FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 6 - June 30, 2023
Opening reception: Saturday, May 6, 6-8pm
Rachel Uffner Gallery is pleased to present Schmatta, Talia Levitt’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. Schmatta is the Yiddish word for “rag,” a term popularized at the turn of the 19th century when droves of Eastern European Jewish immigrants went into the garment business. The Brooklyn-based artist uses the expression to affectionately refer to her large quilt-like paintings. Consistent with the past themes she explores in her work, Levitt returns to women’s bodies and labor, reminders of death, the history of painting, and her own story. The personal narrative revolves around the four generations of her family working in garments and her walks in New York and its history. Her family inspires her love of fabrics and the need to create with her hands.
The background of Levitt’s paintings combines colorfully painted trompe l’oeil swatches of fabrics using children’s stencils and free hand rendering to give the illusion of a quilt. The patches are “stitched” together with the double- or triple-stitch. Atop this patchwork are “embroidered” figures, often in silhouette. The canvas is even “sewn” onto the edge of the frame with the single-stitch. The artist uses ziplock bags to squeeze thicker lengths of acrylic paint to produce this faux embroidery effect. Compared to her older work, the artist further collapses the divide between the foreground and background. Schmatta also refers to a child’s “blankie.” It is a fitting description of Levitt’s inviting, tactile, and deeply cared for canvases that draw a close study.
The comforting playfulness of Levitt’s work eases viewers into the serious topic of death. Her paintings contain small replicas of 17th-century Dutch vanitas oil paintings and nod to their other oft-seen elements like the flies and skulls. She also paints dead pigeons, discarded masks and “Greek” paper coffee cups, and manipulates acrylic paint to fashion three- dimensional bones, teeth, and small tools on her canvases. Levitt constructs with plastic paint. Using these new motifs and painting techniques, she visually and physically invents modern-day memento mori with the decay of the city. Her new iconography of death brings viewers’ attention to the small dandelion in the urban landscape to the big family that is humanity, even when they are annoyingly crowding on the subway.
These odes to New York City and her family history in the garment world pay homage to her Jewish heritage and to women’s work. The details of hands,hearts, and the female figure, all signal the labor and care that go into creating clothing. Her tribute is especially poignant in 23-29 Washington Place, Greenwich Village (2023). The title calls attention to the address of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that killed 146 people. The majority killed were young Jewish immigrant women garment workers, trapped by the factory. The surreal ensemble of five red hands, blue acrylic-made buttons, and a wistful girl on a fire escape offers a solemn remembrance of these lives. Levitt also hints at New York with fire hydrants, cute cats, metal gates, candy wrappers, drainage caps, and empty and packed platforms and subway cars. For the city that never sleeps, her paintings sparkle in the night with either glitter paint or glow-in-the-dark paint. There is a great delight to discover these hidden aspects in her work and the neglected tales or unnoticed refuse of the city.
Levitt’s love for fooling the eye continues to surprise with new details missed at first glance. Her paintings modernize the vanitas genre and challenge the narrative painting conventions. She innovates her compositions with acrylic paint and meaningful recurring motifs about women, death, labor, and bits of New York. Schmatta captures Levitt’s eagerness to experiment and her desire to further layer stories into her work.
Text by Sophia Ma
Talia Levitt (b. 1989, Brooklyn, NY) received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI in 2011 and an MFA from CUNY Hunter, New York, NY in 2019. Levitt also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2019. She was a New York Foundation of the Arts Painting Fellow, a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Painting Fellow, and received a Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant. Levitt has had previous solo and two person exhibitions at F2T Gallery, Milan, Italy; ATM Gallery, New York, NY; and Hesse Flatow, New York, NY. Her work has been exhibited at Hashimoto Contemporary, New York, NY; Bill Brady Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Another Gallery, Paris, France; Alexander Berggruen, New York, NY; Fredericks and Freiser, New York, NY; Carl Kostyal, Milan, IT; The Barnes Art Center, Hudson Valley, NY; and Harpers, East Hampton, NY. Levitt lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.