Thirty-five years ago, Joan Skiver-Levy viewed a program on PBS in which a female artist was creating paintings with a pallet knife. Inspired by the technique and confident that she could master it on her own, Levy went out and purchased the materials necessary to begin painting. What has transpired since that fateful day is the birth and development of a unique and talented painter. The eighty-three year old artist uses a wide array of different media, including oil, acrylics, watercolor and charcoal, to create richly hued still life portraits, vibrant in color and depth, much like Levy herself.
“I like to work with a lot of different materials because each one has its own way of leading you to a new discovery,” said Levy.
With a long list of talents including singing with a local jazz band, writing poetry, taking award-winning photographs, creating glass towers, and even designing her own website, the multi-faceted artist has tried her hand at more forms of artistic expression than many of us could ever dream of.
Levy is fearless in her painting thanks to overcoming a multitude of hardships throughout her life. Born in Valier, Illinois and later moving to Chicago during her childhood, Levy suffered from both rickets and spinal meningitis. She has undergone thirteen surgeries and after one left her with partial facial paralysis, she learned how to properly eat and speak again. Levy left home when she was fourteen and worked two jobs to support herself. One of her early introductions to art was a job she took coloring sepia photos. Following her son’s diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD, Levy dove into research and became renowned for her expertise in using diet to control behavior disorders in children, appearing on several TV and radio shows.
“Looking back on my life, filled with many challenges, there is a wealth of experience that is embedded in my art as an expression of who I am. Perhaps being sculpted by life through trials and tribulations, my personal experience has given me a bold and fearless approach to my art,” said Levy.
After spending most of her childhood and adult years in the Chicago area, Levy and her late husband moved to Southern Illinois in the early eighties. Levy decided to further her knowledge as a painter and signed up for an art course at Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg with Professor Michael Elvestrom. He inspired the artist to move away from painting with a knife and begin using a brush to explore fine art, eventually coaxing Levy into creating a six foot by eight foot painting, entitled “The Late Great Planet Grapes”, which still hangs in SIC.
She had her first show at Longbranch Cafe in Carbondale and has displayed her buoyant paintings and collages at numerous galleries, museums, coffee shops and colleges over the last several years. Levy currently has paintings on exhibit in three different venues around Southern Illinois. The Hartley Gallery in Herrin just opened an exhibition of her work in September. She has paintings on display at the Corner Dance Hall in Whittington as well as Anthology Art & Design Gallery in Carbondale. Mark Davis, owner of Anthology, has known Levy since the two were classmates in an art class at SIC.
“We had a show of her work in August of last year. We had a really good turnout and we just decided to leave her work here. She’s very prolific. Her dynamic use of color and textures creates a bold graphic that lends an artistic and energetic feel to any space,” said Davis.
Dynamic and bold is the perfect way to describe Levy’s paintings, in which most of her subject matter is fresh fruits and vegetables. Offering an uncomplicated, matter-of-fact view of the beautiful details of everyday produce, including red bell peppers, onions, peaches and apples, the mostly self-taught artist has a unique knack for depicting fresh food in an enchanting light. Levy says she prefers to stay away from portraits and stick to still life though.
“A pepper or tomato can’t tell you that they don’t like the picture,” said Levy.
Working in her kitchen, which doubles as her studio, Levy likes to play Mozart and the old jazz standards, when she paints. Atop the glass table at which she works, Levy transforms something so unlovely and humble as a turnip, into an alluring and peaceful painting. She leaves viewers of her art to seek the natural beauty in all things they encounter.
“The pleasure of the gift we have to make something beautiful in our own eyes and thrill at what we have done and be surprised and thankful. This connection to the universe in this way does it for me,” remarked Skiver-Levy.
The octogenarian artist continues to catch our attention with her impressive array of skills and Southern Illinois has become a more lively place with her in it.