masterpiece of the month: "Flower Bath" by aubrey levinthal

(image courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York)

iIntimacy, solitude and selfhood are what inspire Aubrey Levinthal's poignant paintings. She speaks to PIECES about the story behind this lady and her look of longing...

This painting started like a lot of my work; I noticed something in a space I frequently occupy. This time it was my bathroom. I was wearing a sweater with daisies among this Marimekko wallpaper and liked the way it looked and felt. I brought a scrap of the wallpaper (which I had recently hung) into my studio and invented the composition from memory, thinking always about how to to both simplify and exaggerate what was there.  I like the way pattern, in this case wallpaper, naturally flattens space. I use a lot of mirrors in my work, they simultaneously flatten and create depth.  They also allow a reflection out of the picture plane so that someone who walks up to the painting is immediately sort of implicated; they become me, the figure at the sink. There is a psychological element to playing with composition and space this way. The moment of solitude or intimacy I'm hoping is sort of shared by the viewer.

My biggest influences are painters and writers.  Whenever I feel like I don't know what to do next I go to a museum (these days I turn to art books) and start a new novel. It took me some time to recognise that things don't just appear out of the ether. In the beginning I believed some sort of artist myth that I should just be able to sit in my studio and have a new idea that is totally mine in order to be authentic. But it's the opposite. It's always a dialogue with art and art history; other people pushing your work forward.

The writers I have been reading giving me so much to chew on recently are Jenny Offill, Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, Lucia Berlin- women who work in a way which is both grounded in their own lives but so finely tuned and about the medium.  It appears casual and journalistic but is highly aware of its construction. To make something that is simultaneously about playing with formal structure and also as engaging as deeply human...I think that is a brilliant thing to aspire to.

The painters I always return to for more would be Biala, Alice Neel, Mary Fedden, Bonnard, Natalie du Pasquier, Romare Bearden, early David Hockney, Masaccio, Giotto and Piero della Francesca.  A random assortment but all artists I feel were really looking hard at their own world. That gives me so much life. 
words by Aubrey Levinthal