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Scarlet Tanager 

click to enlarge Scarlet Tanager - laura levine | acrylic and vintage trading stamps on birch panel | 2006
  • Scarlet Tanagerlaura levine | acrylic and vintage trading stamps on birch panel | 2006

Scarlet Tanager
laura levine | acrylic and vintage trading stamps on birch panel | 2006

Having never taken an art class, Laura Levine started painting as a hobby. While studying cultural anthropology at Harvard University, she spent most of her free time as the photo editor of the newspaper. After graduation, she continued taking pictures, photographing many musicians like James Brown, Madonna, and Joey Ramone on assignment for music magazines. Levine also directed a few music videos and worked on a film with REM. Her photographs appeared on magazine and album covers, as well as in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. After taking pictures throughout the ’80s, she stopped in the mid ’90s. “I was ready to move on and try new things, creatively,” says Levine.

After putting down the camera, Levine taught herself how to paint. “There’s much more freedom with painting,” says Levine. “You’re creating something from scratch. I get more deeply involved in painting.” She will often take on one subject and create 10 to 20 pieces based on it. In keeping with the theme of music, she painted a series of music pioneers, which she developed and adapted into a sequence of books with author Holly George-Warren, the first of which was Shake Rattle and Roll: The Founders of Rock & Roll (Houghton Mifflin, 2001).

Levine got the idea for the series of bird paintings from which Scarlet Tanager is from while looking out the window. “There were all these birds coming to the bird feeder,” says Levine. “I just started to paint all the birds I saw.” From there, she continued to make paintings of common birds in North America. Levine puts a great deal of effort into researching the birds, checking bird guides to make sure she has the birds’ regions and appearances right.

Levine owns a shop in Phoenicia dedicated to clutter. Filled with unusual antiques and random odd objects, her shop, Mystery Spot Antiques, is like a large yard sale, and she admits that she draws much of her inspiration for her work from yard sales. Levine found the ’50s and ’60s trading stamps that are the background of the bird series at a yard sale in Kingston. “I’ve become addicted to them,” she says. “All the different colors and designs.” The stamps are the first object ever purchased at a yard sale to actually be integrated into her pieces. The bird paintings also represent the first time she has taken on a subject from nature; before, she had painted mostly human portraits.

Currently living in New York City, Levine is not done with birds. She plans to continue painting birds, and recently made a three-foot-by-three foot piece.

“Tweet Suite: Birds of North America” by Laura Levine will be at Varga Gallery in Woodstock from May 22 through June 4. An opening reception will take place on May 24 from 6 to 9pm. (845) 679-4005;

Speaking of...

  • Photographer, illustrator, painter, film maker, and antique store owner, Laura Levine does it all.


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