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David X. Levine mines nostalgia for ‘John Surette’ show

David X. Levine’s “Mary Brown’’ features an image from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
David X. Levine’s “Mary Brown’’ features an image from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

A pulpy streak of nostalgia runs through David X. Levine’s exhibition of works on paper at Steven Zevitas Gallery. He titles the show “John Surette,” for the Boston rocker who founded the band Boys Life, which played venues such as the Channel from 1979 to 1985. Surette and Levine both grew up in Malden.

Surette is only one part of the puzzle in a show that includes several references to pop culture from Levine’s youth, including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and a palette embracing oranges and avocados straight out of 1970s kitchen decor.

Levine has always had a sentimental streak and a deep identification with music. His last show at Zevitas was called “Amy Winehouse.” His work features colored-pencil blocks with a lush, delicately mottled visual texture, plus collaged elements.


In the past, those colored shapes have been irregular, awkward in their relationships to one another. Here, he mostly deploys rectangles and squares, yet there’s still something off about them, maybe because they look like graphics from the title sequences of an old sitcom.

In “Mary Brown,” banners of color surround a photo from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” in which Mary, at her desk, watches Ted on the phone. Among the oranges and greens are blues that nearly match Ted’s blue newscaster’s jacket and shirt, and a large column of brown that echoes the fall of Mary’s hair. It’s all bright and big, but somehow also lost and faded. As memories can be.

As for Surette, his name titles a white T-shirt with a column of blue, red, and yellow down one side. It has none of the graphic punch of a well-designed concert T-shirt. The column looks misaligned with the shirt’s seams; the shirt itself is utilitarian. The effect is at once bold and retiring, like a shy teenager trying to make a statement.


Images of the T-shirt appear in other works, along with snippets of Mary, and more bars of color — such as in “John Crying the Day Keith Moon Died.” The color — mostly perky blues and oranges — with its precise, obsessive application, holds the energy of loss, and the pure and fiery passion of a young fanboy.

Natural beauty

Matthew Fisher’s “The Rising and the Falling.”
Matthew Fisher’s “The Rising and the Falling.”

Artists who inflect natural scenes with heated palettes or stylized forms, such as John Marin and Milton Avery, describe much more than a seascape. “Transcendent Landscapes,” a lovely morsel of a show at Drive-By Projects, looks at some contemporary artists who use landscape as a launching pad for something else.

Matthew Fisher’s delectable paintings of waves that look like broad ribbons with frothy tips display high-keyed color and sharply controlled form. In “The Rising and the Falling,” two waves twine against a sky that gorgeously segues from violet to periwinkle. Within the almond-shaped gap between the shimmying waves, a wee disk on the horizon casts an undulant pink shadow.

A detail from Julia Hechtman’s “Untitled (Rorschach).”
A detail from Julia Hechtman’s “Untitled (Rorschach).”

Like Fisher, video artist Julia Hechtman reshapes the sea in her own fashion. In “Untitled (Rorschach),” light playing over gray water grows mesmerizing and kaleidoscopic as she digitally fractures and mirrors the ripples of light and shadow.

Back on land, Sue McNally, who is known for painting enormous landscapes in sizzling tones, here offers little tidbits, such as “Branch.” Color is everything — the branch is a creepy, cool mint against a lime and blue ground. The branch has less substance than its surroundings, but its spikes and twists make it look ominous.


Ernest Jolicoeur collages his own cut-up drawings. The unnerving, oozy, atmospheric passages in “No Vacancy” have startling sharp outlines. I see traces of landscape here — a heap of rocks near the bottom, what might have been a searing sunset in red and pink, now given a new, unsettling form.

These artists use nature to their own ends, some enchanting and some foreboding. The familiar ground becomes unfamiliar, and that’s what pulls us in.

Sue McNally’s “Branch.’’
Sue McNally’s “Branch.’’

Hands-on art

Michael Mittelman’s drawings and sculptures of hands, on view at Babson College’s Hollister Gallery, utilize modeling software to chart hands on paper and give them volume within stacked sheets of Plexiglas.

The sculptures evoke hands in negative space. Out of each slender sheet, Mittelman cuts a single stratum of a hand. When they’re all stacked, as in “Hand.005,” the layers form a whole open hand, its fingertips touching the very top sheet in little open pools. The effect is enticing; the form of the hand is there, but it’s empty space, visible but enclosed and untouchable.

The “Ortho” drawings are similarly described slice by slice, some of them in ink. In “Ortho.003,” the artist has laser-engraved the form of a hand, fingers dangling, in an acrylic plate, and lights it with a rainbow of LEDs. It has an eerie three-dimensionality, but a blunt cut at the wrist unfortunately makes it resemble a high-tech glove. Mittelman would have been better off continuing the engraving to the edge of the plate.


These are fun, although they lean a little too heavily on technology. His other drawings, stenciled quips of comebacks he thought up after a conversation ended, are elegantly drawn but the text is weak. “Me, neither” is no comeback. It’s conversational fluff.

More information:

DAVID X. LEVINE : John Surette

At: Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 18. 617-778-5265, www.stevenzevitas


Transcendent Landscapes

At: Drive-By Projects,

81 Spring St., Watertown, through Nov. 1.

617-835-8255, www.drive-byprojects.com

You’re Right. That would be awesome. Sculpture and drawinG by Michael Mittelman

At: Hollister Gallery, Babson College, 231 Forest St., Babson Park, through

Oct. 15. 781-239-5888, www.babsonarts.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.