Photo: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Santa Fe artist Eli Levin gives a gallery talk Sept. 19 at an art exhibit in Kennedy Alumni Hall.
Las Vegas, N.M. — Santa Fe artist Eli Levin’s social realism paintings of Northern New Mexico life are featured in an art exhibit that opens at Highlands University Nov. 17.
Levin’s paintings range from a child eagerly greeting his father as he returns home from work to sensual bar scenes and men rebuilding an adobe wall. One still life features a worn work glove alongside a sledgehammer.
The Highlands University Foundation presents the free art exhibit in the Kennedy Alumni Hall at 905 University Ave. It continues through Jan. 30, 2015.
“Levin’s technique and style are flawless and he’s one of the leading contemporary regional artists in America,” said Bob Read, curator for the university’s Ray Drew Gallery. “He’s a prolific painter who captures the essence of the lives of ordinary people in New Mexico. This show will resonate with the public because the scenes are familiar.”
Read and Highlands fine arts professor Todd Christensen curated Levin’s exhibit.
Read said it’s unusual how Levin mixes his own paint using the egg tempera method.
“Levin uses this ancient method for his contemporary artwork. Egg tempera gives his paintings a rare richness and a large variety of vivid colors,” Read said.
Since his earliest days as a painter, Levin has adhered to a figurative rather than abstract approach.
“I never followed the trend towards modern art because I wanted to paint subjects that everyone could relate to — not just a culturally elite art circle,” Levin said. “Highlands accepting my art makes me very happy because I want to reach the public and communicate in a way you can’t achieve in the gallery system.”
In 2013, when Levin was 75, PBS New Mexico aired a tribute that chronicled his contributions to art in New Mexico and nationally. His artwork is in permanent collections ranging from the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Fine Arts in Cleveland and the Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe.
Reflecting on the last 25 years, Levin said his social realism paintings tell stories that need to be told.
“Many of my paintings focus on social problems like inequity between the rich and poor, homelessness, and workers’ issues like losing their unions and being pressured by corporations into low-wage jobs to survive,” Levin said.
For his still life paintings, Levin avoids common subjects like flowers and fruit, focusing instead on everyday objects like kitchen utensils and work tools like hammers and screwdrivers.
“You don’t realize how beautiful these everyday household objects are until you see them in a painting,” Levin said.
He moved to Santa Fe in 1964, when he established the still thriving Santa Fe Etching Club. He is also an accomplished intaglio printmaker.
Levin has published a number of art books, including Santa Fe Bohemia, the Art Colony 1964–1980 in 2007 and Disturbing Art Lessons in 2012.
The exhibit includes recent acquisitions of Levin’s paintings made to Highlands through gifts from the artist and Robert Bell. Some of the pieces in the exhibit are from the Dr. Robert Permanent Art Collection established at Highlands in 2013, with Bell gifting 200 pieces and Levin gifting 100.
“Eli is an internationally known master painter who lives his art, painting every day,” Bell said. “Over the years, Eli has inspired and taught so many artists. He’s extremely generous in sharing his vast knowledge, materials and studio space.”
Levin grew up in New York and earned a B.A. in English literature from the New School for Social Research in New York and an M.A. in art from Wisconsin University. He earned a second M.A. from St. John’s University in Santa Fe.