but also small sketches in watercolor and acrylic from the painter’s sketchbooks. The monoprint in particular was inspired by a series of sketches she painted during a deeply emotional and moving journey to the Kalavrita Holocaust memorial.
“I feel like an ambassador of Greek art,” she says, as our country inspires her art and her art inspires people to visit Greece and its hidden beauties.
Tamar Levi grew up in Alaska, lives in Belgium and has “married” into Greece. More about her and her work here: https://tamarlevi.com/
Tropical beaches in Europe. Guaranteed good weather. Mountains, architecture and the sea. Greece is so beautiful.
My Art Inspires People to Visit
I was surprised: a North European art collector came to a private viewing of my solo show intending to buy a painting of Belgium but ended up buying a painting of Greece!
The art collector then told me that the location I had painted has become their top priority for their next holiday. This makes me feel proud of the beauty of my adopted country. This makes me excited for their first journey to the places that inspire me. It also makes me feel like an art ambassador for Greece.
Greece Has Hidden Beauty Too
The thing I want to share with some of this collection as a whole is that Greece is beautiful all over, not just the most famous sights.
The smaller gallery works travel far and wide and around hidden corners.
I have painted some popular destinations, but also lots of hidden parts of the mainland and islands and villages in colours you might not expect, from angles you might want to explore.
There are large paintings, one monoprint and even small sketches in watercolour and acrylic from my travel sketchbooks.
The monoprint was inspired by a series of watercolour sketches created during a deeply emotional journey to the Kalavryta monument.
There are even hidden nature landscapes in the city of Athens too!
For example, did you know there’s a very beautiful, peaceful and deserted part of Palio Psychiko in Athens?
It looks like mountains on the moon, but with secret, delicate wild flowers.
More Than Beauty
The paintings do not aim to be just aesthetically pleasing, there’s a philosophy and mythology and cultural context in them too.
I try to paint with longing and wonder. Ancient Greek Philosophy might say there’s an Aristotelian catharsis intentionally expressed through longing to return to these landscapes. Modern philosophers might say there’s an exploration of Kant’s concept of the sense of wonder for the sublime in nature.
My painting of the Temple at Cape Tenaron grows deeper and calmer when you know it’s the mythological gateway to the underworld.
The Temple of Sounio appears more childlike when you feel young compared to the age of the stones.
The view of Meteora is a globally unique mixture of cultural heritage and Paleogenic rock formations. Can you see the spectacular wild vegetation that houses comparatively miniature monasteries there too?
Me Missing Greece Becomes A Positive Gateway
My current solo show is called IMMENSITIES. It’s a collection of large landscapes of Greece and Belgium. Although living between Greece and Belgium is my current journey, the boundaries are not so present in this collection.
The art collector that came for Belgium but ended up buying Greece taught me there is a deeply personal journey of my encounter here, with these two nations’ presence in nature, and my response to their beauty as an aesthetic experience. However, they were both explored in a shared global pandemic and so in each canvas there is the shared need for passing through a gateway, whether it be painted, or over the frame, or beyond the water, and onwards into an expanding space in front of us. Even though the collector cannot travel out of our Red Zone for the moment, they have been inspired to visit.
How much I miss Greece has translated into inspiring her excitement to visit. This movement towards positive change is intentional. I hope that through all these bright colours, you can sense the optimism I’m trying to plaster on our walls. This is my political act: to counter the negativity of the news, the lockdowns, the temporal ruptures, with colourful movement across borderless canvases intended for regular positive uplift of your mood at home. The painting of Greece that will shine in their home will transport their family on holiday every day until they visit.
Then it will be the momento that came before the nostalgia that came after a trip to Greece.
My original idea of painting on the frame aims to draw the viewer into the scene, in a sculptural way.
This provides the art collector with immediacy for hanging.
The bespoke frames provide deep dimensionality.
This allows the viewer to step into a scene. Another window for their home.
Most of these works are painted through the canvas and over the frame. I felt bad that art collectors often buy a work and then have to take it for framing.
If I can provide them with a ready-to-hang piece of art, I save them that extra time and expense.
To prepare for this collection I hunted for the biggest and most beautiful antique frames from markets and auction houses in Athens, Greece and Brussels, Belgium. Then I affixed and painted both canvases and frame simultaneously.
I have not perfected the method but so far I’m told it’s both helpful and delightful. What more can I offer?
Colour Mixing & Texture to encourage dynamic eye movement.
Inspiration and energy came from artists I respect; the bespoke palette and mixed media of Andy Dixon, the bright textures of the Impressionists and Van Gogh and the Fauvist’s wild use of colour.
There are many ways in which the pandemic came into these landscapes: close quarters, disruption, questioning the value of my shared time, holding space for studio time, working with uneven light.
As a true artist in (imperfect) residence, I then developed a self-tailored colour palette that I worked hard to create myself through long colour mixing theory research and colour mixing practice sessions.
Cohesion in the Collection
All this so the cohesion carries from canvas to canvas across the collection. Even as I make these pieces I’m thinking about how they speak to each other and how we are going to install it. I was thinking about the Art Base gallery where the solo show would take place and considered how the pieces will sit best in the space. The goal here is that the audience stands in the gallery and receives a fully peripheral experience. The movement in each painting will draw the audience from one travel experience across to another, with salon style smaller paintings grouped at the back and no boundaries between them. Finally, the way I painted over the frame creates a sculptural depth that lends itself to getting lost inside these views.
Light to Dark then Dark to Light Again
If you come to examine the artwork even closer you might note the light to dark and then dark to light again order in which the paint is layered. This is the first time I’m working on canvases spray-painted with solid colours. I’m very driven by the shaping in Ori Reisman’s landscapes.
Although I don’t explore a human form in the earth as Reisman does, I aim to work the shaping of the land in a similar way that inspires a similarly human interaction, even though it’s not intended to be a human-sized view.
This is me trying to expand my skillset, widening my canvas, practicing grander sweeps, expanding what I can do and bringing you to the precipice with me and you can extrapolate from that what it means to you to stand in immense spaces.
Childlike Innocence in Mixed Media
Due to the close quarters, I’ve been painting next to my 3 year old. She has influenced me. I mixed my use of acrylic paints and oil pastel to create a dynamic forward and backward motion of the viewer’s eye: from the background acrylic to the foreground pastel, we move through the scene.
Thanks to my daughter, I was inspired to replicate form with a childlike sense in the brushstrokes. For example, I thought very deeply about the innocence I wanted to convey in the form of the Temple on Sounio. There is an innocence in one’s experience of wonder when one encounters ancient monuments. It makes you feel small to see the history. I hope that textural peculiarity, the quirkiness in the lines and colours I chose, wakes up the dull feelings of ordinary scenes and gets the viewer excited about the unique vision we get when standing in the inspiring spiritual locations ancient people appreciated for the same reason.
Tidal & Air Movement in Space & Paint Speed
I thought a lot about texture because it offers something we don’t get from our screens. Paintings need to offer something more than what we get in the visual world of our screens. I asked: What do paintings do that screens cannot? I answered: The texture of the paint and the peripheral size of the canvas can outsize our peripheral experience and let us step outside ourselves, deeply experience the movement of the wind and air and leaves and water and receive that specificity of human perspective in a vast space.
Even if you are not familiar with these locations, from our travels in Greece and Belgium, even if you have not stood in the same spaces, I hope you agree, you feel a sense of space, feel their particular quality of light and catch a breath of the same air.
The gloss varnish was also an important element. Products made by machines can make a smooth perfect flat surface. An impeccable glossy flat surface cam be made by the digital world. I asked: What can paintings do that cannot be done by photography or a computer or a machine? I answered: Dynamic texture that follows the shapes of the image and brings an overall sense of sculptural harmony to the piece. This is unique to painting and that’s why I do NOT try to apply the varnish as flat as possible across the surface of the canvas, but instead follow the movements of the painting’s forms and express the speed of emotive brushstrokes even with the varnish itself.
By shaping the solid forms with the paint texture, using mixed media to bring in a dynamic movement forward and backwards from the surface of the canvas, flowing the brush strokes to mimic tidal or hot air shafts away and around the nearly fish-eye lens enlargements of the horizon, I am working to enlarge one’s sense of space.
The large size of the canvas is significant. It offers you more space for your inner life. There is a proclivity to turn inward when there is a global pandemic, but I want these paintings to remind the viewer of the spiritual release we receive when engaging with wide views of majestic nature.
The orientation is not just physical, it’s a psychological direction too. These are landscapes that inspire the sublime.
Kant’s philosophy of aesthetics involves the idea that a small human form as audience to a vast largeness will give us a sublime experience of nature. This is an almost spiritual release, like the gasp when you see a brilliant view.
Until recently I illustrated children’s books with big ideas, such as philosophy and theoretical mathematics, these were big in another sense. The title of this collection, Immensities, speaks to the broad horizons in these paintings, but it is also the far reaches of your mind. The Immensity of how your soul expands when you stand on these cliff tops or at the heart of these lush forests.
Choosing the Correct Outlook
Of course, one must choose angles of certain landscapes that first offer that sense of space. Only then a good initial sketch on location can provide the best possible opening of the shapes to make one feel the freedom of that sense of place. Travel memories and sketchbooks are brought back to the studio. In this case, my studio was my home during lockdown.
When you look at visual culture online you don’t think about the scale. Scale matters. If it encompasses you in real life, if it is bigger than real life, you enter the scene more deeply. You are smaller than the canvas. You are a child. In that way, your childlike wonder is more instantly stimulated.
I noticed the big ones made me afraid. Am I afraid to take up space? Am I afraid of bigger, more visible mistakes? Whatever the case, the larger canvases were necessary to achieve the goal: a nearly fish-eye lens viewpoint expressed on larger canvases is designed to provide a sense of perspective. These vistas are an offering for expansion, travel opportunities not lost, but to be found, again and again.
There are different walks you can take into these landscapes. In my last continuous line illustrated series I “took a line for a walk,” and in this one your eye can take a journey down different paths.
Although I visited these landscapes with my sketchbook in freer times, I painted this whole series, ironically, under the world’s first lockdown. It is the first time in the history of civilisation that all recreational activities were cancelled and we were prohibited to travel. As a family we were respecting the safety precautions and so it was with a sense of grief that I became an artist in residence in my own home and my art expressed the wider world. I painted with love the wild bluebells of Hallerbos forest during the time of year that those bluebells bloom. I recalled our joy in discovering that cool and shadowy woods with its bright points of violet where the bluebells carpeted the clearing and I painted it knowing I could not visit this year. So it was with a sense of longing and grief that I travelled those landscapes again in my heart and in my art, but they are intended as a gift to the flat walls of collector’s homes, deeply shapely and opening and widening the views you might or might not have from your windows, and allowing another scene to open up another view for you.
I hope the shapes appear spontaneous at first glance and give a gasping sense of space but then, if you’d like to look closer you might notice a thoughtful layering of light and carefully composed colours that builds up a sense of positivity and imbues warmth.
I was surprised: a North European art collector came to view the works of Belgium but ended up buying a very specific painting of Greece. It made me realise that although living between Greece and Belgium is my journey, the boundaries are not so present in this collection. There is a deeply personal journey of my encounter with these two nations’ presence in nature, as an aesthetic experience. However, they were explored in a shared global pandemic and so in each canvas there is the shared need for passing through a gateway, whether it be painted, or over the frame, or beyond the water, and onwards into an expanding space in front of us. This movement towards positive change is intentional: I hope you can sense the optimism I’m trying to plaster on our walls. This is my political act: to counter the negativity of the news with the colourful movement across canvases intended for regular positive uplift of your mood at home.