Stephanie Levay: Life vs Art and the Victory is Sweet
Written by Rob Smittix on June 4, 2019
Stephanie Levay has become a very recognizable artist in the Albany art-scene. She has displayed her artwork in shops in and around the Lark Street area for years. You may have even driven or walked by a mural or two that she has painted. I (Rob Smittix) have been waiting for the opportunity to speak with Stephanie about life and art and I finally had my chance.
Stephanie: I think in art and in most media forms the person becomes the thing that they’re doing. They forget that they’re human like everybody else too. There’s always that image. I’m sure Beyoncé can rip a good one, right? (Laughter) We all have to remember that we all have our stories, we all came from somewhere, we all went through something and we all are dealing with something.
RRX: Speaking of going through something, it wasn’t that long ago that you’ve gone through some trying times yourself.
Stephanie: Which chapter?
RRX: Well you know, being in-between places with kids. How did you this affect you as a person, a mother and an artist?
Stephanie: I’ve always lived very poorly, not only out of circumstance but by choice, I’ve never chased money. So unfortunately when the really bad stuff happens and money is crucial to have I don’t have it. I suffer more from it. I already had that mindset of sacrifice, I’ve dealt with this before and I’ve gone without before. I always make sure I have whatever I need for the kids. And if I’ve got worn out shoes then I’ve got the worn out shoes and they have the new ones or at least passed-along, found or somehow acquired.
It was harder on me, going through that than it was on the kids. My kids are very resilient, I’ve raised them to understand that life is sometimes very hard. And they have to face things bravely and to know they have me. I have to be stable for them… And always let them know that I am there for them, no matter what I can’t ever fail them. That’s the motivation I can’t fail them. So you go through it, you get through it and you just do it.
Being homeless in a shelter is degrading, it was a life that I knew existed and how people are treated. So I knew what I was about to head into but boy… when you’re actually in it, it’s disgusting how we treat the weaker of our people. There were so many fights I wanted start with staff about how people were being treated and I couldn’t… I had to stay silent because I was there too. And it was a retaliatory system going on, where if the staff doesn’t like you, you were screwed out of the resources that you are entitled to have and that you are promised to have there. They made everything really hard.
On the outside, getting around and not having an actual way to get around. And not being able to sit in my art, so to speak. At my desk and have my art supplies and my tools ready to make whatever my brain comes up with. Which is, I am a complete idea factory and everything is coming at me all the time. Three o’clock in the morning, I’ll think of something by 5 o’clock I’ve created something, when the kids wake up, they’re like what’s this? I’m like, I don’t know I just made it over-night, I was bored. And I didn’t have that and it drove me nuts. The kids had a playground and new friends, they were alright and they were a lot stronger about it than I was. I needed to kind of suck it in for myself and mirror it back. I am strong too okay, we’re going to get through this but when they were sleeping and I was awake, not around my art supplies, not being able to have everything I’ve built up for twenty years, not even my cats for comforting; that just ate me alive.
I did not let that stop me. I had four shows in December that I pulled off. I went to the storage units, picked out all of the paintings and got it all to the galleries. I got my kids back and forth from the shelter to the school. I never let that fail because I never want my kids to see, that just because you’re going through something, you drop what’s important. You know, you’ve got to keep going on. This is your dream, fight through all the stuff and you’ll finally get there. So a lot of determination, and a heck of a lot of stubbornness. I do that self-inflicted, I’ll say I’ve got a show and I’m coming out with a brand-new series. I’ll post it and that locks me in.
RRX: Yes it does, it’s a commitment.
Stephanie: I have to come through on it now and I make myself do that. These kids have seen me pull-off all of these shows since they were babies. I’ve had one strapped on the front, one strapped on the back baby carriers. Made up a tart package of paintings and went up and down the hills of Albany putting up all of the shows. They’ve been at the shows with me, they know what this life is about. They’re very respectful about that. I want them to see that I never failed at what is very important to me.
I’m coming up on some things. We’ve had our proud dances in the living room. Like when we did the art gallery and I was on the news for it and interviewed for it. My kids saw the interview and it’s the proudest moment I’ve ever had in my life was my oldest turning around and saying “Mom, I’m so proud of you, I’m so happy for you, this is what you’ve always wanted.” I’ve never felt that kind of pride before without this lingering doubt or this unsure feeling. But I’ve never felt so strong about something in all of my life, seeing my children be proud of me for something, I know that’s going to create a memory and an ethic in them when they go on to do what they want to do when they get older.
RRX: So you have two kids?
Stephanie: James is my oldest and William is five.
RRX: So I caught it on social media about one of your children writing a letter to a stranger and I thought it was the coolest story.
Stephanie: William wanted to give a letter to a stranger. It was really kind of late at night but he was determined. He was like we’re going to write a letter because it will make somebody feel good. It was like, you are special, you are important, we care about you, I love you and can we be friends? Or something. So we sat out on the porch and a guy came up, for a half-second I was kind of weary he because he was walking up kind of drunk. I’m like of course, great, yay Albany. William said that’s who the letter is for. I was like alright let’s do this and I walk down and said I’m sorry sir but my son has this letter and he would like to give it to you. He looks at us like we’re crazy. I’m looking at him telepathically like can you just oblige the four year old and take the letter?
RRX: Wow, he was only four when he did this.
Stephanie: Yeah, he was four. So the guy took it and he opened it up and of course William wrote it so it made no sense. I interpreted the letter for him and told him what it was supposed to say and this child-like joy came over this guy’s face. He looked at William and he’s like this is amazing. And William asked do you like it? And he said I love it, this means so much to me. And what really meant a lot to me was when he walked away he didn’t toss it aside or set it down somewhere, he folded it up so carefully and put it in his pocket, making sure it went in the pocket. Like he was going to keep it, like it did mean something.
RRX: It’s seems like the letter was meant for that guy.
Stephanie: My kids do a lot of stuff like that. Now he wants to send letters to everybody.
RRX: That’s a great attitude, your kids are amazing. Good job!
Stephanie: I always feel real proud when they execute that kindness, thoughtfulness and empathy for others. They both have total confidence, so I’m really happy that they have that. I didn’t have that when I was a kid. I went through years, a couple decades of not knowing really who I was and… Not so much not knowing who I was more like never being sure of who I was. I always knew who I was I just fought against what I knew wasn’t right. I knew how I was being treated wasn’t right but always told you’re creating more of a problem complaining about how you’re being mistreated than recognizing that I’m trying to fight against that. I was not encouraged in art, I was told to put it on the back-burner and that it was a waste of time and ridiculous. People don’t make careers out of that, it was treated as a hobby.
How I was raised had the opposite effect so I became very anti-capitalist. I saw a push for, you’re only as good as your productivity and I thought that was crazy because I had different needs, different abilities, learning disabilities and a lot of abuse that I went through as a child. That took so many years to recover from and I was not treated with any respect as somebody who needed to still deal with those things. I was expected to just push pass that and be at a level that I just wasn’t at yet. And the expectations of me were just not realistic according to what my actual abilities and skill levels were. I was more or less being told, no you go sit in the box, not the circle and I wanted to go run out to the trapezoid. (Laughter)
That took many years to get over too but I fought against it. I at least had validation when I did the research and discovered what my coping-mechanisms were. I could spot what my triggers were to correct these behaviors within myself.
RRX: As a songwriter, I take my pain and hardships and I write some of my best material that way, is it the same for you as an artist?
Stephanie: Yes, through art I have been able to pour so much of all of the things I felt into it. Most of my paintings have been feelings of past relationships, boyfriend, girlfriend, work, friendships or parental. It was always more of a movement of color and form rather than physical things. I’ve moved a little more into physical things. I’ve actually started to allow myself to make all of the things that my brain comes up with. I have at least ten different things that I do now and I love all of it. It allows me to do one process on a painting, let that dry, in the meantime I’m sculpting something, let that sit; go to a collage piece that I am working on from things that I’ve picked up off the streets… Because I’m a little crow, a magpie, I pick up the little shiny bits and I save them for years. Now it’s finally time for me to start actually doing something with it. The solo show that I have coming up at Alacrity is just going to have it all, paintings, sculpture, nature craft, miniature landscapes, collage-work, hair-pieces, you name it!
RRX: So you’ve gone over some of your struggles with us but I hear things are looking up.
Stephanie: Yes, I’m doing good, things are coming together. Finally… Jesus, I’ve been getting dragged through the mud for a while. Life has been hard and I was stubborn enough to say I am still doing this and now finally it’s paying off. I think I needed to take time to heal for myself. I’ve finally let my guard down and I’m allowing myself to feel happy and love myself again. Fight for myself again and that is allowing good things to happen around me. I am finally feeling loved again, so everything else is coming up roses around it. I fought through the funk. All that compost is yeilding some beautiful flowers right now. I’m really excited to see where this goes, all of it!
Stephanie has a couple of big projects coming in the near future that I have been sworn to secrecy about. However, the annoucements will be soon. In the meantime we encourage you to check out Stephanie Levay’s artshows. Friday June 7th 5-9pm at Alacrity Frame Workshop on Lark Street and June 8th for the Art on Lark celebration beginning at 11am.
To check out more on Stephanie Levay visit www.zhibit.org/stephanielevay