The paintings of Frank Levine are on display at the Zack Gallery until Aug. 31 in a shared show, called Celebration, with Melanie Fogell. (photo by Olga Livshin)
The latest show at the Zack Gallery, Celebration, showcases two artists, Melanie Fogell and Frank Levine. At first glance, they don’t seem to have much in common.
Fogell’s art is bright and flamboyant, totally abstract, and her canvases are large, while Levine’s paintings are generally smaller, more intimate, his colours more muted and his compositions tend to have recognizable figurative patterns: people, musical instruments, landscapes, cityscapes.
However, both artists celebrate life through their paintings. For years, both approached art as a hobby – it is only recently that Fogell started painting full-time, while Levine still works as an accountant. Both artists also lived for some time in Gibsons, B.C., where they met a few years ago. Fogell still lives there, while Levine has moved to Richmond.
Levine’s life has involved several drastic moves, geographic and professional. Born in England, he received his art education in London. He majored in fashion design. Upon graduation, he opened his own fashion boutique in London, but that didn’t last long in the cutthroat industry. After that, he worked for 10 years as a clothing designer for a large factory in the city.
“The clothing industry in London is very stressful and loud. Everyone shouts and screams,” he explained in an interview with the Independent. “The designers had to produce a new design every week, two collections a year. If a particular coat sold, the owners congratulated themselves at how good they were at selling. If it didn’t sell, the designers were to blame.”
After a decade of the stress and screaming, Levine switched to accounting, which he considers an occupation much less taxing on his nerves. In 1978, he moved to Canada and settled in Vancouver. “Antisemitism in England was a consideration in my decision to move,” he said.
Wherever he has lived, and whatever his day job, he has kept on painting.
“I have always painted when I had the time,” he said. “I don’t paint every day, only when I’m inspired. Once a week, my son and his children come for a visit, and we paint together.”
One of the paintings in the show, “Prism,” came from one of those weekly sessions. The small image features a blue-and-gold cityscape, happy and bright, vaguely reminiscent of a Greek city. “My son suggested the theme of prism,” said Levine.
Many of the artist’s paintings are landscapes, but he portrays them through a mesh of geometric figures. The lines creating the geometric patterns add mysticism to the trees and lakes. “I’m drawn to the images that have passion, not something everyone would paint,” he said.
Whatever his brush depicts – his backyard in Gibsons with a visiting bear, a small café in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris or picturesque gates in China – his love for the places shines through the canvas.
Unfortunately, not many people have seen his charming work. “I didn’t do any promotion until recently and I sell maybe two or three paintings a year,” he said. “I only joined Facebook a month ago.”
Over the years, Levine has participated in several exhibitions in Gibsons and has had his paintings displayed at a Richmond community centre. This Zack Gallery show is only the second time in Vancouver that the public has had a chance to admire them, and it is his first exhibit in a Vancouver art gallery.
Unlike Levine, Fogell is well known on the Vancouver art scene. She had a solo show at the Zack in 2011 and another one in 2014. Her early art education at Emily Carr University of Art + Design could have led to a career in the arts, but, like many others, she discovered that it was extremely difficult to make a living as an artist. She became a piano teacher instead.
Years later, Fogell went back to university for a master’s in women’s studies and then did a PhD in educational research. She has taught women’s studies at the University of British Columbia and piano as a private tutor, but, throughout the years, just like Levine, she has never stopped painting. She loved art too much, and the need to express herself through imagery drove her to paint. She paints full-time now.
“I did this group of paintings, the Oval Series, over the last two years,” she said about the work in the Zack Gallery show. “It began by me doodling oval shapes. Then I started thinking of possible meanings of this particular shape. The oval could stand for an egg, which is a symbol of life, a celebration of life. Or it could be a face, the beginning of a face, not ready to be recognized. They could be faces of people in my life or people I have yet to meet.”
Fogell’s paintings burst with primal colours, and her ovals seem like gladness enclosed, surrounding the viewers like a collection of exuberant eggs, or new leaves shimmering in the sunlight, or a field of tulips swaying in a breeze. They promise renewal and hope. “I paint how it feels to be connected to everything in my life, both present and past,” she said.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].