When it comes to the work of artist Dan Levin, your best bet is to expect the unexpected. Everything from car parts to driftwood, old books and DNA maps have made their way into the assemblage artist’s “Objects of Curiosity,” which have intrigued local art aficionados since he arrived in Santa Barbara in 1986.
Levin describes his art as a desire “to make a singular object that didn’t exist, one that’s not necessarily possible, out of two ingredients that usually don’t find themselves in proximity.”
“I definitely like giving new life to things whose life would be over,” said Levin, who grew up in Yonkers near New York City and moved to the San Fernando Valley at age 16.
“That’s my favorite thing about it.”
These “ingredients” often include objects from the natural world integrated with the detritus of popular culture, along with discarded items that are no longer useful for their original purpose. When asked what comes first, the concept or the element, he laughs.
“It works both ways,” said Levin, who was educated as both a fine artist and a graphic designer. “I usually have an idea and I sketch it out, and then when I’m seeking out the ingredients to build it, it will meander in a new direction.
“Sometimes something will fall off the bench that I’m working on and something will break or bend, and I’ll look at it and say that’s it! It’s perfect.”
Levin says he likes “happy accidents” and is often eager to follow their ingredients until a unique creation emerges.
For example, the “BULL/Invitational” group show, on view through Oct. 7 at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club, 2375 Foothill Road in Mission Canyon, inspired him to create a piece titled “Here’s Looking at You Bull,” with a bull figure looking simultaneously at a mirror and at an image of the Capitol building.
Despite the statement nature of some of his work, Levin doesn’t accept the political artist label.
“I reserve the right to go political,” he said. “And it’s so funny if someone is used to seeing my political work. They’ll say, ‘Oh ,the political artist.’ I’m not a political artist.
“Once in a while I’ll have something to say and I’ll say it. Other times it is just abstract or it is commenting on something in the natural world.”
Levin is something of a master of serendipity in his personal life — he met his British wife, Anne Marsham, on a train traveling in Scotland — as well as his professional life.
“I got into assemblage when I was doing paintings down in Little Tokyo in L.A.,” he said. “Every once in a while I’d find an object in a dumpster or in an alley that I liked. Just one object and I would bolt it to the painting and then I would start putting on a few more, and then I just stopped painting.
“I never went back to painting either,” he mused.
Levin’s upcoming solo show, “Blurred Assembly Lines,” at Bella Rosa Galleries, 1103 State St., Oct. 4–29, explores the idea of working in series.
“Even when you’re making a car on an assembly line, there’s going to be that one car that just rolls off,” he said. “A friend’s dad used to say, ‘You’ve got to buy a Wednesday car because that’s when they’re in the zone.’
“That doesn’t exactly spell it out because I want each piece to be individual and I try to make it that way, but I like repetition, too. ... With assemblage I feel like, for me as an artist, it is really important to make each one individual, even when they are very similar.”
What about running out of some of those irreplaceable ingredients?
“That’s where the so-called Ouija board aspect of it comes in,” Levin said. “If you run out of something in terms of a core ingredient, you’re going to have to come up with another ingredient and that’s part of that shift in the repetition that I really like ...
“I think of Ouija boards or divining rods. You’re heading in one direction and you’re so sure that’s the direction you want to go in, and something just turns you at the last minute and you like that direction better. You like where you end up.”
Dan Levin’s work can be viewed locally through Oct. 7 at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club, 2375 Foothill Road; Oct 4-29 at Bella Rosa Galleries, 1103 State St.; and Oct. 5–Nov. 3 in the group show, “Three’s a Crowd: Minimal Expression in a Maximal World” at Art From Scrap Gallery, 302 E. Cota St.
Click here for more information about the artist.