FRANCE IN THE 18th century, boasted, among other things, a Rococo thinking that cast a light-hearted hue at almost everything. The artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze was one of the painters of the era, popular for his saccharine images that teetered on the sexually taboo, with young girls mourning small dead pets, among other subject matter. It was an approach to artmaking which fitted a very specific kind of audience, and it was the heart and start of kitsch as we know it today. These were paintings of the Mills & Boon stripe for the 18th century. The kind of aesthetic you will see in the body of seven paintings by Daniel Levi in Galleri Kalashnikovv’s Project Room this week takes the tradition of schlock and puts horns on it.
But Levi does this in a painterly, rather than a literal sense. You understand from the exhibition’s title, Please accept my resignation, that the artist is working in a cynical vein. You look at the girl with the head of a bluebird in her mouth and this cynicism is pushed a little further.
It’s an intense and carefully honed debut for this young artist, which reveals both his painterly skill and his penchant for twisting sweetness to reveal something that’s difficult to get your head around, emotionally. Principles of Trust sees a figure masked and an interplay of worked up detail and gestural lines. The dotted eyelashes of the character represented here skirts between something evocatively violent and the old pretty traditions of easy schlocky art.
And as you look at each of these works, including Expansion, a painting of a dead bird, that give and take between life and death, light and dark, horror and sentimentality comes to the fore. It’s a modest yet explorative, internally rich yet outwardly almost hard-boiled debut, which demonstrates that Levi is someone to watch, as he matures.
- Please accept my resignation by Daniel Levi is at Galleri Kalashnikovv, 70 Juta Street, Braamfontein, until March 30. Phone 065 021 2119.