The Art of Creating Alternate Universes Through Charcoal Drawing

Even since he was a child, Levi van Veluw has been fascinated by the dystopias of authors such as Aldous Huxley and Isaac Asimov. In this, his most recent collection of drawings, Levi continues to bring to light his own dystopian spaces, universes governed by their own patterns and logic.


With an impeccable geometric structure, Levi’s drawings invite the viewers to psychologically submerge themselves in the image, bucking and warping their own notions of space. What Levi achieves is a beautiful contrast between intimacy and alienation in the relationship between viewer and drawings: his shapes unsettlingly express chaos and structure at the same time, with the darkness often pierced by echoing light, emphasizing the emptiness and the silence.


Most of the drawings bring to the surface an Orwellian atmosphere of constant surveillance, even in places that seem abandoned. The Dutch artist wishes to produce a powerful psychological effect, wagering that his disruptive forms will confront the viewer’s confidence in the fundamental ordering laws of the world. The absence of characters is underscored with the inclusion of empty desks and chairs in his scrupulously constructed environment, all waiting to be occupied by some undefined person swallowed in the silence of the time.


We caught up with Levi to get an insight into this parallel and arresting dimension.

The Plus: Could you tell me a bit about how your personal style developed?
Levi Van Veluw:
The themes changed over time. ‘The Origin of the Beginning’ and ‘The Collapse of Cohesion’ represent previous installments in my fascination with creating parallel universes. Elements of fantasy, order, and loss of control are a substantial constant in my work. The projects to date have all been inspired by the underlying tension between our desire for a regulated universe and the rational impossibility of total control. The dynamic of this quandary stands at the very heart of this practice.


TP: You work in many mediums; is there an artistic itch you can scratch with charcoal drawings that you can’t with, for example, sculpture?
The reason I started doing drawings was the simplicity of the medium. There is no technical experience involved, it’s just charcoal and paper. For me it was a challenge to overcome the white empty page. The decision to use charcoal was to reduce the amount of choice and just work with black and white. It gave me a lot of freedom to create environments without any limits. Everything is possible within a drawing. The drawings became the inspiration for other works, like the films from The Collapse of Cohesion and the 300m2 installation The Relativity of Matter.


TP: The images you create seem to be of large-scale structures in states of abandon or disrepair; is there a narrative you’re drawn to, or is it more an aesthetic?

Yes, there is a kind of narrative, but not in a chronicled way. It’s more like I have taken fragments from this parallel world: spaces, movement, landscapes. It feels like I’m exploring an alternative world that reflects on ours. The images are more suggestive and conceptual. Within an exhibition like “the Foundation” at Rosenfeld Porcini gallery in London, all works relate to each other.


TP: The drawings are very precise in terms of perspective and frame; how important do you think good craftsmanship is for an artist in the 21st Century?
It depends. I think craftsmanship has to fit the concept, not the other way around. 
As I’m trying to create a realistic alternative environment, expressionism doesn’t really work for me. I think all professional artists need craftsmanship, either themselves or in somebody they hire. Even the most messed up artworks are created with skills of some sort.


TP: What draws you towards beginning a new project? What sort of artistic approach do you take?
My new work always leans on my previous work, although I try to experiment with new forms, mediums, techniques and shapes. For example, by drawing an immersive environment, it led to me creating this environment as an installation.