A question I often ask artists is “what music do you listen to while painting?” Beloved Montclair based painter, muralist, puppeteer, children’s author and illustrator Jennifer Levine has done me one better: For the past six months, with fellow artist, singer-songwriter and friend Scott Massarsky, she has been painting songs.
It gets better: Levine and Massarsky have embarked on a series of performance art events, and if you missed the two recent ones at Montclair’s @ The Arts Studio and at the Valley Arts District (VAD) Orange/West Orange IronWorks Gallery, hasten to mark Sunday, Oct. 23 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on your and your kids’ calendars. Levine will back at IronWorks that afternoon painting while Scott plays and sings as part of an intriguingly synergistic art interaction.
“I noticed I was painting to the one of Scott’s CDs over and over,” Levine said during a recent conversation at IronWorks. “One day, the idea popped into my head to ask Scott to play in my studio while I painted.”
The collaboration worked, leading to a new body of paintings on exhibit all this month at the IronWorks Gallery and, for Scott, to a new body of songs. “We’re an energy exchange for each other,” Levine said. “He’s also a painter and was functioning as a mentor and critic giving me feedback during the process. And he was simultaneously creating songs based on what I was painting.” Massarsky, who lives in Oakland, N.J., is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts.
“We weren’t certain if people would be interested in observing me while I painted,” Levine said, “But we’ve learned that our joint performance is a permission giving between the artists and non artists. People feel light and open and want to create, too.”
And create is just what the audience does, as people join Scott with their own instruments, form drum circle or, maybe dance.
“On the 23rd, we are going to have butcher block paper and paints so kids and parents can drop in at anytime and paint along, too,” said Lorena LaGrassa, the executive director of the not for profit Valley Arts District, Inc. “Jennifer and Scott are perfect for us, we are about community and supporting artists. Jennifer’s art is about human and community relations,” LaGrassa said.
Over in Montclair, her quartet of outdoor murals has become part of the visual landscape and part of the community, too. In the VAD, in addition to her one woman show at IronWorks, she has been part of group shows there and two of her works were big hits at this past summer’s “Friends of Arts Unbound” fundraising exhibit.
As to “Painting a Song,” which opened on September 20, it’s a remarkable exhibit made even more so when you learn that Levine is a self-taught artist. She combines the direct, painter to viewer connection often found in outsider art and the palette and fluid brush strokes of a trained artist. Her work becomes even more remarkable still, when you learn that Levine, who loved art as young child, took a long hiatus from painting: She stopped painting at age 5 and resumed only a few years ago at age 40. She was soon embraced by the prestigious Outsider Art Gallery in Frenchtown, N.J.
During the intervening years, Levine earned a BA in Jewish Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and graduated from the two year conservatory program at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. She garners love letter reviews for her Princess Moxie puppet theater. Oh, and she also runs a 300 plus Hebrew School in Closter, N.J.
It’s an exultant collection of canvases. Her paintings, in truth, are songs with human stories to tell. You can feel the flow of rhythm in her composition. Sometimes she paints her own lyrics, too, her freehand script outlining and defining her figures, as in “You Are What You Read.”
Levine’s direct vision and assured hand will grab your heart and soul and sometimes make you laugh and sometimes make you think and always make you feel.
As to interactive art, here’s another way you can join the party:
Artist Toni Thomas, the director of YEMA GALLERY at 540B Freeman Street, Orange, YEMA GALLERY is opening a new season tonight, Oct. 8 from 7 p.m.- 10 p.m. with an everybody-get-involved fundraising House Rent Party: Interactive art will be the name of the game. Tickets are $20 and proceeds benefit the not for profit ARTSETC, INC which helps underwrite YEMA and Catfish Friday.
“Rent parties were common in Harlem during the 1920s, as unscrupulous landlords raised rent and families and artists had to scramble for ways to raise money,” Thomas said. Thomas and friends are taking the concept and adding a 1970s theme. Expect a multimedia and exciting event with visual arts, poetry reading & spoken word and more. Also, expect the unexpected.
“We’re both looking to alleviate a financial burden and call on the creativity of both our artists and all who come,” Thomas said.
Learn more about the Valley Arts District at www.valleyarts.org and about ARTS ETC at www.artsetcnow.org. IronWorks Gallery is at 406 Tompkins Street, Orange, NJ and open most weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment. Call at (973) 674-0183