mehryl levisse on making art that makes you think
the fullest (online)
text by nikki bostwick
When we found out about Mehryl Levisse’s Birds of a feather fly together, we knew we had to share his work with our readers. He pushes boundaries, requiring us to think outside the walls we build up. Lines are blurred and things start to feel more connected. Life becomes more provocative and romantic.
Between his busy travel schedule, Mehryl took a moment to tell us a bit about his background, process and why he does what he does… and we couldn’t be more inspired.
What’s your background? More specifically, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Champagne Ardenne, in the North East of France. Even though I now live in Paris and spent three years in Morocco this era still influences my work a lot. It’s one of the oldest régions of France, with much history! The decrepit mansions of this area are full of memories for me. I love these caulk atmospheres — it’s eerie and reassuring at the same time. The pattern of the wallpaper I made for Birds of a feather fly together is a photograph I took of the woods in Champagnes Ardennes. I turned the picture into what could be a lovely reverie as much as a weird nightmare by covering the gallery in wallpaper. I am inviting New York into my story. It’s like opening my diary.
How did you fall into the art world?
I have a background in dancing and studied art as well.
Where does your creativity come from?
Everything! It can be a movie as much as my great great aunts who were professional mourners, which mean they were paid to pray at funerals of people they did not know.
Bodies inspire my practice: mine, those of others, my relatives and close friends. This “obsession” comes from my background in dancing. My bodies often appear as hunting trophies. They are slightly bullied but also worshiped — begging the question: Are they posing on an altar, or on a butcher’s block? I am also very inspired by domestic spaces, especially the ones from my family in Champagne Ardennes and in Italy. Usually when I create an image, I imagine it in my head and realize that some of the details and pieces of furniture are things I know, that I’ve seen before. Then begins the quest of finding those things to compose the set for the pictures.
Why do you do what you do?
I have an urge for movement. After practicing dance for 20 years, I could have become a choreographer. Instead of my initial plan, I chose to dedicate myself to visual arts when I understood art could easily use my dancing background and satisfy my need of movement. At the time I had no idea dancing could also use my love for art.
Does your art tell a story?
Yes, it tells the story of my family. And it also tells mine. Bodies are the main subject of my photographs. It can be mine or the ones of my close relatives. Since my body is very present in my work, I see my work as a way to document the evolution of my body.
How do you personally relate to and connect with your latest series?
It’s my first solo in NY so one of my goals was to introduce the audience to several aspects of my work — to immerse visitors into my world. One of the keys to my practice is that I often reuse something from a previous work for the next piece. One can find common details between my pictures, masks and performances, may it be a pose, a prop I created, or a fabric I am using. All of my artworks have something in common with a prior work. The performance work Présence was a new step.
What other forms of self expression and creativity do you gravitate towards?
Do you ever feel vulnerable sharing your work? If so, what are ways you move past your fear?
Yes I do. I am anxious and excited at the same time. I fear the audience does not understand what my work is about. I usually hardly eat anything until after the opening. But I double check every detail of the show and work a lot to move past my fear.