Peter Leventhal miscellany at Galería Le Noir
By Bill Pearlman
Peter Leventhal will be the first artist to show at the new Lenoir Gallery on Hernández Macías (in Tomas Lenoir’s Petit Bar/ Pocket Theater). I told Peter it was natural his work should be the first showing at this new gallery; Peter’s work has proven him one of the grand masters of painting in San Miguel. And even with his complications from Parkinson’s, his output continues to amaze. The new show will include his first self-portraits in 45 years, as well as some still lifes.
Peter Leventhal miscellany
Fri, Jan 17, 5-8pm
Galería Lenoir (at Petit Bar)
Hernández Macías 95
Among the self-portraits is a large canvas Leventhal calls ‘Love Among the Ruins.’ It’s a self-portrait that includes homage to Krazy Kat creator George Harriman, whose comic strips were wildly popular in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and Peter was a fan. In this piece we see Krazy Kat and his mouse pal Ignatz in the famous Coconino County setting. Ignatz appears to be throwing a (rubber) brick (from a famous strip of 1927) at the figure representing Leventhal. Kat appears at the left, standing tentatively on a rock. Peter Leventhal’s irony shines through in the scene, with the Leventhal figure in a reflective, over-serious facial gesture, holding a skull reminiscent of Hamlet, and the (Coconino) comic ruins all around. A slumbering female figure perhaps imagines an inspiring feminine energy always present, even if at rest. Another new piece is a remembrance (and homage) of Ignacio Zuloaga, a Spanish painter whose name echoes the Herriman mouse character Ignatz. In this new piece, we see a tall standing poet reading to a young woman, with a Mexican city in the background. Zuloaga (1870-1945) had relationships with poets and painters of his era, and there is a letter praising Zuloaga from Ranier Maria Rilke. Zuloaga, not unlike Leventhal, was a modernist whose paintings echo masters of earlier eras such as Goya and Velazquez.
Leventhal talked of the ‘object remove’ he gets from the self-portrait form. He can see himself in this pedantic gesture, which (in Love Among the Ruins) needs a wake-up call from the ambiguous Ignatz throwing the brick. Peter Leventhal has always been fond of narrative in painting, and has found historical prompts from painters like Max Beckmann and Otto Dix. Many of Beckmann’s animated narrative pieces have a strong resonance in Peter’s work. The feeling generated in a Leventhal painting keeps him in step with the modernist attempt to wrest the image from the pervasive mechanized spectacle and kitsch we get in this era, especially in decorative painting, advertising and ersatz art. A strong influence on Leventhal’s thinking on the matter of ‘spectacle’ as central concern in modern art has come from the French philosopher Guy Debord, whose Society of the Spectacle argues ‘as the indispensable decoration of the objects produced today, as the general expose of the rationality of the system, as the advanced economic sector which directly shapes a growing multitude of image-objects, the spectacle is the main production of present-day society.’ The merely ‘decorative’ image object (as spectacle) has become the main emphasis of much that passes for art in our time. And Peter’s dislike of ‘kitsch’ is palpable as he explores what has gone wrong in our era of the shoddy spectacle and the celebrity.
The new show will include other self-portraits from recent work, as well as new still lives, which are uncommon in his paintings. One particularly stunning still life has two naked women figures situated in a garden scene with vases and other objects. He says he is in the process of confronting his own mortality in these pieces, but the energy and metaphorical power in the paintings transcends even these described scenes. Leventhal is a modern master who has livened the San Miguel art scene for many years. We talked of the incredible rich era in New York in the ‘60s and early ‘70s when there was an excitement and energy among artists and poets, which launched his life as a painter. He has maintained some of that initial purposive energy, and these current paintings are animated with his own best instincts as a storytelling artist with remarkable skills in figurative drawing and deeply rich color. I sometimes see reverberation in Peter’s work of many celebrated artists, including Rubens, Breughel, Thomas Hart Benton, Beckmann, Matisse and Picasso.
In ‘The Adventurer,’ Leventhal inhabits the world of self-portraiture again, and gives us an old man rowing out into the fathomless ocean, with a young female muse accompanying him. The artist is still venturing out, still inhabiting the world of possibilities. There is fish (a universal and mythical symbol) in the rowboat, and the artist’s hat. Again, the rower/artist is in a serious mood, but all around him is the abundance of life, and a seaside town with other boats. The nude woman is also in contemplative mode, but she anchors the painting with nubile power and her hand on the shoulder of the artist. The artistic adventure will continue.
I’m sitting in the new Galeria Lenoir with Tomas Lenoir and Peter Leventhal.
Tomas Lenoir: When we had the Lenoir Gallery on Jesús a few years ago Peter Leventhal was our director. And we showed his work often.
Peter Leventhal: Erica was the manager.
TL: We have remodeled this whole building. We’ve been showing films here now for a few years and continue that as the Pocket Theater film series. We have two theaters and have at least two showings of every film. We show a lot of foreign films with English subtitles. So now we are remodeling and will open the gallery with Peter, whose work I love, and who is also a dear friend.
PL: I believe Tomas has talked about adding films about artists when an art show is up. The Lenoir was the all-time best gallery in San Miguel history. And Tomas has excellent taste in art. I’m happy to be part of the new Galería Lenoir.
TL: Thanks, Peter. We’re glad to have you.
Bill Pearlman: Tomas, how did your interest in art begin?
TL: I grew up in Mexico City and always admired the major art I saw as a child. Francisco Toledo was on of my favorites. For 18 years I made jewelry and then started the Lenoir on Jesus to show painting, sculpture and jewelry.
BP: What’s the story on this building?
TL: My family has owned the building for many years. It was originally one of the centers for the army in the 1810 Independence War. It was also used in the Revolution of 1910. So, it is a great historical building. The Market Bistro, one of San Miguel’s best restaurants, was here for several years, And of course the Petit Bar. I’ve had to deal with a few ghosts in the building over the years, but there is peace here now which I am happy about. I’m really glad to have Peter open the new gallery space here and the show will run from January 17 to probably February 17. Peter’s work has always meant a lot to me, and to many people. We will also make time for Peter to do private showings for people who want that.
BP: What are your future plans for the gallery here?
TL: Right now, after Peter’s show, we will have a show for Jeffrey Brown. Beyond that, we haven’t made plans yet.
BP: It looks like you’ve done a lot of remodeling and painting.
TL: There’s more to do, but yes, it’s a work in progress, and I’m glad to be adding art shows to the building.
BP: Great. I’d like to get a photo of the two of you, maybe in the light.
TL: Why don’t we go out to the archway that leads to the courtyard.
PL: Good idea.
BP: Thanks to both of you.
TL: A ti.