Pearl Levy    
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"My work seeks to represent the strength and frailties of humanity and the ambivalence of our inner feelings. These characteristics blend together to epitomize the perseverance of the human spirit." - Pearl Levy


NICE TOUCH by Stephanie Whittaker
PEARL LEVY: WOMEN OF STONE by Louise-Marie Bédard
THE SHAPE OF THE SOUL by Jean-Claude Leblond
Review by John Meyer, Editor, Magazin'Art
Review by Louise-Marie Bédard

Montreal Home Magazine, Volume 2, Fall 2009

Bronze or marble, whatever medium is the message, a Levy sculpture is a tactile experience

By Stephanie Whittaker

One of the highest compliments you can offer Pearl Levy about her art is to touch it. And that's a good thing because its difficult to resist the urge to run one's hands over the sinewy marble sculptures and intricate bronzes the Montreal sculptor produces.

"I love it when people touch the pieces," Levy says.

There's plenty to appreciate in Levy's ambiguous interpretations of rolling landscapes. Or is it the human body? A touch or two may reveal the artist's intent.

Levy sculpts in both stone and bronze. The process of working with each medium is the reverse of the other. "When you work with stone, you're breaking something down," she says. "With bronze, you’re building up the form."

A recurring theme in all her work is the curvilinear feminine shape. With her rounded hips, Free Spirit, a 111-centimetre-tall marble, appears to be striding forward. Materna, a 45-centimetre-tall pink marble piece bears a slightly swollen belly. And First Born, a 66-centimetre marble, depicts the enveloping arm of a round-hipped mother across a swaddled baby.

Many of the bronzes depict the human body as tall and willowy. There are mothers holding babies, amorous couples gazing at each other, fathers wrapping their children in protective embraces. "When they're wrapped together, it's because they belong together. They become one," she says.

While the number of bronzes Levy produces from a single cast never exceeds nine, she created 10 pieces in 2004 of a figure that represents her in a grandmotherly pose, its arms outstretched in a half-moon stance to embrace a child. Each of her eight grandchildren was given one to celebrate Levy's birthday. "I call it 'the everlasting hug'," she says.

Levy loves the three-dimensionality of sculpting, which she says stole her heart away from painting, an art form she had been learning in classes when her children were young. The switch came in 1970 when she met sculptor Stanley Lewis, who was teaching a painting class at Lord Reading Yacht Club in Beaconsfield,. "I told Stanley that I didn't want to paint and that I wanted him to teach me to sculpt," she says. "He handed me a piece of soapstone and a rasp. I didn’t know what to do with it. But the minute I touched that stone, that was the end of my painting days."

She continued sculpting under Lewis's tutelage for the next two years at the Saidye Bronfman Centre, then enrolled in the fine-arts program at UQAM and completed her bachelor's degree in the early 80s.

After founding a co-operative studio with a couple of students and her professor, Joan Esar, Levy moved in 1989 into her current solo studio, a light-filled space in a former mattress factory on St. Ambroise St., near the Lachine Canal that houses a community of artists.

She works three or four days a week on pieces that are sold in six galleries as far afield as Toronto and Baie St. Paul. Her pieces are in personal and corporate collections and range in price from $2,000 to $25,000.

The ambiguity in the stone sculptures is probably attributable to the way she perceives landscape. "You don’t have to look too far for inspiration," she says. "It occurs whenever I look at a landscape and see people in it. You can imagine hills as a backside or it could be a head or figures touching each other."

A curvaceous piece she calls Paysage straddles the grey area between landscape and human body. "This could be a road or a breast," she says.

Surprises sometimes emerge from imperfect stone that change the course of her work. Recently, while working with a chunk of travertine marble, Levy noticed there was a substantial crack in the stone. "You can cut around it but sometimes the crack is deeper than you think," she says. "So either I chuck the piece of I have a two-piece sculpture. In this case, I realized two sculptures out of it, one horizontal, the other vertical. That's the challenge of working with stone. You have to redirect your ideas."

Levy occasionally muses about returning to painting. After all, marble is heavy. But she's reluctant. "The three-dimensional work allows you to look at it and touch it from all sides. All the sides have to belong to each other."

"I consider my work to be like human beings. No one is perfect. There's roundness and squareness; organic and geometric. I move that into my art. It's how I relate my art to humanity."

Parcours Magazine, Autumn 2009 (Excerpt only)

by Louise-Marie Bédard

The beauty of [Pearl Levy’s] female nudes, chaste and modest – in a word, perfect – bears the lasting imprint of a divine life, their bodies being but the garment of their soul, their intelligence and their sensitivity. Each of her works is a three-dimensional lesson in wisdom.

The universal character of her sculpture reflects the desire of modern man to discover his true common ground, shorn of the excesses of individualism, and thus the most fundamental representation of his own reality. This search for meaning and essence necessitates simplification of the form, and by eschewing any superfluous material, Pearl Levy delivers a powerful, triumphant impression.

The art of sculpting may be likened to that of the art of gardening, but then again, perhaps it is even closer to the art of love, since it is essentially about an encounter and a dialogue between oneself and the world or again, between oneself and others.

The art of gardening is an experiment in the organization and delineation of proper forms and spaces in a particular area, but nevertheless within the overall context of the outside world.  As a corollary, sculpting is the act of organizing, fashioning, and manifesting the forms and spaces outlining one’s inner self, all this again in the context of the outer world.  Far from being in opposition, gardening and sculpting effectively complement each other.

This then, is what Pearl Levy expresses in her sculptures.  In a mélange of organic and geometric forms, she passionately releases from her marble blocks and clay, those inner feelings which beg to see the light of day, and moreover, seem to become part of the real world around her.  To her mind, she, the artist, determines the destiny of the stone as a direct response to the manner in which the stone affects her.  Michael-Angelo himself conceived and experienced this profound symbiosis.

Emerging from the sculptures of Pearl Levy, we experience gentle forms, delicately underlined with graceful feminine curves; our eyes move along casually directing us to an emotional encounter, not unlike the hand that may delicately caress a body to learn and feel its wholeness and vibrancy.  There is a certain mystique in this affinity that is as difficult to describe as it is easy to experience.  Who knows… perhaps therein lies the definition of the art of love.

The uniqueness of the geometric works is truly inspirational.  The attainment of these varying textures purveys a breathing, sweating and pervasive tenacity wherein the artist refuses to be regimented into any disciplined formality.  And each time, another place in another world is created.  The stately columns centralize the mood as if this were the navel of the world, perhaps a temple!  After all, what is a temple but a meeting place… a place where one’s inner self seeks and encounters the absoluteness of perfection.

In the final analysis, what purpose does art serve if not to smooth our passage from the realistic and tangible aspects of life to another more mysterious kind of reality… the imponderable, the sacred and last but not least, the spiritual.

Jean-Claude Leblond, February 1997
Adapted from French by M. Levy

Perfection is an ideal and as such is unattainable. We are fulfilled instead by our endless pursuit of it. We are all different and our differences are the sum of our imperfections. Pearl Levy not only recognizes this but celebrates it in her sculptures. Stripped to their essentials, by choice never quite finished, they speak to viewers by way of their differences and their shared imperfections. But her sculptures do more than simply speak to us. They challenge us to respond by acknowledging the infinite variety implicit in our existence and, in doing so, extend to others the respect we wish for ourselves.

Spontaneity is not usually a characteristic of sculpture. Carving stone and casting in bronze are time consuming. Yet Levy manages to infuse her sculptures, stone and bronze alike, with a joyous suddenness, as if they were created where they stand. They reflect Levy's profound respect for her materials as much as they do her own creative strength. That quality, if nothing else, would be enough to ensure their permanence.

John Meyer, Editor, Magazin'Art

Pearl Levy, sculpting with various metals and natural rock, skillfully creates shapes and forms which are profoundly touching, wavering frequently from the spiritual to the realistic. Her consummate technique has a rare sensitivity as she captures the vibrant warmth in both her bronzes and stones. They are replete with lyrical elegance and simplicity transplanting her own feelings and emotions into the personalities that are revealed by her deft hands.

For more than thirty years, Pearl Levy, idealist and perfectionist, has sculpted shapes with great finesse especially those of the human form. Her geometric and organic lines and curves come together in a subtle manner manifesting poetic odes of love in full bloom. They transport us back to our basic human feelings, attachments and above all, our roots. Although her mastery of the art of sculpture utilizes a media that is strong and resistant, the artist nevertheless sublimates her feelings with an uncommon creative force. Well polished and radiant in the light, her works celebrate the pure quintessence of life.

Louise-Marie Bédard, Parcours Art & art de vivre