Growing up, Boruch Lev dedicated hours to his modeling clay creations. “Some creatures born to fly,” says Lev, “some to swim, and I was born to create in clay!” He sculpted animals in jungle scenes and crafted projects for school that were so realistic neither his teachers nor peers could believe he made them himself. Talented as he was, a career as a professional artist felt out of reach for a boy from a small suburb of Moscow in the Soviet Union. Instead, Lev trained as a civil engineer at the Moscow Civil Engineer Institute, eventually immigrating to Atlanta, GA in 1996 to work as a designer for an engineering company. From Atlanta, he and his wife and two sons made their way to Chicago in 2001. Two years later, Lev stumbled across the Evanston Art Center. Remembering his long-dormant passion for art, he enrolled in a figurative sculpture class taught by Sheila Ottinger.
It was there that Lev’s love of sculpting was rekindled and he began learning to shape figures out of ceramic materials, instead of the modeling clay he worked with as a boy. From there, little by little, sculpture began to reclaim its place in his life. Lev even began to teach classes of his own for children with special needs at the Little City Foundation in Palatine.
Some of Lev’s work—featured for the next two months in The Art Center Highland Park’s newly-renovated gift shop—is figurative, organic lines shaped in clay and sketched in charcoal pencil that draw attention to the natural beauty of the human body. Others are more abstract representations, like a fallen tree trunk or the true-to-scale lower mandible of a horse. The latter is titled, Bucephalos, presumably after Alexander the Great’s famed steed. However, the sculpture eludes any direct interpretation. Instead, it simply presents itself at face value, a precisely rendered skeletal representation that allows viewers to fill it with their own meanings. “Whatever we see it’s only a part of the puzzle,” says Lev, “even the beautiful lines of a human body are only parts of the whole picture. We are trying to understand the whole, so we are looking beyond specific lines. Looking at and beyond the specific real object I’m trying to figure out its relations to others, including myself. I’m breaking that image in my mind and so, in clay. I remember seeing somewhere a description of abstract art that sounds approximately like this ‘abstract art is an art that represents just itself and nothing else.’”
One piece in Lev’s gift shop collection, Red Button, feels hyper-relevant to current events. Two hands, each a mirror reflection of the other, hover their index fingers over their individual red buttons. There is a palpable tension between the matched set, generated by the looming specter of an ever-present threat. That all of this power is held and communicated in the simplest of gestures speaks to the strength of Lev’s artistic talents.
Lev’s work will be on display and for sale in the gift shop for the next two months.
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