Play it Loud

In one of the most harmonious pairings since Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, David X. Levine and Antonio Adriano Puleo are united this month at Dust Gallery’s Combatants and Correspondents, which opened Friday.  The exhibit showcases not only the two artists’ works produced independently of one another in their respective home cities of New York and Los Angeles, but also highlights adventures in color and texture that are clearly a joint experience.  These artists know each other and their show is an exercise in two-dimensional media nudging out to engage all the senses, all the time.

Inside the gallery, pictures are hung according to a painted installation that wraps rainbow stripes around the bottom of the wall.  The stripes, painted by Antonio Adriano Puleo, are clustered together and split into different directions, leading like an EKG printout into more disparate but visually pleasing wall images: a large, haverst-gold-colored leaf; a square conversation bubble that holds framed drawings by Levine.

Puleo is from Los Angeles and works warmly and wonderfully in the tradiont of beautiful colors, indulgent textures and shimmery temple cool.  In his complex collages and two-dimensional works, abstract shapes and sharp graphic lines are interspersed with cutouts of flowers and birds, and sometimes laid over with fabric pieces or gold leaf.  One imagines hundreds of old ladies with bouffant hairdos and velvet Elvis paintings wondering what happened to sections of their couch, while Puleo happily works them into his dreamscapes that would give the ladies cardiac arrests.

In mail correspondence between the two artists, Puleo and Levine have produced diptychs together that blend their idioms into an idiosyncratic but compelling whole.  Puleo’s love of rich fabrics, surrealistic forms and nostalgic signifiers meets Levine’s rock ‘n’ roll intimacy and bafflingly humorous drawings with the force of a Janis Joplin song.

On their own, Levine’s drawings push the limits of the medium, forming uncomfortable alliances between two- and three-dimensional shapes on the paper.  Soft, pillowy amorphous forms meet flat planes in piercing push-pull compositions.  Sometimes he draws layers of concentric circles radiating out from the center of the page, first in graphite and later filled in with washes or colored pencil.  When he started drawing the circles, years ago, he explains, he labored intensively to make the circles distribute perfectly into the space.  Now he leaves the circles open at the ends, which gives them a nebulously attractive quality.

Levine also invokes an unusual use of text, with small, handwritten passages inside his drawings that usually spell out the names of rock musicians or song lyrics.  This is the crux of his practice—the act of getting so into your music while you make art that your art starts to take on the characteristics of the music, and make noise.

Together, the two artists use two-dimensional forms to make tender, colorful pieces that tap into complex and even obsolete emotions, and the result is a great exhibition that would also, without a doubt, make a great Record.