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Paintings so good, you’ll want to lick them May 17, 2008

Posted by lollywoodhungama in Uncategorized.

Don’t hesitate if you feel like reaching out and touching one of Césan d’Ornellas Levine’s paintings.That’s exactly what she wants you to do.

“I’ve even had people say, ‘I just want to lick it’,” the Richmond Hill artist says with a laugh.

“People really want to engage with the work. It’s a very sensual experience.”

Every aspect of artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine’s life is connected, including her paintings and lifestyle. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE SOMERVILLE


For Césan (professionally, she uses just her first name), art is something that comes from a deep spiritual place, making it all the easier to share with others.

“The people who buy my work, what they’re looking for is art that’s passionate and loving,” she says, emphasizing both words. “Original art does have a life of its own. It emits an energy and you can interact with it.”

Raised in Peterborough, Césan had a formative experience at a young age visiting nearby petroglyphs, which is primitive art, carved into rocks. A pre-schooler at the time, it connected art, history and spirituality for her, she said.

“As a four-year-old, I was having these mystical experiences with this incredible rock art,” she says.

As a young adult, she travelled to Asia, visiting sites in Burma, Kathmandu and Thailand. Again, spirituality rose to the fore as she found herself drawn to shamanic art, Tibetan prayer wheels and other mystical works.

When she met her husband, Mark Levine, he introduced her to Judaica and Judaism’s mystical side.

“All along the way, I was having these incredible touchstones,” she says.

She describes her worldview as “pantheistic”, respecting all faiths and all these diverse elements can be seen in her artwork.

She also recalls forming an early connection with the work of Native Canadian painter Norval Morriseau.

“He was deeply spiritual and he expressed his mystical beliefs through his artwork,” she says.

It is a philosophy that clearly drives her own work today.

While all this percolated, it was not until her early 20s that she began painting, while studying art history and world religions at McMaster University.

Another artistic mentor, Wassily Kandinsky, came to her through his books before she even saw his paintings.

“It allowed me to kind of commune with him on a creative level.His work and his writings became the final a-ha experience for me,” she says.

She was particularly impressed by his belief art could achieve a level of spirituality.

“I’ve just always connected the two: art is sacred,” she says.

Césan has lived in Richmond Hill for 14 years in a low-lying Frank Lloyd Wright-style structure, backing onto a woodlot between York Central Hospital and Mill Pond. Even on an overcast day, natural light spills in through the back wall of windows.

Every aspect of her life is connected, including her painting, so she is careful about what she eats, practises yoga and tries to maintain balance in her life.

The house and its pastoral setting play into that perfectly.

“I like being able to walk outside with the canvas and just have that connection with the natural world,” she says.

By coincidence, the house has an artistic heritage of its own, as the former residence of twin brothers and sculptors David and Royden Rabinowich.

Many of the sculptures that filled the house now are showcased at the National Gallery.

“There’s a heartbeat of art in this house,” she says.

Being in a meditative state, even fasting beforehand, is something Césan must do before going to work; sometimes her husband comes into the studio without her even noticing.

Her studio is well-lit, crammed with tubes of acrylic paint and CDs ranging from Leonard Cohen and the Grateful Dead to pianist Keith Jarrett and Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

She tends to start painting with the canvas lying on the floor, while walking barefoot around it.

“It’s quite physically exhausting to be painting flat on the floor,” she says, but it is something necessitated by her liberal use of paint.

Césan is self-taught and finds her technique always evolving and, she hopes, improving.

“I really feel like I have deepened and resolved some issues I’ve been working on,” she says of the work, part of a new solo show at Toronto’s Petroff Gallery.

If there is something that strikes you about Césan’s work, even more than the textures, it is the colours, always bold and bright.

The ‘go for it’ mentality is something she got from Kandinsky and Morriseau, along with pop artist Peter Max.

“There are people who are afraid of colour and there are people who love colour,” she says.

Césan works in a series based on iconographic images.

Gallery owner Sarah Petroff describes the heart-and-sun-centric works now on display as “incredibly robust, glorious, warm images.”

People have walked into the gallery, drawn by the striking imagery, she said. Like Césan, she hopes people explore the paintings in every possible way.

“Our intuitive physical reaction is to lift your hand to touch, but we’re told so consistently, don’t touch, don’t touch!” she says.

Licking them, however, is probably inadvisable.

Go to petroffgallery.com for more on the exhibit or call 416-782-1696. Petroff Gallery is at 334 Dundas St. W. The show runs to June 15. 



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