This Artist Sees Things
Matt Lebowitz offers up his whole world
By: Mary Birdsong
Walking down an unknown street or being in his own backyard both hold equal possibilities for visual treasure to Matt Lebowitz. In his ongoing show "The Year in a Life: The Things I Saw and the Things I Thought," (through the end of October) he offers us the opportunity to traverse his physical world and the landscape of his mind.
While some artists may gather imagery, feelings, reactions, and philosophy and then distill them into a single image, Lebowitz does the "opposite." He shows us everything, all the details, all the words, his political thoughts and discloses to us how he navigates the same world we do.
We are given small photos of scenes and things making up ordinary life, from the brass plaques announcing a sidewalk's maker to dazzling sunsets and snowy landscapes, all arranged in a rotating display of panels, each for a particular month. There is stark realism and enigmatic abstracts. There are grasshoppers, discarded trash, a cracker box and lots of plastic cups of beer. By the time you read this he will have added three new months to finish out the show.
Artist Matt Lebowitz created a photo series and art collection capturing ordinary things he saw throughout each month.
The most endearing elements of the exhibit to this reviewer's eye are the ones capturing "ordinary" things: A yellow fire hydrant sharing space with a yellow street salt box, a single red and white Christmas tree ornament dangling from filigreed wrought-iron porch trim, tangerines nestled around the page-a-day Zen calendar that inspires many of these photos.
And it's clear Lebowitz is in favor of snow, with many images capturing last winter's insistent, frosty blanket covering just about everything. One standout is a photo in which snow is gathered symmetrically and artfully by the wind on a chain link fence. Equally present, though, are the pleasures of summer, from outdoor concerts and fireworks to lush greenery at its fullest.
Collectively, these images reveal the scaffolding of our lives, all those seemingly insignificant moments we collect and, mostly, discard. The bumper stickers we see on cars as we wait at a red light, the interesting shadows created by nature and humans, the way late-day sun catches on windows or a single brilliantly red autumn leaf in a wet gutter.
"Life is made up of multiple moments, not singular ones," Lebowitz tells me. "An individual photo will have only one effect. This show chronicles more completely how we actually live our lives."
Accompanying these panels of photographs are small adages printed in black and white and placed on a ledge along the wall below the panels. They spring from Lebowitz's mind as they come to him and are jotted down in his ever-present notebook. These can be philosophical ("Learning and knowing are two different things"), epigrammatic ("Dog walkers: If you crap on the world — the world will crap on you"), or political ("Yo GOP — try living beyond your mean").
And most of the show conveys that wide-ranging gamut of sentiments. A viewer can be laughing at a photo of Lebowitz and friends being silly one moment and pondering homelessness in Erie the next, thanks to his simple photo of the overflow shelter schedule posted on a wall.
As part of his project, Lebowitz captured both the things he saw and the thoughts he had throughout each time period.
But this is as it should be. This is how lives are pieced together, one image, one moment, one scrap of thought knitted into a fabric of our own making. These tapestries contain the good and bad, the sour and the sweet, the fat and the lean. But the radiance of each is based on whether we choose to remember or discard the details. Lebowitz chose to remember.
His tapestry is an opulent, bursting one. He has generously shared it with the rest of us. I recommend you see this and ponder the luster of your own. And remember the adage Lebowitz scribbled on May 18, 2018: This miracle of a day deserves documentation.
Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. // U Frame It, 731 W. Eighth St. // 456.1313
Mary Birdsong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org