In the work of Paul Levack, accidents prevail. Levack uses a replica of an early lens to capture everyday scenes and items in a blurry, almost dreamlike fashion. He then varnishes them, mounts them on Dibond, and frames them in a thin hand-painted frame made of wood strips. They range from a landscape with almost artificial-looking clouds floating against the bright blue sky, terrain with trees, and without, to an image of a running dog to a bowl in a museum vitrine. There is little relation between the images other than the fact that essentially the same process has been used in all of them and they were made by the same photographic artist.
I’ll begin with the image “Dog.” Though the image is striking and rather beautiful, I cannot help but think of Ian McEwan’s novel “Black Dogs”—for anyone who knows the story. “Dog” evokes a frisson, and would make a perfect cover for the book. Another image that is equally evocative is the image titled “Venusberg.” It appears to be a photograph of a painting, in which seven naked children run and play across the canvas. Levack has, either accidentally or purposefully, randomly creased this oversized image, with the creases being varnished into the finished product. It’s difficult to make the leap to this being intentional when none of the other images are thus damaged, and the subject, which is rather Henry Darger-like in essence, is a bit unsettling.
In “Trees,” a storm brews above a forest. The blur and uneven surface seem to enrich the image. The sheen of the varnish also enhances “Bowl with Shrimp,” but the piece seems disconnected from the rest of the show. In “Besties,” we see two young women with phones walking down the street at a slant that feels vertiginous, phones in hand and mouths open in surprise. Unfortunately, this image also seems to be adrift and inconsistent with the deliberate and studied beauty of the other pieces in the exhibition.
In the back room, there is a marvelous image, smaller, that I learned was Levack’s from the gallery’s earlier artists’ group show. I was very taken with it, the angles intriguing, the colors watery and enchanting. It was a slanted view of perhaps window frames, but in this image, Levack’s process works well and carries some real weight. Larger isn’t always better. As in all exhibitions, there are stronger images and less effective images. Levack is clearly willing to experiment until he gets it right, a trait to be admired.
Paul Levack is on view at Bodenrader, 1620 West Carroll through January 27.