In Barney Levitt’s painting “The Bird Keeper”, which won the “Realism Excellence Award” sponsored by Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, we are at once stunned by the level of detail that is evident in the piece. But far beyond that, we then begin to ponder the story. Who is the keeper of the birds, why is she turned away from us? As the fantasy forms in our minds, we wait for her to turn around and reveal herself. Thus has the artist engaged the viewer in not only a narrative, but a mystery.
“The Bird Keeper”, Oil on Panel, 20×16 (Private Collection)
Barney began to garner awards for his work as early as kindergarten, when he won a gold ribbon for a drawing he did of a man feeding the birds from a silver plate (similar theme!). At 10 years old, he was given his first easel and set of oil paints; his art education continued through college studying painting and drawing, and receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from S.U.N.Y Oswego in New York State. Robert Sullins, one of Levitt’s professors at Oswego, was very instrumental in coaching him and fueling his enthusiasm for painting and art in general.
Levitt’s love for realism and attention to detail has been influenced by the Dutch and Flemish Masters, and Vermeer in particular; but he is also drawn to the more impressionist work of John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase. Contemporary artists such as Scott Prior, Scott Fraser and Gregory Gillespie also continue to inspire him.
“Almost Forgot the Watermelon”, Oil on Panel, 16x20x2, Collection of the Artist
“Self Portrait in a Silver Ball”, Oil on Panel, 5×7, Collection of the artist
Bird imagery is frequently seen in Levitt’s work. In Barney’s words, “I have a fascination for bird life, both as a visually pleasing subject, but also the symbolism birds represent in terms of flight, nesting, mating, as it pertains to the human species. The figure’s dress in ‘The Bird Keeper’ was labor intensive, but in the end I think it enhances the mystery of the figure who is the keeper and protector of the birds…”
Levitt says he rarely does sketches before his final paintings, though at times does small 5×7 finished paintings which serve as studies. His paintings begin with a loose underpainting with burnt sienna, over which he gradually builds up layers of thinned paint (1/2 turpenoid and 1/2 linseed oil) to completion. He finds the process of painting to be meditative, often losing track of time while intensely concentrating on his work.
“Cookie Monster”, Oil on Canvas, 14×11, Collection of the artist
“Voted Most Popular” Oil on Canvas, 14×18, Collection of the artist
Levitt was recently awarded the status of Copley Master, the highest level of artists with the Copley Society of Art in Boston, MA. This organization dates back to 1879, and has always been a venue for great art exhibits, including well known artists such as Whistler, Sargent and Homer, to mention a few.
Barney’s words of encouragement are simply to follow your heart. “If you have a passion for creating art, whether it’s in the performing arts, visual arts, music, etc. set aside our society’s fixation on the material world and money. Success should not be measured in these terms, but rather on the fulfillment of our hearts desire to create a thing of beauty”.
Levitt is represented by Gallery Antonia in Chatham, MA and Gallery Blink in Lexington, MA. To view more of his work, visit his website at http://www.barneylevitt.com.
To view the 2016 NOAPS Best of America Exhibit, visit http://www.noaps.org, and click on Exhibitions.