Chris Levine's Compassion
Best known for his iconic image of Her Majesty the Queen - hailed by the National Portrait Gallery as the most evocative image of a royal by any artist - and She's Light, an ethereal image of Kate Moss, pioneering holographer Chris Levine explores the meditative medium of lenticular, laser and natural light to create expansive visual sensations in his work.
A practicing Buddhist himself, Levine’s most recent series of portraits of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama extend from Equanimity. Believing light to be the fundamental energy of life, these innovative works transcend traditional portraiture and contemplate the experience of seeing.
“There was a kind of magic involved in how this commission came about. It’s as if there was a higher power directing and I was just carrying out a duty. He is an extraordinary human being and it was a huge honour to do the work and support the cause.” Chris Levine
Rarely sitting for formal portraits, his holiness - whose 80th birthday fell on July 6 - agreed to do so on this occasion as all proceeds from the limited-edition series ‘Compassion’ will go to charities supporting those affected by the recent earthquakes in Nepal.
Blouin Art Info caught up with Chris Levine to find out more…
What led to you creating a portrait of the Dalai Lama?
After the Queen, I was often asked who I’d like to shoot most. I always said the Dalai Lama, and somehow the universe delivered. It was quite strange — I went to meet a friend who I’d not seen for a while and when I saw him, his phone rang. It was the curator appointed by Tibet House to determine the artist to carry out the portrait, saying that he understood he knew me and asking him to introduce us. He handed the phone over to me. It was meant to be.
Could you explain the technology you used to create the work?
Essentially, the 3D is captured by a stills camera moving along a track in front of the subject. We use approximately 40 frames, shot from left to right, and the images are interlaced together into a single print. When a lenticular lens is placed on top of the seemingly out of focus print, the lens separates the images so the viewer only sees two at any one time. If these two images are what is known as a stereo pair — that is left and right eye views — then the result is a convincing 3D image.
How did you approach the depiction of such a revered and respected figure?
As with all my subjects, my objective is to make a soulful connection to the person that somehow transcends the physical. Because I only had limited time with His Holiness, I needed to be sure I could achieve this. And by requesting that he sit in meditation, I knew the result would make a strong connection with whoever sat in front of the work, as if you are sitting in prayer with him.
What did you aim to express about the Dalai Lama?
His Holiness is the spiritual leader of our time and I wanted an iconic image that would represent all he stands for. I wanted to create a work that made a brief meditative space for those who view it, and in the case of the 3D lightbox, the mirrored finish puts the viewer’s reflection in the same space as His Holiness. There is a power in stillness, and hopefully, if just for a moment, the viewer connects with it as if in meditation.