The Artist Statement’s own Valerie Leavy sits down with Liat Berdugo from the Temporary Art Review for the latest installment of Flight Pattern to talk about filth, permissionless-ness, and death & technology. You can find the full interview at the Temporary Art Review.
Valerie Levy appears smaller than the rattan hummingbird that flies eternally above her couch, and the rooms of her home overflow with citrus – some oranges, and so many lemons. Liat Berdugo pays a visit with one special lime for the occasion, and so the lemons remain decorative on their tables. Valerie’s many unframed paintings of figures engaged quite intimately seem sweet as a bunny’s shadow. This house is such an embrace that it forgets it is a boundary. Holding their glasses like little bowls, Valerie and Liat begin their toastings. -Maggie Ginestra
TO FILTH AND IDOLS: toast #1, Milagro Blanco
Valerie Leavy: I was taking painting classes with Gregory Eltringham, and he was one of the most charismatic guys, on top of being one of the best painters I had ever met. His paintings were seductive and alluring – literally sometimes, with total babes and lingerie. I wanted to be just like him. We kept in touch over the years. When I co-founded a gallery in 2011, I had to start doing shows immediately. How many artists are prepared when you reach out and say, “Can we do an entire gallery show? Do you have the work right now?” I knew he would have the body of work.
Liat Berdugo: Is that part of what you idealize about him – how prolific he is?
VL: Oh yeah, he has discipline. He would use studio class time to work on his own paintings.
LB: And you didn’t begrudge him that?
VL: No, it was awesome. What better example, you know? He was there if you needed him. And he was there to teach you technique, and how to clean your brushes, how to paint. But that guy – he was provocative.
LB: Is filth for you about that provocative nature? A lot of your work is also filthy, edgy. You’re doing things that you’re not supposed to do. Is filth for you under the umbrella of “things that provoke”?
VL: I think it’s part of being adventuresome, because you’re not bound by fear of what people will say. Think about the academy system and the way that painting used to be. If you depicted a woman in too provocative a fashion, you’d get slammed at salons, and publically ridiculed.
LB: Do you feel most of your idols have the same kind of adventuresome spirit?
VL: Absolutely. The people I idealize are Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who flaunted all social norms. The Cacophony Society. Amelia Earhart, who takes up a profession that was really a man’s world and decides that she’s going to break some records. I care about people standing up to a group and saying no. That’s the bravest thing you can do: not to submit to social pressure. If everyone’s painting beautiful things, and you want to paint a filthy blow job, I like that. I think that’s what appealed to me about Greg: he had the confidence to be completely inappropriate.
LB: How did the inappropriateness of that show go over here?
VL: It was the best-selling show I’ve ever done. I think San Francisco has been not just tolerant but a very sexual city since it started – at least since the gold rush and the Barbary Coast. Even today it’s like we’re a bubble of sex positivity. Kink and queerness can exist here in total comfort and freedom in ways that other parts of the country it would not. San Francisco embraced the work very well.
LB: That’s interesting – you have this idol who’s totally filthy and adventuresome, and you’re bringing his filth and adventuresomeness to a city that is also an idol of how to lead that forward. It’s like this double-idol, this meta-idol.
VL: It’s kind of the perfect audience for him. But maybe the perfect audience for him is some buttoned up, outwardly prude place.
LB: I think you need to restage the show in Boston. Or DC.
VL: I want to hang it up in some congressional staffer’s office.