WEST ORANGE, NJ -- When West Orange artist Julie Levine picked up an old bottle opener, unlike most people, her first thought was not to throw it out. Instead, her mind created an image of a Rabbi, which she artfully brought to life using recycled hardware, old papers, repurposed car parts and acrylic paint.
"What I do is I get pieces, and it's really weird—I actually see things in the objects before I even start working. I don't know what's wrong with me, but that's what happens." Levine said. "I see faces, and I've coined the term 'facialization;’ I make faces out of the found objects."
Now, "The Rabbi," along with other mixed media pieces crafted from repurposed objects, is part of Levine's latest art show, entitled "TransFORMed." The show opened at the Gallery of Congregation B'Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ on July 3 and will run until Aug. 17. The public is invited to stop by and see the art show during regular business hours.
"TransFORMed" is tightly tied to Levine's personal life as a survivor of domestic violence. She has rebuilt her life and now openly speaks on panels to help other survivors.
"What it's all about it—it's not important what something was, it's what it can become. And it kind of goes hand-in-hand with my life," she said. "I was a victim of domestic violence and I didn't do my artwork for about 20 years. I reinvented myself. I have a new life here in New Jersey. I left New York and I transformed myself, so it's kind of parallel to all the work I've been doing. I've gone through a journey and through some dark times, and now everything's all about having fun. And that's reflected in my work."
While "TransFORMed" is a fine art show, its theme spreads far and wide. Levine hopes it will help others in difficult situations in the same way that her work with domestic violence survivors does.
"I think exposure is key to domestic violence survivors, and it awards them a little bit of safety," she said. "Each case is different, but I'm out there now; I call myself 'living out loud.’"
The colorful, abstract faces Levine creates are worlds away from their dark origins, encompassing the experiences of both the material and the artist.
"I use repurposed things that I find in the trash or that people donate to me. I ask everyone not to throw anything out. You'll find all kinds of different items in my pieces," she said.
Levine's artwork has been featured in galleries in Paris, Washington, DC and New York and in juried shows all through the United States. Her work has also earned her an award from The Professional Artists Magazine, and she continues to showcase her talent in galleries such as SoHo20 and the Ceres Gallery.
Levine cites the filter from a 1955 Thunderbird as the strangest found object she has worked with. The filter can now be seen in "TransFORMed" within a piece entitled "Teardrop."
Her favorite objects to work with are instruments, especially violins. Like everything in the show, the violins came to Levine after they could no longer serve their initial purpose, and were then repurposed into pieces such as "Victor."
"They're instruments that were discarded, so I don't want anyone to think I take a gorgeous violin and do it," she said with a laugh. "I like working with things that are repurposed and recycled, but my violins are the most fun I've had."
No matter what materials Levine works with, her message is consistent: "It doesn't matter so much what someone was, or something was. What matters is what it becomes."
Donate Broken Instruments and “Found Items” Here
Levine is looking for donations of “found items” including broken musical instruments—especially violins to incorporate into her artwork. Contact her HERE.
All photos taken by Jackie Schatell.