The Art of Nerys Levy

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Chill is in the air at Antarctic exhibit
By Valarie Schwartz, June 18, 2009

Nerys Levy cooly checks her notes before presenting at the Ackland Art Museum. Photo by Valarie Schwartz It could have been the refrigerated air pulsing into the upstairs room at the Ackland Art Museum. Or the effect of Nerys Levy’s paintings of the Antarctic. Either way, the chill was appropriate during Levy’s discussion “The Process of Time and the Problem of Cold.”

The first in this summer’s series of “Out of the Studio” salons was presented during the Ackland’s free Art After Dark program held monthly in conjunction with the 2ndFriday Art Walk.

Parking in the corner lot at Rosemary and Columbia streets around 5:30 was surprisingly easy. Before going upstairs, it was relaxing to take in a few minutes of musical performance by Mark Gabriel Little while guests sat comfortably enjoying free refreshments or a (purchased) beer.

Though it was the week when Levy and the rest of us learned that her exhaustive efforts to save the Carrboro Branch Library had proven successful, she presented herself only as the “plein air” artist she has been much of her life. The economist who studied the New Delhi slums, taught race relations in South Africa, earned a doctorate in South Asian history, was the dedicated mate to the late Robert Levy who taught concurrently in the departments of anthropology at UNC and Duke blended into the background, obscured by the confident passion she brought as an artist. Surrounded by some of her paintings, she described her artistic pusuits in late 2006 and 2007, to China and Antarctica, respectively. I swear, people were pulling on wraps and rubbing their bare arms as the delightfully cool room seemingly dipped while Levy described what equipment had been necessary each time she had left the heated exploration vessel to enter a Zodiac dingy that delivered her just close enough to wade ashore, wearing or carrying “three layers of insulated clothing, life vest, balaclava, light backpack, double-layered gloves, sun glasses, hand and toe warmers, spiral notebooks, water-soluble felt pens, field watercolor box, ski pole and camera.” She made eight such landings on the seventh continent. At the top of her talk, Levy shared that artists are frequently asked how long a painting took to complete.

“They may answer 10 minutes, two days, three weeks. But they should always add to these times the years they have been actively engaged in the process of making art. In my case,” Levy continued, “this adds up to over 30 years of constant practice and readjustments generated by teachers, criticism, teaching, looking and learning — plus all those other years since birth when I was preparing for the profession.”

Her painting life began as a child growing up in Wales, exposed daily to her painter grandfather, who lived with her family. Contemplating the land- and seascapes became second nature to her as she lived in Switzerland, India, Africa, California and, finally, since 1991, Carrboro, where she participates monthly with N.C. Paint and the Alamance County Arts Council plein air groups, which take excursions to local farms, gardens and countrysides for several hours of painting.

As she spoke of her journey to China, which included a boat trip down the Li Jiang River, she whipped out a seemingly small sketch pad with each sheet connected to another, creating a stream of paper on which she had captured her surroundings.

“Each frame represents an encounter which left an indelible mark on the page and on my artistic memory,” Levy said. “And so when in my studio I embarked on expanding this sketch into a painting, I was able to recapture much of that artistic and emotional experience through the sketch.”

She took photos after sketching, but, “For me, the sketch is always the trigger for the painting.”

Next month Levy will sketch the Norwegian Archipelago in the High Arctic, where she will encounter the plight of walruses and polar bears. The resulting art may help her appeal for assistance in saving their melting homes — and the informed will dress warmly when they go see it! Check out her work at neryslevy.com



HOME · ABOUT · CONTACT · PAST EXHIBITS · ALPINE LANDSCAPES, FORMS & ARCHITECTURE ·
AMERICAN LANDSCAPES · ARCTIC & ANTARCTIC LANDSCAPES · CHINESE LANDSCAPES ·
RUSSIA · DOGS IN MOTION · BRITISH LANDSCAPES · ITALIAN LANDSCAPES ·
NORTH CAROLINA - NATURAL & ARCHITECTURAL FORMS · NATURAL FORCES