Where Oil and Water Really Do Mix

Meryl Lefkovich is getting real with the abstract. Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Abstractionists and realists relate like oil and water. Many realist painters scoff at abstract art as lacking technical mastery — and many abstractionists dismiss realism as stilted and unimaginative. Then there’s self-taught Asheville artist Meryl Lefkovich, who speaks in both visual languages with enviable fluency, striking an elegantly reconciled aesthetic balance. 

As she explains, “I find abstract work challenging, but often more fun, because I’m not wedded to a specific result. However, I realize I’m not a purely abstract painter. I can’t help but feel the need to have an element of the representational present in my work. For me, it grounds the piece. I think that’s why I’m enjoying my current work so much; it’s kind of the best of both for me.”

Take Your Wings and Fly, Meryl Lefkovich

Lefkovich describes her latest works as experiments on panels – and even takes an experimental approach to gesso, which is typically applied in a consistently smooth and leveled manner. “I sometimes put it on gloppy and textured — and I don’t use oil out of a tube; I just use oil sticks,” she reveals.

Being entirely self taught, she’s never bothered about conventional approaches.

Searching for our Ancestors, Meryl Lefkovich

Lefkovich, who grew up in the Boston area, taught herself to draw and paint from an early age because “it was soothing to watch it go from nothing to something recognizable — and to see a good, unexpected result when it was finished.” She did a lot of pen-and-ink drawings as a kid, and recalls doing a portrait of an owl when she about 13 years old that looked so real it surprised her. After earning an Art History degree at Framingham State University, she launched her painting career by selling impeccably representational paintings to architects, interior designers, and art consultants. Some of her early works were rendered in watercolor — which, yet again, she used in an unusual way by not adding much water to the pigment, so that the paint was less fluid and behaved more like acrylic. 

Hothouse Flowers, Meryl Lefkovich

But then her inspiring father — her biggest fan, always supportive of her artwork — passed away. “I felt a very powerful force coming from him, and when he died, I quit painting for 10 years.” After learning how to solder metal in a microphone business, Lefkovich parlayed those newfound skills into designing and making jewelry. 

She moved to Asheville in 2015, and around 2018, inspired by friends she made in the art community, she picked up painting again — still concentrating on realism. Only within the past two years did she segue into abstract work.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers, Meryl Lefkovich

“As I grew to understand and appreciate abstract painting more, I wanted to go in that direction. There’s a freedom of movement, color, experimentation, and emotion. I want to explore strictly abstract painting sometime soon, for the fun and challenge of it. 

“It would be like the final frontier of my self-educated painting career – although I’m sure there’s always going to be some other aspect of painting I’ll want to explore.”

Meryl Lefkovich Design Contemporary Art, Asheville, meryllefkovichdesign.com and on Instagram. The artist is represented by Gallery Cor (19 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, gallerycor.com). 

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