Whitehot Magazine

Signs from Above: An interview with Gosha Levochkin

Gosha Levochkin. Signs from Above, 2024. Photo courtesy of The Hole.

By CLARE GEMIMA April 9, 2024

In Signs from Above, Gosha Levochkin's solo-exhibition at The Hole, a new body of paintings merge Constructivist-like imagery with the overdosed energies of modern cities like Tokyo and New York. Levochkin describes his work as a visual continuum of his early passions, drawing from post-Soviet design, bootleg Japanese animations, and western cinema.

Central to Levochkin's philosophy is the pursuit of freedom within composition, balancing restraint with moments of liberation. He employs analog techniques with digitally infused flair, pushing the boundaries of color and form while eschewing screen based tools in favor of a physical painting practice. 

Nostalgia imbues Levochkin's vibrant paintings, reflecting on the past, while simultaneously presenting a fresh perspective on the future. Influenced by Chicago Imagists like Roger Brown and Karl Wirsum, he draws inspiration from their portrayal of urban landscapes and nonconformist aesthetics.

Signs from Above’s paintings like Constantly Growing, Water into Wine, and Always on Time embody spirits of entrepreneurial endeavors and collective identities that feature throughout Levochkin's nuanced interplay between commerce, culture, time, and space.  

Gosha Levochkin. Signs from Above, 2024. Photo courtesy of The Hole.

Clare Gemima: Signs from Above unfolds as a body of urban landscape paintings which intricately blend influences reminiscent of the Constructivism movement (1915-1940), with the vibrant energy of modern day metropolises like Tokyo and New York. How have these diverse elements and ideas harmonized to manifest in this new series of work?

Gosha Levochkin: It’s a visual continuum of my very first loves and curiosities. Having experienced post Soviet design mixed with imported bootleg Japanese animations, with splashes of American made movies(that mainly take place in New York), I’m finally feeling all caught up and situated in my present day studio practice. I feel as though I am having what the Dutch or the French expressionist painters experienced once they discovered Japanese woodblock prints. In the case of Signs from Above, I’m my own woodblock print – rediscovering myself, and finding something new that excites me as though I've gotten to experience it for the very first time, all over again. 

Clare Gemima: You mention seeking moments of freedom in each painting, yet many of your paintings' compositions are restrictive and cropped. In an article detailing the Constructivism movement and its associated attitudes by Shira Wolfe, she notes: "Construction ruled over, for example, classic painterly concerns such as composition." Her statement made me want to learn more about your interpretation. Could you further elaborate on your own definition of freedom? Are you referring to a sense of playfulness as you paint, gesturing to the political freedoms that the Constructivism movement motivated,or something else altogether?

Gosha Levochkin: Each completed work should have some type of moment of freedom that I can see, which in turn allows me to make the next painting feel even freer. Just hints of this though - not too much. In theory, each individual has a gift of their own representation of freedom. I like your point on political freedom, but I don’t want full anarchy in my practice, so to speak. I often think of Malevich after he came back from his abstract constructivist works to figuration. If only there was more time for him, he would probably push to have even more freedom in his figuration and treatment of volume and space today. After all, all I’m participating with is space. Synthetic anarchy is just living with ideology. There’s nothing worse than hiding from your own truth. And by truth, I mean all the things you love, respect and that excite you to explore new ways of using colors, arranging compositions, and rendering subjects in your own studio practice. 

Constantly Growing, 2023. Acrylic on canvas. 52 x 49 in. Photo courtesy of The Hole. 

Clare Gemima: You use adrenaline fueled colors, painted in sharp, graphic, and sometimes fuzzy finishings. Many of the gradients, and outer glows of some of your line work refer directly to tools accessible in photoshop. What happens when you transform these digital elements onto canvas?  

Gosha Levochkin: Surprisingly, I don’t use Photoshop or any digital tools to help me compose my images. Not that I’m against it. I think my conditioning living in this time has highly developed my own way of looking at color and the digital language. That was unavoidable when I was growing up playing the first GEN 3-D video games, while my first animation movie in America was Toy Story. I was conditioned to explore and deconstruct the 3-D and poly space with physical practice. The generation before me was, I think, still working off flat references, but my generation had the introduction to three dimensional spaces as a useful resource. Not to sound like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin, but I couldn’t afford to buy a computer with any program as a kid. Oddly, I did get my hands on a PS1 home console, which eventually became the Bible that catapulted my point of view. I would pause the game and study each frame in intense detail. It’s the conditioning of these references over time that makes me use my tools the way I do while painting. 

Clare Gemima: Similarly, your paintings blur the boundaries between analog and digital techniques, embracing a pre-computing language reminiscent of constructivism. How do you treat traditional methods while embracing digitally-influenced techniques? 

Gosha Levochkin:I love how color looks on a digital screen, and how vibrant it appears on its surface. It’s my personal duty to push color into uncomfortable positions in painting… even host some type of small rivalry between me and digital colors themselves. I think, “Wow I wanna try that!”, or come up with a better solution that far exceeds my rival’s digital  capabilities. Think again to those Japanese woodblock prints that van Gogh got his hands on. I love how, instead of looking at the flat final image of the wood block print, he looked at the wood block print itself. I’m looking at digital and traditional methods in a similar way. Deconstructing them for the purpose of my way of working. 

Always on Time, 2024. Acrylic on canvas. 53 x 62 in. Photo courtesy of The Hole.

Clare Gemima: Your works are devoid of references to certain time periods, yet they evoke echoes of the past. They also claim to ignite a ‘vintage vision’ of the future. How does nostalgia play into your paintings? 

Gosha Levochkin:Never shying away from your curiosity’ is my number one mantra when composing anything. Only after painting 3-4 canvases would I be able to see a sense of truth reveal itself, or establish if there was anything in the painting that evoked echoes of nostalgic or futuristic thought. 

I love getting surprised by what my work discovers when it explores the in-betweens of the past and the future, as well as finding out if any of my subjects hold any current relevance. I think there’s an invisible spotlight above me that goes around in circles and shines. Sometimes the spotlight returns, and re-highlights the same idea, to which I’ll take a double note. My walk to the studio has so many of those moments, and by the time I get to the studio, my suggestion box is full of notes. At the moment, the spotlight has shone on art deco buildings with interventions of modern construction. How these compliment the buildings, and at often times don’t. I need a good balance between the past, the present, and the future. I treat these 3 elements as though they are best friends for forever, which means they love and fight with one another, constantly. 

Clare Gemima: Similarly, how do you research the ‘future’ and the realm of ‘vintage’ in reference to your paintings, and which aspects of these ideas do you choose to adopt or discard? 

Gosha Levochkin: Going back to dictatorship, haha! That’s what I don’t want in my psychology when I’m working. When I find myself overwhelmed by references from the past, that’s when my rebellion comes into play, and discards any other form of reason.

The only way I can get into future images is not to overstay my welcome with nostalgia. I think, based on self reflection and statistics, that my ideas refresh and improve my practice. It’s simply an update to better myself, to feel new, fresh, and able to take on more storage and challenges that surprise me. This keep my curiosity on high alert. 

Water into Wine, 2023. Acrylic on canvas. 53 x 46 in. Photo courtesy of The Hole.

Clare Gemima: You draw inspiration from rhythmic colorists and Chicago Imagists (1966 – 1973), such as Roger Brown (1941 - 1997) and Karl Wirsum (1939 - 2021), whose works exuded a sense of grotesquerie and nonconformity to the trends of New York’s art scene at the time. What aspects of these artists' works initially captivated you? 

Gosha Levochkin: One of the first shows that I saw in New York when I did my Chelsea Gallery walk, which became a monthly ritual, was Erik Parker. He was the gateway drug to what I was already interested in back in California, (my visual sensei, back in LA was Ken Price). With Erik Parker being my first East Coast excitement, it was inevitable that I’d eventually  stumble upon Karl Wirsum and Roger Brown. I love how Brown depicts the windows in those concrete jungle buildings, that beckon viewers into the intimate relationship between himself and his painting’s enormous surroundings. I had no idea that he painted small windows in his work. It came to me as a surprise when I had a guest visit to my studio, and they mentioned his name to me. I stumbled upon Wirsum at Derek Eller Gallery years ago, and picked up a small book that the gallery had made of his drawings and paintings. In the back of the catalog, there were short interviews with many artists, amongst them was Erik Parker. As soon as his name popped up, I thought “damn, I’m on the right track with my visual curiosity.” A voice inside of my head said “hey kid, you're looking at the right stuff!

Clare Gemima: The fluidity of form and imagery invites viewers to explore alternate interpretations of signage, and lends characterization to your forms, like the large, pretty, and very personable rose with legs in Constantly Growing. I am curious about you, as the artist, in relation to your subjects. Do you have relationships with the establishments that these signs advertise, or are they created merely from imaginative thoughts and ideas?

Gosha Levochkin: Funny story about Constantly Growing.

At one point, it was an entirely different, spontaneously created painting. I decided to paint over it, and add the large flower with legs. As I have previously mentioned, the 3 loose unhinged best friends that live inside my studio practice… Well, one of them must have gotten a little too unhinged, and I needed to investigate their behavior. 

I’ve always known someone that has started a small business, especially having experienced being an immigrant and knowing the feeling of taking on an endeavor of this scale. Being surrounded by the excitement of what works and doesn’t work, I think the first thing that naturally occurs in business, regardless of its outcome, begins with a type of sign or identity that symbolizes what you have to offer. The sign of the business becomes an identity, and it’s the love and belief of that identity that becomes the spirit of that object or manifesto, not unlike a religion. I’m always looking at dedicated worshipers within the establishment that start rebelling, finding flaws within the movement, and start to reclaim their own identity by looking back to the roots of what made them go forward in the first place. On view March 9 through April 14, 2024 at The Hole, New York. WM

Clare Gemima

Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.

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