Knight's Cross Delivery, (Arts and Letters )
by Sir Jacques BARTHELEMY, Prefect (Governor) of the Seine Marne State, France
to Mister Michael LEVY, Sculptor
Melun , France, March the 25th, 2006
All of you know Michael Levy, you know his passion for his native Algeria and his passion for the sculpture, which, from the age of five, made him working with lumps of soap, but also his strong feeling for medicine, which at the same age, drove him to dissect small animals.
Settled very young at first, at twenty, in a workshop in the Paris’ downtown Halle, he learns to live from his artwork and learns a lot in metal casting workshops where he discovered the various techniques which lead from the original artwork to the final bronze and its patina.
After having got his high school diploma as a salaried candidate, he became a graduate student in medicine, then in arthrology and gerontology (joint specialist for the elderly). Then he decided definitively for his vocation, the sculpture, and supply since then an original artwork of which we see this evening some magnificent samples.
1. The first expression of his works, especially in his first period, is aesthetic. His artworks are smooth and beautiful, as his women. Then we begin to notice here and there roughness, but also fluidities, which mark the subject of the duality, permanently recurring in his artwork: the Beauty and the Death, the Good and the Evil, the Sky and the Earth.
Finally, another way will quickly impose upon him, the anti-aesthetics or the difficulties of the human condition. On his creative road map, he shapes dwarfs. They are small - because for him the man lost his charismatic dimension - and they lose their skin, because without this skin, which is of use to them as a mask, they let appear their deep suffering.
For seven years he dedicated his artistic expression to a thought on the relation between human beings and animals. A relation of compensation towards animals, but also a relation of consumption, that the “ready to pack” chicken that he shows represent as protein mass in all countries.
By choosing the chicken, hen or rooster, he wanted to show us that even gone bald, this one kept the dignity inherent to the animal, by opposition, in many cases, to the dwarfish human who lost his (her) dignity, stuck in his (her) dishonest compromises.
2. The second expression of his works is that they are one thing from the spirit “cosa mentale” (mental thing), according to the expression from Leonardo da Vinci.
The work of art indeed has a double nature. It is on one hand, a thing, a material subject, but it is also the product of the work of the imagination, that reveals various strata of the consciousness and the unconscious.
The material part, we call " the tecné " in Greek, meant at that time art and technique as well. The immaterial is the link between the idea of the artwork and hope of immortality, so dear to the heart of the ancient Egyptians. The artwork is a permanent dialogue between the structure and the shape. Every sculptor is a promethean Daedalus ; Daedalus, this famous Greek hero, who had the practical cleverness to make statues which walk, just as much as to give wings to a human.
By putting back the human in the heart of his artworks, Michael Levy is a “sculptor of the lights”. In the 18th century indeed the meaning of sculpture is utopia. This is what differentiates from the sculpture of the 17th century, which was essentially intended to represent the strength and the magnificence of power, which we find in the baroque art of Bernin in Rome (Italy), or Pierre Puget's marble in Paris (France).
It was during the 13th century that the humanism reappeared in the sculpture with old style productions underlining the human body (Byzantine influence), then in the 14th century, under the influence of the royal art, underlining the elegance of the forms, as the " Virgin with the Child " from the Louvre museum representing Jeanne d' Evreux, Queen of France. It was the period of corporations, the builders of the cathedrals.
Then came, in the Italian Renaissance revival, the humanism of the Italian masters of the perspective, Brunelleschi, architect, and Ghiberti sculptor of the doors of the baptistery of Florence, and to the painters, from Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello and obviously Leonardo da Vinci, who replace the Man in the centre of the painting and so doing in the manifold universe.
Also, the realistic representation of the human body through the artworks of Donatello and Michael Angelo did not aim at reinventing the reality, but at reconstructing a vision of the antiquity by modernizing it, so by proving that the Art can change the world. The humanism of Erasmus, of Guillaume Budé, of Thomas More, is registered in the works of Michael Angelo, of Benvenuto Cellini, of Jean Goujon, of Germain Pilon …
Michael Levy also cultivates the ambivalence between the symbolism and the expressionism. If his sculpture is representational, it joins therefore in the high tradition, which goes from Donatello or Brunelleschi in the 15th century, until sculptor Rodin at the end of the 19th, notably by the custom of the base, which is a hyphen between the artwork and its environment. The base often serves for expressing ideas. As Michael Levy’s artistic mind pushes him more towards mystic or symbolic readings of the world than towards the only physical representation, some of his sculptures are inspired, to my opinion, by " The door of the Hell " from the sculptor Rodin at the beginning of this century.
This unfinished masterpiece involves in an almost vegetal profusion remarkable fragments as the three shadows above the door, which are in fact three different points of view of Adam chased away from the Paradise, the same for the “thinker” who dominates the girder and who represents both Dante and Rodin.
Initially imagined on the antithetical model of the "Door of the Paradise" sculptured by Ghiberti for the baptistery of Florence in Italy, the “Door of the Hell” which marked a deep break in the sculpture’s history is the symbol of the free expression. The "duality", which confronts the Life and the Death, is the Michael Levy’s artwork, which is most similar to Rodin’s deeds.
3. As Art is Human’s own property, the third expression of Michael Levy’s artworks is to be a peculiar spiritual language. Every artist, on the subject, tries hard to forget so much that to learn of his (her) teachers. As was Paul Gauguin (French painter, 1848-1903) who, with the painters, was one of the first ones to dash into a fiery collection of " the other one somewhere else ".
Michael Levy does not make differently his looking for " somewhere else ": you may see all his artworks inspired by the Old Testament, the Song of Songs, or his considerations on the " Big Architect of the Universe " whom King Salomon embodied. But it is also the search " of the other one " in his bruised and touching humanity who hardly gets off from material constraints, from historical seabed, from nourishing Mother Earth, in his awkward dwarfs with lively looking who force us to think over our poor mankind.
In some of his works, the symbolism of Michael Levy, often associated with the Bible or with the psychoanalysis, is translated by natural elements, flowers, sea weeds, fragments of rock, which support an anthropomorphic feminine shape at the top of a column or of a totem, a symbol of the antagonism between the vice and the virtue, as in the artworks of the British painter William Blake, at the end of the 18th century.
He looks often to resume an expression from Jean Moréas (French poet, 1856-1910) : " to dress the idea of a sensitive shape ". His imagination is not mathematical, as in the works of the Italian Renaissance revival of Fra Angelico or Uccello. His religiosity is rational, as through the Florentines from the 15th century. His representation of the man is not made, as through the Italian and French artists of the Renaissance revival, to value the primacy of the shape and the perfection, but on the contrary to connect the ideal with the poor human condition. It is for that, in Michael Levy’s artwork, that we also find the return of the language, which coincides in the 20th century with the acme (apogee) of the human sciences.
The words are, either registered on the artwork as in the "Song of Songs", or on its base, or suggested as in the " Vanity of the Justice ". The forms show off by themselves, and also they are to be read sometimes. The cabalistic or biblical formulae registered on some of Michael Levy’s works participate in all ways through this spiritual language.
The artwork speaks out not only to the aesthetic sense of the person who admires it, but speaks to him (her), questions or surprises him (her), as these chickens with their backs bearing all the knowledge of the World. If this Knowledge of the World is very difficult to catch by people, Dwarfs of the Spirit, it is because the Work of the Big Creator is illegible for the Created Humanity.
Thus it is only through spiritual transmutation by means of the artwork, that the human can try to reach the understanding of the Creator’s Universe, whatever is the idea that we made of this Creator or His spiritual strength.
It is with the help of the artwork that Michael Levy reminds us this evidence, as Greco (Emilio Greco, Italian sculptor) did for us to understand those tortured paintings, at the time of the mystic trances of Holy Teresa of Avila (Spanish mystic).
The artwork arises from the hand of the human who is thinking about the role of the Humanity in the Universe. In that point, Michael Levy’s spiritual and sculptural researches are both so important and so puzzling at the same time, as they send us back to the essential, so calling back to these Michael Angelo verses: " If my hard hammer takes out from the hard rock such human shape, it is with the Minister who holds it in His hands and guide and accompanies it so it receives its spring; but it is Him who leads it. That One of the Skies, it is by His appropriate virtue that He embellishes the World ".
Voici la fin du texte du préfet, fin de texte que j’avais omis…. Jean émile, 11 mai 2007
By handing to you this Arts and Letters knight's cross, I would like, dear Michael LEVY, to congratulate you on the magnificent work you realized for 30 years and of which the city of Melun (France) accounts for two exemplary representations of "Héloïse” and “Abélard" in front of the City Media Library, but more generally to thank you for the originality and the humanity which spring from your artworks.
This distinction is too modest to reward your merits, I am sure it will be followed by others, with even more brilliant colours. I would like to associate friendly your family with the honour the Minister of the Culture makes you, and your wife, your two charming children conceived in the "duality" at the same moment when you worked out both statues of Héloïse and Abélard; what a symbol as this coincidence in the time of the creative work as well!
But this medal is also dual. This is the Order of the Arts and Letters. Arts include obviously the sculpture, Letters send back to the idea of culture. This distinction calls back to the fact that an artist is inevitably a man of culture who draws his roots from the past, who translates them by his present work, which sends back by herself the spectator to a reflection on the future, on the place of the being in the Universe. This is what makes the mystery of the artistic work.
Lastly, dear Michael LEVY, that this so deserved distinction is handed to you by my care also honours me, because I learnt to know the discreet, warm, thoughtful man, whom you are, just as much as of the internationally recognized artist and the incomparable virtuosity.
As your work expresses clearly you believe in the progress of the Humanity, you believe in this permanent necessity of the rise of the human mind to extract him (her) from the gangue of his (her) heavy humanity. You believe in the virtues of the exchange, solidarity and friendship, and there are this evening many of your friends who accompany you for this private viewing and for this ceremony.
So I shall have met during my stay a man of culture and conviction who seethes with an internal fire which his scissors master, which transforms the clay into bronze as the philosopher's stone transformed the lead into a golden shot, and which makes a big artwork from vulgar material.
An artist, as you are, looks like an alchemist, who, with fragments of Humanity, conceives a poem of metal which illustrates the human capacity to step up from clay to light.
For all of your talent, allow me, Dear Friend, in the name of The Minister for Arts, to dub you Knight of the Arts and Letters.
Prefect of Seine-Marne State (France).