Artist draws inspiration from science


Artist Ellen K. Levy’s work incorporates mixed media and vibrant colors. This piece, “Identifying Concealed Objects,” utilizes these features on a wood panel.
Artist Ellen K. Levy’s work incorporates mixed media and vibrant colors. This piece, “Identifying Concealed Objects,” utilizes these features on a wood panel.

By Jessica Scanlon

A bachelor’s degree in zoology can prepare students for a variety of careers, from research to veterinary medicine. Ellen K. Levy can also brag about her art exhibit, “Decoding Metaphors for the 21st Century,” in the Rider Art Gallery.

Levy is an artist who favors a mix of digital media and paint in her work and draws inspiration from “scientific journals, nature, other artists and animals.”

“The visual arts have never seemed, to me, divorced from the sciences: one need only look at Leonardo da Vinci,” Levy said at the artist’s talk last week.

Her background can attest to this belief.

“I remember a time in junior high school when I believed I was an artist,” Levy said. 

Her parents encouraged her to get an education, as that was a priority for both of them. Her father was a pharmacist who wrote poetry, and his artistic friends encouraged young Levy to pursue art.

Her mother was equally supportive, encouraging Levy to attend the Art Students League during her junior high years and to attend a liberal arts college.

But upon completing high school, Levy studied zoology at Mount Holyoke College, where she used her artistic skills to complete a commission for her professors of frog embryo transparencies. She also used her artistic skills for scientific illustrations and lab work as a way to fund her artistic endeavors.

After graduating college, she furthered her art studies by completing a degree in painting from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 

Currently she is a Ph.D. candidate at Z-Node, a program of the Institute of Cultural Studies of the University of Applied Arts in Zurich that meets three times per year for 10-day sessions. Her research is interdisciplinary, combining chemistry, biology and other subjects.

Her pieces in the Rider Art Gallery are all mixed media, with components ranging from prints to acrylic paint to enamel to wood. Art critics often compare her works’ style to cubism or futurism, but a connection to the work of Al Held, an American abstract painter, is also notable, according to Levy.

The concepts of foreground and background are often toyed with in her art. Depending on which perspective the observer sees the art from, some of the pieces can play tricks on the eyes.

According to Levy, the themes of her artwork often relate to “ecological problems, industry and evolution.” Science is a common theme, as it is an inspiration for her. Many of her pieces are displayed in collections at NASA, IBM, the Mahoney Center of Brain Research of Columbia University, the National Academy of the Sciences and the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. 

Other museums that display her artwork include the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, the New Britain Museum of American Art, The Newark Museum, Rutgers Art Museum and the SUNY New Paltz Art Museum.

The exhibit runs until April 19. Levy also has work on display at Michael Steinberg Fine Art, a New York City art gallery, until April 18.

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