There can’t be many places in London where the paths of Massive Attack cross those of Her Majesty the Queen. However, in a refurbished biscuit factory in Bermondsey, South East London, the two intersect. This building serves as Chris Levine’s studio, a Canadian-born contemporary artist whose work has lit up stadium concerts, as well as the face of HRH Elizabeth II.
Levine works with light. In one sense this is quite simple: he takes beautifully executed, exquisitely lit portrait photographs of prominent figures such as the British Monarch. His 2004 picture of the Queen, entitled Lightness of Being, shows her with her eyes closed—it has become one of the most recognisable depictions of her Majesty produced this century.
However, in another way, they are not simplistic. Levine’s light works are unlike what you’d expect to come across in a gallery. Levine has bent and bounced light waves around in the most incredible series of installations, using lasers, LEDs, acrylic, mirrors, and other proprietary optics. Also, he has collaborated with such artists as Grace Jones, Massive Attack, and Antony and the Johnsons.
“Light is the common thread throughout all of my work, both literally and conceptually,” says Levine. “The light installations literally connect you with the work, as one, when the photons enter you, whereas the portraits are all about inner light, and the beauty that’s revealed in a subject when they become still.” He says he owes some of his inventiveness to his upbringing. “My late dad was a chemical engineer; he tinkered with maths and chemistry,” Levine explains. “He died when I was in my teens, but he definitely inspired me to do my own thing. He was an innovator and very scientific, and he would have approved of some of my work in light.”
While circumstance may have prevented him from obtaining parental approval, Levine’s work has been well received in other quarters. It has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery, the Eden Project, and the Royal Opera House, and it has featured in collaborations with Chanel and Swarovski. It has even won a little, subtle, Royal approval. “Its policy that the Palace does not comment on portraits,” Levine says of his picture of the Queen. “However, I was given an extra unscheduled sitting and two private audiences with Her Majesty, so that says something.”
Care to catch a glimpse of those ultra light beams in person? Then join Quintessentially’s Art Patrons on a visit to Levine’s Bermondsey studio on the morning of November 12th. During the studio visit, Levine will discuss his unique working practice and upcoming projects, sealing the private tour with a privileged glimpse of his recent and unfinished works up close.
If you're interested in more art related features, we recently spoke to art restorer Simon Gillespie to learn more about his daily routine, his career and the joy that comes from being alone with an old master.