Anne-Marie Levine


By Peter Frank, Los Angeles,
for the Sarah Lawrence exhibition, 2/2/08-3/3/08

Too often confused, “size” is not equivalent to “scale.” Anne Marie Levine’s art – indeed, her whole approach to artmaking – demonstrates this. Her artwork is small in size, and capacious, even vast, in scale. Size, you see, is a simple matter of physical measurement; by that dint, Levine hews to smaller sizes. She in fact has downsized a whole aesthetic based on expansiveness, descended as it did from an (American) ethos of wide open possibility and from a practice (not to mention politics) based on the production of murals. But Levine’s small, sometimes tiny abstractions roil and burgeon no less intensely than their abstract expressionist forebears; in their scale, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, they contain multitudes.

Long part of the New York arts scene (if, for the most part, as a musician and writer), Levine has counted among her friends some of the most lyrical painters among the abstract expressionists. Befriending the likes of Robert Motherwell, Adja Yunkers, Theodoros Stamos, and Mark Rothko, Levine admires their roomy sense of color, their reconfiguration of color as space, their ability to elicit a sense not simply of spirit but of place from the rolling-out of color across canvas. Levine’s own skill and sensibility orient her toward a more intimate size, but allows her the embrace of her friends’ “big-sky” dilation. How does she evoke that breadth in the confines of her pocket-size – even locket-size – images?

In fact, it is not the images that are pocket-size, but the objects that bear them. The images themselves loom in the eye with no less vibrancy, and no less sense of limitlessness, than those her friends have described in yards and acres of paint. Originally, Levine explored this compaction through actual miniaturization – that is, through the fabrication of imaginary spaces sized to contain her mini-paintings. But if the painting itself did not outgrow the box, her thinking about the painting did. Now, when Levine makes a box, it defines and/or occupies its own, sculptural space. The paintings, meanwhile, have broken free and hang on “real” walls, permitting them their optical spaciousness without reliance on illusory scaling.

Perhaps we buy into Levine’s implied vastness because we are so used to understanding abstract art through reproduction. Here, for once, is artwork sized (appropriately enough for a writer) to the page, artwork as ready and able as sentences and as paintings to take the imagination into the clouds. Levine has in fact begun to explore the implications of the “page-painting” by combining word and image – further confounding size and scale. Her phrases and stanzas, by implication, have become skywriting.

Ironically enough, Levine accomplishes this miniaturization of the abstract expressionist experience by rendering it not with oil, acrylic, or any other hand-applied medium, but with computer-determined strokes and washes. She “paints” at the same keyboard (appropriately enough for a onetime concert pianist) at which she writes. Levine fully exploits, even pushes at, the painterliness current picture-programs allow, forcing the technology to abet her translation of her friends’ aesthetic without compromise. Hers is “digital art” only technically; it may be printed with an inkjet, it may be borne by the page, but it operates with the same visual language, in the same visual arena, as action painting and color-field painting. Finally, the only difference that matters is size. Anne Marie’s “painting” maintains the scale of the art it extends, but maintains the size of the eye it excites.