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David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Past and Present, 1993, watercolor on paper, 14 13/16 x 10 inches, Collection of The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA

For this long-time admirer, seeing one of David Levine’s sublime and instantly recognizable watercolors of Coney Island on the cover of Gallery Guide was a joyful moment, knowing it heralded more. From December 12 through January 17, Forum Gallery presents “David Levine: The World He Saw,” the first major exhibition of paintings and drawings by Levine since his passing in 2009. Fifty works are on view including more than 25 of his watercolors of Coney Island, many loaned by private collectors and museums.

Renowned as a caricaturist whose insightful drawings were on the cover of The New York Review of Books for more than 40 years, Brooklyn-born Levine spent his summers painting the bathers on Coney Island beach and the architecture on the boardwalk and adjacent streets. Many of the structures that he painted–pavilions, booths, bathhouses, and amusement rides, have since vanished or were demolished.

David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Stauch’s Baths, 1981, watercolor on paper, 10 7/8 x 14 5/8 inches, Private collection, San Francisco, CA

While photographs of Coney’s past attractions tend to put a “then and now” distance between the viewer and the subject, the immediacy of watercolor and Levine’s mastery of the medium makes us see what he saw. Then is now. The ache in the heart upon viewing his watercolors of Stauch’s Baths, the Bank of Coney Island building and the original Thunderbolt roller coaster is akin to phantom pain for a limb that has been lost.

There are also paintings of rides that are thankfully still with us– the Polar Express, the B&B Carousell–and of elderly women whom Levine affectionately referred to as the “Shmata Queens of Coney.”

David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Carousel, 1989, watercolor on paper, 11 3/8 x 14 1/4 inches

“Each year they would say: ‘Ya know, lest veek, dere vuss a men chust like you.’ I would patiently tell them that it was me,” Levine wrote. “The ‘shmata,’ or ‘rag,’ not only refers to the head cloth, but also to the bathing suits – faded and misshapen by molding to aged and deformed bodies that have been out under the sun. They are now comfortable with me sketching in their midst and only occasionally ask to see what I do.”

Walter Bernard, a fellow member of the Painting Group, which Levine co-founded with Aaron Shikler in 1958, wrote this remembrance in the New York Times in 2010: “Watching David work was a revelation. He handled watercolors unlike anybody else. He liked to experiment and, as he put it, ‘play.’ He would draw, redraw, ‘schmeer,’ sponge out and paint again. It was not uncommon to see him rub out a work we’d been marveling over, saying, simply, ‘I didn’t get what I was going after.'”

David Levine, Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, End of Youth, 1984 watercolor on paper 14 x 22 1/2 inches, Private collection, New York, NY

Levine often painted the 1925 Thunderbolt, which was SBNO (Standing But Not Operating, in roller coaster parlance) since the early 1980’s. The titles of the works are telling: End of Youth, End of Joy, Goya at Coney, and after it was demolished in 2000, The Past.

One of the stories Levine told about the people he met while painting in Coney is this poignant anecdote about End of Joy: “I was seated on a side street, painting the Tinturn Abbey of joy rides, the Thunderbolt. Black and looming, it stood abandoned. A group of children surrounded me. They had just left the beach. Their chattering stopped as they watched my performance. Then, silently, they moved off as a group. When they had walked a short distance, the smallest, a little girl, turned and ran back to me. Without a word, she placed a quarter on my watercolor, then returned to her friends.”

A 72-page, fully illustrated catalogue, with foreword by author and journalist Pete Hamill, accompanies the exhibition.

David Levine: The World He Saw. December 12, 2014 to January 17, 2015. Forum Gallery, 730 Fifth Avenue 2nd Fl. (between 56th & 57th Streets), New York, NY 10019. 212-355-4545. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5:30pm

David Levine Forum Gallery

David Levine at Forum Gallery, Untitled (Three Women, Two Umbrellas on beach), 1982, watercolor on paper, 4 1/4 x 13 3/4 inches

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In early December, ATZ posted Eric Kowalsky’s photos of country singer and songwriter Alan Jackson strumming his guitar on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The music video was released today on YouTube and it’s a beauty. We love it that Coney’s landmark Cyclone, Wonder Wheel and Parachute Jump, as well as the Astrotower and Paul’s Daughter’s Mama and Papa Burger make an appearance along with the Beach and the Boardwalk.

In the new single about the end of a love affair, Jackson sings that he’ll be the SOB, “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore.” The shuttered stores and lonely beauty of Coney Island on a December day suit the lyrics, which are sorrowful yet defiant, in the way that the best country songs often are.

I will keep all those memories of the good times
Yeah there were some good times
So when you think of you and me
They won’t even cross your mind

“I didn’t write this one. It was written by Jay Knowles and my nephew, Adam Wright,” Jackson told Country Weekly in December. “This one just hit me. I can say this because I didn’t write it, people are comparing it to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ I would never put one of my songs up against that one, but since I didn’t write it, it’s OK.”

Thanks to Alan Jackson for making Coney Island the setting for your next no. 1 hit!

Alan Jackson Coney Island

Alan Jackson in front of Paul's Daughter, Coney Island. December 2, 2011. Photo © Eric Kowalsky. All Rights Reserved

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In July, ATZ posted Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs. Circus Vidbel was in Coney Island for an abbreviated run, but Kevin Downs photographs of the performers have a timeless quality that evokes the classic portraiture of the Golden Age of the Circus. You can view the complete set, including a few candids, on the photographer’s website.

Ambra Zerbini, Zamperla-Zoppe Riders, Coney Island July 12, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

The 1927 film “IT” made Brooklyn-born Clara Bow a sex symbol. In August, Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island featured anecdotes about Bow and this scene from the film. She plays a shop girl who goes on a first date with her boss to Coney’s Steeplechase Park, where the Human Roulette Wheel and the Barrel of Love help them get acquainted.

Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys’ album “The King of In Between” has been called “as uncannily fresh and forceful as the songs on his debut record, from 1973″ by the New Yorker and it’s on plenty of year-end Top 10 lists. You’ll see why in this live performance of Coney Island Winter: Garland Jeffreys Live on Letterman

New York City hasn’t had any snow since the freaky October snowstorm dubbed Snowtober on the web. In addition to a snow-covered Coney Island Boardwalk, photographer Bruce Handy’s flickr slide show offers snow-dusted Halloween characters and the rare sight of the Wonder Wheel’s cars, which ordinarily have been taken down for the winter before the first snowfall.

As ATZ reported exclusively early this month, Miss Coney Island and Coney Island Always, along with Skin the Wire and two or three other games, are moving from Jones Walk to booths on West 12th Street. Their location is next to the Coney Island History Project. Bring a roll of quarters because it will still be “25¢ to Laugh,” “25¢ to Smile,” and “25¢ to Fall in Love” with the famed mannequin, who is expected to debut a new outfit and new music this season.

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