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About this Artist
Robert Levers (American 1930-1991) was a senior faculty member in painting at the University of Texas at Austin. His lithographs and etchings exhibit the same wry humor and extraordinary draftsmanship as his fantastic oil paintings. Levers was a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in 1976 and 1984. He was included in the American exhibition at the Venice Bienale in 1984, and had a retrospective exhibition at Laguna Gloria Art Museum in 1991.
ROBERT L. LEVERS, JR. (Am., 1930-1992)
Painter and printmaker Robert “Bob” Levers had a distinguished thirty-year career as a popular art professor at the University of Texas-Austin. Having studied with Josef Albers at Yale University, he moved rapidly through abstract styles and developed his unique figurative manner of working. A serious student of ancient Mexican art as well as European Renaissance art, Levers was a master painter and draftsman with a special affinity for the anatomical features of the human figure. One of his masterpieces was a large oil painting inspired by a dream he had: The Destruction of Memorial Stadium; it was included in the exhibition Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained in the U. S. Pavilion of the 1984 Venice Biennale. In this work as in many of his paintings and watercolors, his skies have been compared to those of Titian and his figures to those of Tintoretto. This subject inspired a long series of works by Levers in which he depicted many scenes attendant to the event. He was a fervent critic of the U. S. military-industrial complex and had no patience for corrupt politicians and warmongering. With the passion of a pacifist and the dark humor of a satirist, he expressed in various mediums the insanity of war, beginning with Viet Nam and continuing through Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War.
Presciently, Levers’ also turned his attention to terrorism long before it had become ubiquitous. He addressed the subject in several handsome prints he made at Peregrine Press in Dallas. In the spring of 1990, he came to Flatbed for his first work session and created Terrorists Juggling Plates--a print commissioned by Austin’s KLRU PBS station for their upcoming auction. With his usual mixture of serious social criticism and acerbic wit, he depicted the terrorist in a disastrous attempt at juggling, freezing the plates in the air just before they come crashing down around him, no doubt the artist’s metaphor for the futility of the terrorist’s efforts. Working with Brimberry, Levers used soft-ground etching for the print, a technique that perfectly showcases his masterful drawing and at once affords him the freedom to render the fluid and convincing gesture of the figure.
During that session in the shop, Levers had first developed a smaller plate that was shelved at the time due to some technical difficulties with it, but eventually published posthumously in 1998 as Four Terrorists Trapped in a Bullring. Again, Levers’ could not resist placing the would-be terrorist in a ridiculous position, with paper airplanes from the audience reigning down upon him.
In early 1991, Levers returned to the shop to create his graphic masterpiece, Victory, the Celebration. It would become the last printmaking project by the artist before his untimely death by heart attack. Coming on the heels of “Operation Desert Storm”—the first U. S. invasion of Iraq—Levers used the opportunity to express his well-known pacifism. The darkly ironic image depicts three skeletal uniformed figures—each supported by puppet strings—being led by a bandmaster in a musical “celebration” of the supposed liberation of Kuwait. The smoke from oil-well fires is visible in the background. Brimberry collaborated with Levers in the creation of the 36” x 48” inch plate. In two etching sessions of soft-ground drawings he built up the graphic marks and used drypoint engraving to add dark strokes in the atmosphere and in the torsos. Levers labored long on the huge matrix, proofing extensively, and the resulting edition of fifteen became one of the artist’s iconic works. Comparisons of this print to Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War series are unavoidable; the anti-Nazi works of the German artist Max Beckman also come to mind. What distinguishes Levers’ social commentary, however, is the way he combined his ruthless critiques with his campy sense of humor. That twinkle in his eye, along with the consistent integrity of his politics and his exceptional artistry, insures that his work will have a timeless and universal appeal.
Robert Levers was included in over 100 group exhibitions and nineteen solo exhibitions at such museums as the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston , Texas, the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery in Austin, and galleries in New York City, Washington, D. C., Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Dallas. In 1984 his work was included in Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained, the U. S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Faculty Grant, in addition to many other awards and grants from the University of Texas. The university named him the Leslie Waggener Professor of Fine Arts in 1987. Shortly before his death, Laguna Gloria Art Museum in Austin organized a retrospective of his work that traveled to several other institutions. Commenting on his work at that time Levers remarked, "things, well, they always have been sort of absurd and cruel and kind all at the same time; it's such a stew, and I just try to respond to this as richly as I can." His work is included in the collections of the Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, and the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas. He was included in the 1986 book Fifty Texas Artists: A Critical Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in Texas.
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