Aubrey Levinthal in Berlin

Aubrey Levinthal painting, exhibition Cloud Cover Berlin

Subject is a paradoxical matter in painting. What is depicted may seem to be the first thing to talk about – three figures swimming, people waiting for the bus – yet it is the last thing that matters when identifying what is special about a painting. In the case of Aubrey Levinthal’s exhibition Cloud Cover in Berlin, the subject matter might be described as scenes of domestic and urban life. The Philadelphia-based painter takes what she sees in her hometown as motifs to work with in the studio, whether it is a swimming lesson, a commuter trip, a dinner party, or a view of a snowy landscape.  What lingers in the mind, though, is not the action she observes, but  the ambivalent atmosphere of scenes and the texture of situations as they are captured through color, light and paint application.

Levinthal seems to have one hand in the present day, considering the images of city life, the window signs or a t-shirt print, and the other in art history, for instance, in the late 19th century. The works of Honoré Daumier come to mind in the way that Levinthal sharply characterizes her figures, while the spatial effects of flattened planes of color are reminiscent of Pierre Bonnard’s or Edouard Vuillard’s paintings. With many grays, whites, and browns, the palette and mood in most of Levinthal’s works is muted, but often one strong accent color is included to give contrast, such as the bright red in Coat Zipper, or the large yellow couch in M + C (Blanket). Such color constellations seem important for creating balance and organizing each painting, maybe even more so than the actual scene that is depicted.

The most complex work in the exhibition is the last one made for the show, Head Lights (Bus Stop). Here, the tilted perspective makes the sidewalk, the light beams of the approaching bus, the pit in the road, and the two waiting figures seem close and upfront to the viewer, different layers presented with equal intensity. Thus, the work is more about evoking the presence of an environment as experienced in an individual than about the outward appearance of things. Interestingly, despite the muted (in this case, grayish and rainy) palette, the works never fail to come across as a celebration of the visible world and an invitation to look with attention at how details, color, and light interrelate and together make up the patchwork of life.

Cloud Cover by Audrey Levinthal is on view at Haverkampf Leistenschneider in Beriln from 26 April till 15 June, 2024. On the occasion of the exhibition a publication was presented with texts by Dorothea Zwirner and Russell Tovey.