Local artist spotlight: The ever ethereal Donna Levinstone


In a place divided by opposites — old and new, natural and artificial, solid and ethereal — pastel artist Donna Levinstone finds balance. A universe at odds take shape in the fine lines and smudges of chalky clouds and smooth sunsets, juxtaposed against steel and glass.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the dichotomy between what’s permanent and what’s changing,” she said.

The artist, who calls her work “painted photo realism,” has always worked in the realm of pastel landscapes, craving the forgiving and spontaneous nature of the medium, how every stick contains little particles of light so they almost read it. The ease at which a hot pink streak ignites an eggplant sky was fascinating.

“Clouds are really hard,” Levinstone said. “You would think it’s easy but it’s like any composition. I never want it to look too stiff. It’s kind of like a dance, which is true of any composition.”

While her work captures something seemingly conventional, Levinstone believes the job of a true artist is to take something lacking in interest and make it interesting.

“An artist’s mind has the ability to take something real and change it into ten different things,” Levinstone said.

She recently released her first series inspired by Long Island City. She loves the architecture dotting the horizon and the light that shimmers around the high rises – a light that’s changed in the years since she began working in LIC.

Levinstone has fostered a lifelong love affair with the sky. As a kid, she rode in the backseat of her father Martin’s convertible, hands in the air, the sky at her fingertips. Last year, as Martin, 92, lay on his deathbed, she made him a promise.

“I’m going to paint you in my clouds,” she said.

His death brought the element of the afterlife and what’s beyond the clouds into Levinstone’s work.

Observers tell Levinstone her work is ever-changing. In rich amber skies and wispy clouds, they see endless possibilities. A 17-year-old boy once described her work as “artistic shorthand.” She thought that was the best feedback she’d ever gotten.

“It really comes from the soul. There’s something people feel when they look at the work.

As much as my work is about the sky, it’s more than that. It’s about what’s beyond there. We look at it and it looks back at us, we discover things.”

Levinstone isn’t afraid to let her work go towards the dark side. When the American landscape changed on September 11, 2001, her art dove into a deep emotional crevasse, abandoning bright colors for black, white and charcoal grey – the color of the collapsing towers’ smoke. Her most recent collection spurred from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, the havoc and the mess it left behind.

“It’s interesting the role ones mental state effects [one’s work],” she said.

Levinstone uses her work to help others. She runs workshops and teaches classes at a creative center for people battling cancer. She visits students in their homes and helps them craft a portfolio for art schools or showcases and visits homebound elderly residents, painting and drawing. Art provides escapism and serenity, she said, similarly to watching a movie. Some of the people she works with have never created art before, but watching their moods brighten is an amazing process.

Levinstone also recently began teaching at the Queens Paideia School, an addition she says has added endless meaning to her life. She calls the experience symbiotic, stating it’s not just the teacher teaching, but her students who enrich her life every day.

Levinstone’s latest show can be seen at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery, beginning Friday, March 29.