This is a continuing series of interviews with the forty-eight artists whose work was selected for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The third OBPC exhibition opened on March 23, 2013, and will run through February 23, 2014.
Jennifer Levonian, who participated in our interviews last autumn, was named second prize winner of the third Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.
Still from Buffalo Milk Yogurt / Jennifer Levonian / Digital video/animation (6:46 minutes), 2010 / Collection of the artist
Q: What is your name, where are you from, where do you live now?
A: Jennifer Levonian. I was born in West Virginia. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for thirteen years.
A: For the past six years, I’ve been making cutout animations using watercolor paintings.
Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.
A: For each animation, I make dozens of painted watercolor backdrops, cutouts, and puppets. Then I animate the cutouts through stop-motion. I shoot digital photographs and edit them using Final Cut.
Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?
When I was a student, I painted in oil on canvas. I owe my switch in medium to an animation class I took in grad school. I signed up for the class on a whim and became so enthralled by animation that I haven’t painted anything on canvas since then.
Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.
A: My cutout animation Buffalo Milk Yogurt depicts a man who has a nervous breakdown in a gourmet supermarket while a naked woman practices yoga in a display of fall pumpkins. The main character, Corey Fogel, also wrote and performed the music featured in the animation.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Right now I’m working on an animation about a ghost that haunts a Pennsylvania Dutch–themed all-you-can-eat-buffet.
Q: How has your work changed over time?
A: As I’ve grown more comfortable with the medium, my projects have become more ambitious by involving other people. I used to paint myself as the main character because I was just too nervous asking someone else to sit for portraits and record dialogue.
For my 2011 animation Rebellious Bird (made after a residency at the Library Company of Philadelphia), I interviewed a female Civil War reenactor in West Virginia and then animated portions of that interview. Also, with one exception, all of my recent works feature original music that was scored to the animations after they were finished. Asking other people to be involved was a move outside of my comfort zone, but one I’m happy to have taken—I feel the work is richer because of their involvement.
Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist.
A: This memory is a little cheesy, but once when I was about ten, I was drawing in a notebook at the beach. A Scottish tourist saw that I liked to draw, so she sat beside me and filled pages of my notebook with delicate marker drawings of animals. To me, this was pure magic. I was mesmerized—partly because of her Scottish accent, and also because it was the first time I saw an adult draw so easily and joyfully.
Q: Who is your favorite artist?
A: Pierre Bonnard
Q: What is your favorite artwork?
A: Old Woman Frying Eggs by Diego Velázquez
Q: What inspires you?
A: These days I get a lot of ideas on my morning walks with my daughter and dog. Our Philadelphia neighborhood was once nicknamed “The Workshop of the World” because of its booming textile industry, and many nineteenth-century factory buildings remain, right alongside more modern buildings. This layering of time is one of the things I love most about Philadelphia. It never fails to stir my imagination.
Still from Take a Picture with a Puma / Jennifer Levonian / Digital video/animation (6:56 minutes), 2010