In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers examines how the legacy of this spiritual freedom enables artists to make creative work as part of their practices.
In order to expose the tension of human experience, the imperceptible components of sensuality, sexuality, energy, and the binary properties of solid minerals, LA-based curator and artist Janet Levy carves rocks. Her creative practice is all about the sculptural properties of her materials. "My energy and psyche are channeled into the stone: it is a very physical practice," Levy tells The Creators Project.
The daughter of New Yorker parents who met and married in LA, Levy herself was actually born and raised in the Los Angeles area, though she made several stops around the world before she re-settled back in the City of Angels as an adult. Her early influences include the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, as well as local metaphysical bookstores, where she'd browse publications on tarot, meditation, philosophy, and poetry. "I believe in intuition, psychic abilities, spirits," she says. "I believe in signs and messages—the meaning of things: synchronicity [as] a concept as explained by Carl Jung."
Levy earned a degree in photography, but after a chance visit to a friend's sculpture studio, she set to work on a piece of alabaster instead. "From that moment. I fell in love with the material of alabaster, and the process of carving stone."
Levy then set up her first studio in the town of Tiburon in Marin County, California. "It was magical," she says. "My early sculptures referenced structural forms with hand-worked surfaces, incorporating an interplay between the polished and carved surface. I used a chisel and hammer to the create works; I also used the remnants to use stone as a medium as a painter would use paint, creating a series called Stone Paintings from the chips of stones from sculptures that I had collected. It was always an intuitive process for me."
The peripatetic artist then moved to Switzerland, where her work grew more and more personal. "At this point, my contemporary artistic voice was revealed. I was making the invisible visible." Eventually, however, Levy returned to LA by way of New York. She owned and operated the successful See Line Gallery, but decided to give up being a gallerist to go back to art and devote more energy to her own practice.
Though stone is Levy's medium of choice, she also likes to incorporate rope, sand, and chains to highlight and complement her sculptures, which she believes have an underlyingly provocative meaning, and reference the unspoken aspects of human exchange. Her current series includes wall sculptures; stone paintings; abstract, hand-carved alabaster pieces; an onyx installation hung with hemp, and a site-specific alabaster and marble installation in which one side is raw, and the other is carved and polished—revealing the dualistic components of nature. Her forthcoming studio-based exhibition, Butterfly Double, is all about metamorphosis, calling attention to the way a butterfly's life is the ultimate metaphor for the evolution of the human spirit.
Levy continues to lead a metaphysical lifestyle, which in the past included mediation, experimental drugs, sexuality, and ultimately, her art practice. "We are all energy," Levy says. "The material I chose to work with—stone, alabaster, marble onyx—has an energy of its own. I am attracted to this material; the material itself provides me with another means of fulfilling my desire to reveal what is concealed. This attraction to the material has always been meaningful to me."
Visit Janet Levy's website here.