What's on Los Angeles | Index


by Jody Zellen

August 9, 2018


Robert Levine
Deep End
C. Nichols Project
July 14 - August 30, 2018


Robert Levine installation view and XXV, 2018

When it comes to depicting the Los Angeles landscape, over the years the iconic swimming pool has become a subject loaded with myriad associations. Pools have appeared in paintings by Eric Fischl and David Hockney. Ed Ruscha's photographic project, Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass (1968) also comes to mind, as does its recent reinterpretation by Amy Park. It is hard not to think of skateboarders whose first ramps were dilapidated pools near Santa Monica and Venice, CA.

Robert Levine's exhibition, entitled "Deep End," consist of sixteen oil paintings of peopleless swimming pools. These (same-sized, 9 x 12 inch) works depict differently shaped blue-water pools and the tiled area that surrounds them, isolated from their environs which have been replaced by thick black paint. The paintings are purposely minimal and stripped of any identifying location or landscaping. Levine's focus is the reflective qualities of the sun on the water creating different shades of blue and the contours of the pool in relation to the void of the missing landscape.

Levine's project is both a conceptual and creative endeavor. Compositionally, he emulates the close cropped documentary/deadpan style of Ruscha's photography, yet he chooses to create his paintings in oil. This gives them a uniqueness as well as a glowing aura that relates to painting in the plein-air tradition. However, it is clear that Levine works from photographs and not onsite. The sixteen paintings are installed in a horizontal line, evenly spaced along the gallery walls which have been painted concrete gray to match the edges of the pools. This linear presentation emphasizes their seriality and allows for interesting comparisons.

XXV (all works 2018) is the most ornate pool in the series. Here, Levine depicts a kidney-shaped pool surrounded by irregular gray and tan tiles. A small white rectangle (a low diving board) protrudes into the mottled blue water. Levine articulates the steps from the tiles edge into the pool as well as a small inlet. One could imagine a bright green lawn or garden encircling the tiles yet in Levine's depiction the background has been painted a deep black. This void is perplexing as well as humorous as it alludes to the absurd possibility that the entire pool area has been plucked from its landscape and is floating in an indefinable and infinite space.

XII is the most spare. This pool has no ladders or accoutrements and is simply a receding kidney shape filled with shades of blue, surrounded by a grayish border which meets a jet black rectangle toward the horizon. XII hovers between abstraction and representation. In other paintings, Levine carefully delineates the stairs leading into the water, various pool rails or slides as well as the different depths of the water. While it is possible to imagine the pools as "real," it is hard to contemplate "taking a dip" into such an unknown space. While deep end alludes to the the deep end of a swimming pool, it also suggests risk and the notion of being irrationally carried away. In presenting this traditional Los Angeles motif as generic, devoid of context and surrounded by darkness, Levine associates the deep end with science fiction and transformation. Going off the deep end leads to a transcendent body of work.