Today we will be interviewing Marcus Levine. The British Post Modernist artist has made a name for himself by using unorthodox materials to create masterfully crafted and highly skilled works. Though this might have been the beginning of his notoriety it is by no means the limitation of his talents.
To start us off would you please share your educational background, how you think it has helped or hurt you and whether you would have liked to have more or less?
M.L.- Is this the standard education we all receive or an education in life. Art reflects life, but to the boring stuff.
I started in a rural village school. We moved to Leeds and I continued my education there.
My Father is Jewish and my Mother was Roman Catholic from a large RC family. She decided to convert to Judaism and I was sent to a Jewish middle school. I was there for one year and was not really accepted as Jewish by some of the children and some of the teachers as my Mum had blond hair!
I then went to a public boys school, where I was immediately branded as Jewish, there were three other Jews in the school and we made it cool to be Jewish, speaking Yiddish swear words to each other. I have barely touched on religion in my work. But I will at some point focus my unique perspective on religion and drive it into my work.
My parents are very conservative and so was the school. The only subjects I liked was art, Biology and sport, although I did still manage to do reasonably well in all subjects.
I tried to fit in with what my parents wanted and that was computer science. But I didn’t get the grades they wanted, I had a massive fight with my Dad about retaking my A levels. I wanted to go to art school, in the end I did and went to Jacob Kramer college of Art and met and studied with Damien Hurst who was in my year. This was an amazing year of experimentation, some extreme ideas and some exciting ideas, I look back and realise that this has forever influenced me.
I went on to do a four year Arts degree in Cornwall. We would organise trips to London and have a mad four days touring all the Galleries. At this time I remember seeing Carl Andre’s bricks at the Tate modern and the debates we all had afterwards over a few Guinness and ciders. I actually walked over the bricks, having found out that the artist wanted people to walk over them. People looked in horror. I think if I tried that today I would be pounced on..
What are your views on the art climate of today versus where it was when you started your career and where you believe it is headed. Also, how have you and your work have been received in it?
M.L.- I don’t think I can fully answer this question. I guess back in the early 80’s modern art was out to shock, with headline grabbing sculptures. Now I think the majority of the public are more accepting of this type of work, its harder to grab the headlines and most of the art & sculpture that was so shocking has been done. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back towards the centre ground. My feeling is that many people find it hard to accept those conceptual artists who do not have a hand in the creation of their own work. But art in the UK is not about public opinion, in fact, a very small group of people control the art world and what the public get to see in public galleries.
I am fortunate to have already had a public exhibition and the Councillor Rev Keith Flowers said during the opening ceremony “my work was of an international standard”. By the end of the six month show, the guest book was completely filled. Many of the staff, from the various departments all came up to me and told me that it had been their most successful exhibition.
What have you learned that has helped you become more productive, more creative, more in tune with where things are going and ultimately more successful?
M.L.- I am at my most productive when I have a major exhibition booked. But I am a workaholic my problem is knowing how to switch off. I have more ideas than I can pursue.
There is no-one telling me when to get out of bed, but having worked for many years in the family business I have at least retained the feeling that my day should start at 9am, unfortunately it does not finish at 5:30, I often have my tea and go back to whatever sculpture is driving me forwards. I don’t want to sit and watch re-runs of Friends. Life’s too short.
People always offer advice, especially when they think they know something. Well no-one knows better about your work than you. So don’t listen to other people listen to your own instincts. Pursue the direction you see your work going in. Stick to your artistic integrity it makes you you.
I am quite happy on my own, I don’t do art clubs, or collectives, although for some this is a great way to take the pressure off and pick each others brains, joint exhibitions are much cheaper than solo ones. Though you have less control over exhibiting next to someone with less professionalism than yourself. From time to time it is necessary to do whatever you have to do to keep doing what you do. I find sponsorship to create the bigger outdoor sculptures, by badgering big businesses, councils/arts council to give me the money, don’t think you can sit back and let it come to you, even when you make that first big sale. It is like pushing water up hill to begin with, and you have to be professional and talk coherently in a language that business directors understand. Give then a clear understanding of what they get in return.
What have you done right and wrong business wise as an artist and what do you wish you had done differently?
M.L.- Advice: If Art is a business then similar rules apply. Remember better 100 people give you 10% of their time and energy than you give 100% of your own energy. If you can’t face selling your own work then you will have to find someone who is great at selling art and is as passionate as you about your work.
I’m not one for regrets, and although you can’t win everything you cannot worry about the odd door closing on you. Just keep opening new ones, the art scene is a massive global market, so just make sure people have heard of you and why they should hear of you. It is not possible to do it alone, you have to have total strangers recommending you and speaking with passion about your work and if no-one but your own family and friends are doing that then you really have to ask yourself if you are creating art that only you like. Better if you are slightly critical of your own work.
Could you briefly run us through your process?
M.L.- It really depends what I am doing. But nail sculpture. I start with the pose, this may change when I get the photos of the models, but usually I select a model who I think will define the pose.
I book the model and a photographic studio and I spend around 2 hours working on the two or three poses I have pre-sketched. I sketch the models in the areas I think might be difficult and take photos. I then go back to my studio and sit for two or three days pondering which pose I want to undertake, a mistake at this stage would cost me weeks of work. Finally I decide on the pose and spend another two or three days procrastinating, finally a select a spot and bang a nail in and another and other and before you know it I’m completely absorbed. Working sometimes late into the night 2-3am I rarely know what time it is I sometimes think why are my eyes feeling funny and I realise they are trying to close at which point I stop.
How did you develop your style?
M.L.- I don’t like the word style, it makes me think of Superman – that one part an actor (Christopher Reeves) did that will forever define him, “I want to see that new thriller, you know the one that superman is in!”
I realise that I am to nails what Christopher Reeves was to Superman. I also accept that it makes me who I am, but I will not allow it to narrow my own ambitions and creative intentions.
It has of cause given me exposure all over the world and has opened many doors for me. It pays the mortgage and allows me to invest money back into different projects.
I don’t think developing a style is something I have ever actively done. It is a part of my personality which is expressed visually in the things I create.
1. What made you interested in art/got you started on your path to becoming an artist?
M.L.- It’s a strange question, can a cow do without grass, its kind of like that, I managed to make a good job of being a businessman and quietly working away at my art. Not needing to sell it. Only exhibiting to friends and family. I never doubted that I wouldn’t finally be a full time artist, but I did procrastinate for far too long about going full time. Its that letting go of one life and throwing yourself into another. It was hard but also so easy. I was thinking today that I can hardly remember anything about my life in business. But all those stress related illnesses I had, have one by one gone away.
2. Did your parents support your artistic endeavors, and how did that help or hurt you?
M.L.- My Mum & Dad are very conservative, they really didn’t see how it was possible to make a living as an artist and gave me no encouragement at all. But they did support me financially when I first started and my Father is now my biggest fan and regularly gets involved in marketing and even helps with moving and hanging my art for exhibitions.
3. How long have you been creating art?
M.L.- I have never stopped creating art. I had my first studio when I was around 13, I begged my Dad to let me convert the garden shed into studio, it was great in the summer but not so good in the winter. Then when I bought my first house I always had a bedroom converted to a studio and it has been like that ever since. My first nail sculpture was in 2004. At this point I began to think it was time to quit the family business and go full time but I didn’t make the break until 2009. I now have a gallery near Leeds Bradford airport on three floors. I have two studios, and a gallery at my home.
4. Who is your greatest single inspiration?
M.L.- Sorry I can’t say one person I admire so many, but to limited it to a few: Jackson Pollack, David Hockney, Damien Hurst, Jeff Koons, Frank Lloyd Wright.
5. Where do you find inspiration for your work?
M.L.- At traffic lights and whilst I drive, it sounds a bit scary and it probably is, but I get my best ideas that way.
6. How many mediums do you work with and what are they?
M.L.- Nails, Acrylic, Gilding, Oils, charcoals, watercolours, photography, Oak, stainless, concrete, and other stuff as well.
7. What (if any) art movement would you consider yourself part of, or closest to, and why?
M.L.- Not for me to say, people have difficulty in categorizing me.
8. How long do you spend in the studio per week?
M.L.- A long time and not long enough. I once had a stainless steel sculpture it was five meters high and the fabricators delivered it very late. The deadline was so tight, I worked, first day 5 hrs to work out how long it would take, I then worked 8 fourteen hour days, one thirteen hour day and finally one eight hour day to finish it in time for installation in Lister Park, in Bradford. You can watch the making and installation on my youtube channel www.youtube.com/levineart
9. How long on average would you say you spend on any given piece?
M.L.- I average three to four weeks on a nail sculpture, not including the time spent organising models and working out what I plan to do.
10. Who would you say you direct your art towards, your target audience?
M.L.- The nail sculptures are bought by wealthy individuals who want something that makes a bit of a statement in their home, a bit of wow when you walk into the hall. The want to buy something that not everyone can afford, that is instantly recognisable, I get a lot of great feed back from clients who buy directly from me.
11. What is your most used tool in the studio?
M.L.- Ha got to be my hammer!
12. What is art to you?
M.L.- The visual expression of ones thoughts.
13. How do you go about booking shows?
M.L.- I prefer to be asked to exhibit as then all of this is taken care of for you. But when you first start out try to network before an event, join the rotary club or other such organisation, have a friend join then invite them to the exhibition. Don’t rely on inviting the same people. Make sure the event is well publicised, banners near busy roads etc. Always check what’s on first don’t clash with a big sporting event, you’ll get a small turnout. When you can afford it get a PR company involved. One tip, if you are appearing with other artists and there is a catalogue take a leaf out of David Hockneys book. He often has very long titles to his work with a subtitle just so that he takes up more space in the catalogue than everyone else.
14. How do you advertise you work?
M.L.- Word of mouth, publicity and networking.
15. Is your art your sole way of supporting yourself? If not, what other job do you have? If so, how long did it take before you were able to do so?
M.L.- Yes it is now, prior to this I would do whatever I needed to do to keep afloat.
16. Where do most of your sales come from?
M.L.- I sell locally, London and aboard, to places like Beirut, Portugal, Hungary and China.
17. How do you document your sales for authentication purposes?
M.L.- The invoice is a pretty good and all my work is photographed, and signed with a special signature which would be difficult to copy.
18. How do you fund your pieces? (self-funded, grants, commissions, patrons etc.)
M.L.- I do all four.
19. How do you feel about art school and how it shapes/equips artists vs. unschooled artists?
M.L.- Art school was a fantastic time and would not have missed it for the world. But I guess life shapes you and I think you are born with certain abilities which you can shape overtime, but this question is like nature or nurture, I think a bit of both, and art school will definitely put you on the right road, but being unschooled makes you no less of an artist. You may however find it harder to be accepted by investors.
Lastly I would like to conclude the interview on a personal note from you to the reader by asking; what do you know now that you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
M.L.- I don’t really ever look back and think that was a mistake, but I guess I would say I should have made the move to being a full time artist much sooner in my life, but if I had perhaps I would not have had so many interesting experiences traveling around the world on business and perhaps I would have missed out on working with my Brother & Father.
We would like to extend a special thanks to Marcus Levine for a most insightful interview and his interest in our study.
To see more of Marcus Levine work, contact artist, join mailing list or order prints visit:
For fan page visit:
Interview between Ar-Tx writer Hunter McLeod and Marcus Levine on 2/14/2012.
Site updated on 2/19/2012
*Images posted by permission. All rights reserved, copyright to Marcus Levine. Images may not be duplicated, copied, posted or downloaded without written permission from the artist under penalty of law.
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