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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Propane tanks. Ketchup bottle. Elmer’s glue. It’s Robert Levine’s art of the everyday

“Propane Tanks” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches
“Propane Tanks” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)

Robert Levine’s carefully painted pictures of ordinary things and everyday scenes invite double takes. Before you know it, you’re hooked, caught in the pleasurable confusion between what you think you see and what you actually see, what you know now and what you might learn.

The stage is set the moment you step into the gallery, LSH CoLab in East Hollywood. The front room of the clean, well-lighted space also houses L.A. CBD, a retail outlet selling hemp-sourced products. The rear space doubles as the workshop where two seamstresses sew clothing sold at Matrushka.

That’s a big departure from the art business as usual. But in the gig economy, when private cars are taxis, extra bedrooms are motels and offices are rented by the month, a dispensary/workshop/gallery fits in.

The same is true of Levine’s paintings. They are not diminished by their surroundings. Each of the 20 small canvases in the front room lets you get lost in an illusory world.

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Their palette, predominantly white, gray and beige, is calming. Their subjects are so familiar that they’re nearly invisible: mostly cups, buckets, cartons, tanks and bottles — of soft drinks, paint, milk, propane and glue, as well as ketchup and mustard.

“Still Life w/Elmer’s Glue” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
“Still Life w/Elmer’s Glue” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)
“WD-40...” by Robert Levine, 2009. Acrylic on wood, 20 inches by 6.5 inches by 3.5 inches
“WD-40...” by Robert Levine, 2009. Acrylic on wood, 20 inches by 6.5 inches by 3.5 inches
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)
“Ketchup & Mustard” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, , 18 inches by 18 inches.
“Ketchup & Mustard” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, , 18 inches by 18 inches.
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)

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Levine’s paint handling similarly flirts with invisibility. Sometimes he applies paint with the cool professionalism — and emotional detachment — of a sign painter. At other times he paints like an amateur, accentuating missteps and inconsistencies to highlight the disarming charm of handmade objects.

Sometimes he nods, playfully, to Giorgio Morandi. Or snarkily to Marcel Duchamp. Or warmly to Ed Ruscha, irreverently to Piet Mondrian, goofily to Claes Oldenberg, casually to Richard Artschwager and wittily to Sol LeWitt.

In every case, Levine paints like a Realist who has issues with photography. All of the pictures in “Regular Painting” are based in the belief that it is more important to evoke feelings than to nail down details, obsessively or with even a hint of technical perfectionism.

“Sears” by Robert Levine, 2019.  Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
“Sears” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)
“Shower” by Robert Levine, 2019.  Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
“Shower” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)
“Blank Painting Grid” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas,  18 inches by 18 inches.
“Blank Painting Grid” by Robert Levine, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 inches by 18 inches.
(Robert Levine and LSH CoLab)

His works are efficient, economical, no-nonsense. Some zero in on a single building, a simple interior or just a shower head, which Levine has painted life-size, the tiles around it just a little lovelier than the real ones they’re based on.

In the backroom hang two large paintings, two small ones and a painted wood sculpture. All play hide-and-seek with their surroundings, sometimes nearly disappearing into them yet always making you wonder where art ends and reality begins, and vice versa.

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Robert Levine
Where: LSH CoLab, 778 N. Virgil Ave., L.A.

When: Wednesday-Saturday, ends Feb. 29

Info: (323) 305-4234, www.lshcolab.com

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