Dudley Levenson, Director of Inspired Planet, has been traveling the earth for twenty-five years,
exploring indigenous cultures and researching classical traditions.
He is a photographer, lecturer, artist, travel consultant and incurable collector of art and handcraft which is shown around America and especially at his gallery in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts for the last twenty two years. A Manhattan native with nomad spirit, Mr. Levenson went to art museums in New York as a boy and was exposed to anthropology at University of Pennsylvania, but emphasizes, "I really felt the fire of interest ignite when venturing through Central America, Africa and the Orient. His recent trips have been to Egypt, Ethiopia, Burma, Rajasthan, Nepal and Tibet.
Dudley Levenson's INSPIRED PLANET
|"The mask goes through a magical process in which it is brought to life by a shaman, then further energized by a dance."|
HC: If your collections were behind glass in a museum would they have the same personal connection?
DL: I look for art that inspires the mind and heart, art that will animate my gallery and enliven the home with beauty and wisdom. Some people say that museums are prisons for paintings, but you and I know that it's possible to go into a museum and have a sensory or cerebral connection with artwork thatıs on display. I think the same is true of objects that we have here at Inspired Planet, except that here you can actually touch them, hold them, buy them and take them home where they become a part of your personal life.
HC: Can you tell me what motivated you to enter the art world?
DL: I began as a wanderer observing and taking pictures. As a young man I explored in America, then Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico. In school I was exposed to western artistic traditions, academic anthropology and conventional religion. Then a deep creative impulse pierced through these ideologies. Spirit was emerging through my heart. Traveling was about freedom, new terrain, different cultures. Eventually I expanded my orbit to India, Africa, Southeast Asia and Japan. My first focus was landscape photographs which sold through an agent in New York. While hunting for good locations I was also gathering interesting objects--pieces of nature and native craft. People admired these little treasures and asked me to buy for them. Twenty years later I am still developing a vast array of artifacts, images and cultural information. These are featured in the gallery, workshops, exhibitions and publications.
|"In school I was exposed to western artistic traditions, academic anthropology and conventional religion. Then a deep creative impulse pierced through these ideologies. Spirit was emerging through my heart. Traveling was about freedom, new terrain, different cultures."|
HC: So you were learning about art and yourself through travel?
DL: Yes, like many artists searching for meaning, I wanted to explore and express the unknown. Exotic cultures contain colors, mysteries, primitive instincts and shadows that contrast and illuminate our modern predicament and point towards our potential enlightenment.
HC: You're a messenger. Do you want to express the mystery you have discovered? Is that one of your goals?
DL: Let's say that's my service. The world appears chaotic, confused by glamour and greed, hopelessly mired in destructive patterns. Fortunately art offers insight and illumination. My collages are like windows and doorways to an integrated cosmology within. The collections of artifacts build bridges between indigenous, classical and modern cultures. I've gone out into the world and brought back symbolic crafts imbued with wisdom from ancient mythologies. Every culture holds a piece of the human puzzle, an offering of truth or beauty, something to teach us about ourselves.
|"Exotic cultures contain colors, mysteries, primitive instincts and shadows that contrast and illuminate our modern predicament and point towards our potential enlightenment."|
HC: For example?
DL: For example, every year I cross the border between Thailand and Burma to collect gongs from Theravaden Buddhist temples. These instruments of peace are painstakingly forged by hand out of fiery crucibles. After a volcanic birth, they are pounded a thousand times by masters who refine the harmonic tones. When a finished gong is sounded it is not so much creating a musical note as it is resonating with a place of peace within our being. Gongs are meditation tools. Some are ascendant, some are grounding. The technology has a very high intention--to connect us with spirit.
HC: When someone drives off Route 7 and comes into your place it's almost a culture shock. You bring them into another dimension. People must spend hours in here among your configurations of masks, paintings and gongs, your array of books, medicine crafts, Buddhas and jewelry. That's a form of art. Do you agree? You may be a photographer but this collection is the major way you express your art.
DL: The gallery has been called a Jungian sandbox. I think of my work as an assemblage, not really a ride, but an experience.
|"I am a small player among many artisans working on a multimedia project with worldwide scope and universal vision."|
HC: An interactive performance piece?
DL: Of sorts. I am a small player among many artisans working on a multimedia project with worldwide scope and universal vision. Sometimes our projects can be quite small and still have larger meaning. For example, when I traveled in Ethiopia, Kenya and along the coast of East Africa I collected beads. Each of the beads tells a story, each is made by hand, some beads are charms, some are magic, some are worn by virgins, some by warriors. Some beads are given by a loving husband to his wife, some are used as money. Some beads are shaped like melons indicating abundance, some represent sacred trees or the circle of life. When we string them together they make a necklace of many enchanting stories.
|"Each of the beads tells a story, each is made by hand, some beads are charms, some are magic, some are worn by virgins, some by warriors."|
HC: Where have you been lately?
DL: This winter I was in the Thar Desert of far western Rajasthan collecting old tribal silver and shooting the annual temple processions. From there I traveled north to the source of the Ganges river for a ritual baptism. I ascended into the mountains of Himachal Pradesh to meet the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Buddhist enclave of Dharamsala. Then when the apple trees blossomed in the Kulu Valley, I trekked further into the Himalayas to visit the home of mystic painter, Nicholas Roerich. Last year I was in Cambodia, Sumatra, Bali, Burma and Utah. The year before I was in Mexico, Morocco and Mali. Can you imagine? I've been seeking out extraordinary destinations for the last twenty five years.
HC: Does America appear on your list?
DL: Definitely. America ranks high--It has natural beauty, access to diverse cultures, good infrastructure--but Iım looking for distinctive handmade artifacts. And unfortunately American culture is at risk of being completely homogenized. Besides, travel in the cities can be dangerous.
HC: Is it safe traveling abroad?
DL: Generally speaking, indigenous people are warm and interested in interaction. I can think of a range of experiences---the Tarahumara cave dwellers of Copper Canyon in Northern Mexico were extremely shy and kept a distance. The children of Sumbawa, an island in southern Indonesia ran from their homes to give me gifts of fresh fruit. The children of Tinerhir, Morocco threw stones. During my recent trip to Cambodia I had to take an armed escort to the remote temples of Angkor. That's not because the natives are unfriendly. The area is surrounded by ruthless Khmer Rouge guerrillas who have a reputation for kidnapping and killing travelers. But once I was inside the stone walls, it felt safe---like a magnificent sanctuary.
|"During my recent trip to Cambodia I had to take an armed escort to the remote temples of Angkor. That's not because the natives are unfriendly. The area is surrounded by ruthless Khmer Rouge guerrillas who have a reputation for kidnapping and killing travelers. But once I was inside the stone walls, itfeltsafe---like a magnificent sanctuary."|
HC: Too bad we can't all experience that. That's why you have to go there and bring it back for us.
DL: My job is to bring back artifacts, images and stories from exotic locations. Sometimes that means dodging war and seeking peace far away, but the spiritual connection is available here as well.
HC: I think it's hard if you can't go there to see these artifacts in context. You can't just bring a rock from over there and expect someone here to have a spiritual experience.
DL: We try to present objects with reverence and meaning. Even a rock can have power or significance. I brought back healing rocks from the Karakoram mountains in legendary Hunzaland. One theory says that the Ark of the Covenant actually contained rocks, radiant stone tablets, perhaps meteorites, energized by the word of God. They were considered the most precious objects of the ancient world. For Muslims nothing is more sacred than the rock of Mecca. We assign great value and mythology to objects. The deeper meanings are mysteries. They resonate on a primordial level.
HC: We talked about your work as a bridge. Could you close by giving an example of how the bridge as a symbol was used in ancient art?
DL: So many cultures have been inspired by the mythology of Mother India and the natural landscape. Between 850 and 1450 AD Cambodia developed a great classical civilization. Khmer architects believed they were creating potent cosmological configurations. The stone complexes they built at Angkor reflected the hierarchies of heaven and earth. Colossal walls represented mountain ranges, pools of water represented the seas, and at the summit a high tower represented the central mountain of the world. There were always moats and mezzanines surrounding the temples. To get across you had to climb stairways or cross bridges protected by Naga dragons. They were called rainbow bridges linking heaven and earth. The rainbow forms a bridge shaped arc across the sky(air) to the motherland(earth). The color spectrum is formed by sunlight(fire) diffusing through raindrops(water). Going over the rainbow beautifully symbolizes ascending from earth to the heavenly realms. Upon reaching the world mountain and entering the inner sanctum of the temple spire, man meets God.
There is an interesting coincidence---the stone steps of the Mayan pyramids in Mexico's Yucatan, like the stairways of Angkor, have balustrades with serpents or dragons on either side and are also called rainbow bridges.
|"The world appears chaotic, confused by glamour and greed, hopelessly mired in destructive patterns. Fortunately art offers insight and illumination."|
Inspired Planet is located at Brushwood Farm right on Route 7 in Lenox, Massachusetts.
The gallery is open afternoons May through December.
For information call 413-637-2836 or send e-mail to email@example.com