Heroic Absurdity: New Paintings by Peter Leventhal

By Bill Pearlman

Peter Leventhal’s show of recent paintings, Heroic Absurdity, opens at the Lenoir Gallery at the Petit Bar tonight. His narrative style of painting started early on. Like the Beckett narrative in Godot, Leventhal has often found in the heroic absurdity of life the central concerns of his own art. Leventhal has long been influenced by such historical stalwarts as the Tiepolos (father and son), in whose Baroque work Leventhal found the background of his own investigations in narrative painting. He was captivated by Domenico Tiepolo’s drawings of Punchinello, the hunchbacked, large-nosed universal clown. Tiepolo found figures that both mocked and celebrated the narrative life of his time. The mask or persona becomes essential in Tiepolo, as the Venetian emblem of Everyman. In commedia dell’arte, Tiepolo found his inspiration for Punchinello. The heroic absurdity of Tiepolo’s figures and the existential background of Beckett’s plays started to create a focus of images that involved a kind of absurdist tragic sense of life.

Heroic Absurdity
New Paintings by Peter Leventhal
Fri, Feb 13, 6-9pm
Petit Bar
Hernández Macías 95

In his early days in New York, Leventhal became acquainted with George Reavey, president of the James Joyce Society, at the Gotham Bookstore. Reavey was generous to young artists. He had been first to publish Beckett and gave Leventhal some of Beckett’s books, including the early book of poems, Whoroscope, and first editions of books by Boris Pasternak and Dylan Thomas. Another Beckett text Reavey gave the young Leventhal was Echo’s Bones. When Leventhal moved to Paris, he used to see Sam Beckett having coffee with Alberto Giacometti every Thursday at the Café Flore. The pared-down work of both Beckett and Giacometti had an integrity that strongly influenced the young Leventhal. “They were minimalists who started from a maximalist source. I loved their work, but my nature cannot allow me their route.”

The stylistic variations Peter Leventhal has brought to recent painting reflects some of the devices that he has learned from Tiepolo and other Baroque painters. He likes to keep the images light with what painters call “a blonde palette,” red-pinks, lime-greens, azure blues, often searching for a dignity and elevation with a comic and often absurdist exploration of figure and narrative. The tradition of commedia dell’arte and the great absurdist plays of Beckett have led Peter Leventhal to configure a tragic art that can often remind viewers of a puppet show with images involving an absurdly heroic dance.

We invite you to come see some of Leventhal’s new work at the Lenoir Gallery, February 13. Peter has also embarked on a long series of paintings involving narratives from Jewish history, which will have an opening in Houston in April 2015.


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