Laura Levine
the fickle finger of fate
Have You Seen This Man?
posted: August 18, 2009
This being the month of all things Woodstock prompted me to dig up my own contribution to the festival. No, not the original in 1969 (I was too young), but the one in 1994.

Michael Lang and Barbara Pensoy invited me to paint a panel for the Woodstock Wall, an artists' mural which encircled the festival site. I painted a portrait of Bob Dylan, who was performing there. It was a pretty cool installation - my piece was a few panels down from Peter Max. I think Kenny Scharf had a panel as well, and lots of other interesting folks. (I wonder if there's an archive somewhere?).

Unfortunately, despite some pretty solid screws and nails, someone took off with the panels as the festival wound down. Oh well. Somewhere, a ten foot Bob Dylan is sitting in someone's basement. Later that year Michael and Barbara hosted a show of my work in their Soho loft, so it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I took photos of the wall, which I'll post one of these days when I dig them up, but here's one of the finished piece.

p.s. wandering Bob reminds me of this recent story
Who is F.M. Walts?
posted: April 6, 2008
Have any of you heard of this illustrator? I bought this fantastic silkscreen theater poster today from a fellow who was selling some things out of his barn. It's in terrible condition but I just loved it.

It's a poster for the Theatre Guild's production of The Camel Through the Needle's Eye. He had a few other posters (in much better condition) by the same artist which I may go back and get.

I did a little research and found a Frank Walts, who I suspect is the fellow in question. (Can anyone confirm?). From what I can tell he was a political African-American illustrator who worked in the 1910's and 1920's. Among other things he did covers for W.E.B. Du Bois's publication The Crisis, and designed Anita Loos' personal bookplates!

Anyway, just sharing my weekend find.
The Junk Fairies are Smiling Down on Me!
posted: April 19, 2007
So there I was driving around L.A. with my friend Laura and I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. "Pull a U-Turn! Pull a U-Turn!"

And there it was. Thousands of books just....THERE. Dumped outside a house. A strange mix of astronomy, calculus, religion, art, Judaica. The house looked recently abandoned.

The next door neighbor came out at one point and I said,"A lot of books, huh?" and he said, "What books? Hey, I didn't notice those before."

We spent about an hour there scaling the mountain and plucking the flowers. There were more in the back too, that you can't see,
How one small illustration got me on the set of a Big Hollywood Movie
posted: February 27, 2007
Edel commented in Marc's Johnny Cash article about how you never know where an illustration will take you, and I have a story I can share along those lines.
I'd done a couple of illustrations for an article on storytelling for the Utne Reader. It didn't pay terrifically, but it was a fun job. After the magazine came out, I got a call from Nora Ephron's production office. Nora was shooting a new film starring Steve Martin. One of the lead characters in the film was an artist, and she needed someone to "do" his art. She'd been flipping through the magazine and saw my work. They FedEx'ed the script to me to see if I liked it, and a few days later I was cabbing my way to the Silvercup Studios in Astoria, where they were already shooting.

The first thing Nora did was make me a nice hot cup of cappuccino, and we sat down and chatted and the next thing you know I was on the crew. The gig was amazing. The character I was "ghost-painting" for was played by Anthony LaPaglia. In the film, called "Mixed Nuts," he lives in a vintage clothing/thrift shop with Juliette Lewis and  is a wall painter who is despondent because he "can't find a wall to paint on." He decides to kill himself on Christmas Eve (yes, it's a comedy/farce), and calls a suicide hotline manned by Steve Martin and Rita Wilson. Hilarity ensues. The cast was pretty interesting - it also included Madeline Kahn, Liev Schrieber, Adam Sandler, Rob Reiner, and had cameos from Jon Stewart, Parker Posey, and Steven Wright.

For the first three weeks I working on the soundstage in Astoria, designing and painting the interior and exterior of what would become the thrift shop. Fortunately there were two amazing union scenic painters on my team who were a godsend. It was great to hang out on the set every day and watch them shoot, and go backstage and schmooze with the cast and crew. The DP was Sven Nyquist (!) who'd even let me look through the camera once when they were rehearsing. I can't even tell you how nice everyone was. I think that's one of the hallmarks of a Nora Ephron set - she's a total mensch. She makes sure her cast and crew are always treated well, and REALLY well fed. (Meals are a big thing on her sets.)

Then they flew us all to L.A. for the next month or so, and put us up at the Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. My job there was to paint a huge 30 x 20 foot mural which ends up being the closing shot of the film (the guy - surprise! - doesn't kill himself after all, and he paints a mural depicting the characters and key scenes of the film). We painted the mural on the side of a building on Pacific Ave. in Venice, a block from the beach. Every day they blocked off a lane of traffic (we got a lot of angry horn-honking) and my assistants and I had to get on a very scary hydraulic lift to paint. My schedule was different from the shooting schedule (they mostly filmed at night) so I also got to hang out on set, and because I was painting actual scenes from the film, I was  allowed to watch dailies every day. (There's nothing like standing next to Steve Martin in a tiny screening room watching take after take...sigh....the girls might understand.....)

Anyway, it was a wonderful experience; I've stayed in touch with Nora ever since, and it's kind of amazing to know it all came from a quarter-page illo in the Utne Reader.

So, ya never know kids, ya never know!