Anne Labovitz creates portraits of the human spirit

What is it about the human visage? Staring into another person's eyes, being infected by a child's smile, or reading the signs of a life fully lived in the creases of the skin; we connect by looking into each others faces.

Self Portrait with others (white) 2014 Woodcut, acrylic, graphite, Caran d'Arche on canvas 20 x 16"

Faces have never ceased to enchant Duluth-native Anne Labovitz, whose work revolves around portraiture.

"I love human beings. I have profound respect and awe for how we manage the difficulties we face," said Labovitz, surrounded by her work on the walls of Burnet Gallery in Minneapolis. "I love perseverance, the human ability to adapt and move on. And what binds us – all of us around the world – is our 'human spirit,' whatever that is. That's what my work explores."

Orange 2013 Woodcut with graphite and acrylic on canvas 48 x 48"

Labovitz's works are akin to archeological digs, made up of layers of paintings, drawings with pastels, woodcuts and writing embedded in polymer acrylics. And her portraits don't limit themselves to one person. Sometimes she captures an entire family on one canvas, or she brings together the faces of people who are complete strangers.

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"It’s all about human interactions and emotions," Labovitz said. "Visual imagery today is so different than a 100 years ago. The visual assault that we go through every day – it’s a lot to process. These works are my way of processing the humans I encounter in my life. It’s randomness connected through me."

In the piece "Harold" she combined images of a good friend from different parts of his life. She inserted her own face in-between.

Harold 2013 Woodcut with graphite and acrylic on canvas 30 x 24"

Labovitz doesn't just build up layers ("Layers" is, appropriately enough, the name of her show); she also strips them away. Like a faded memory, pieces are missing or hidden. When she writes on the canvas, she sometimes writes about the people she's depicting. Other times she simply free writes about what's affecting her at the time, only to obscure the words under more images. She's keeping a journal that no one, not even she, will ever be able to read.

The works develop over a period of months, involving intense and repeated physical effort.

"I think the physicality of connecting is really important," she said.

That's why Labovitz refers to herself as a "manual laborer" as much as she calls herself an artist.


Pink Letter Painting 2014 Woodcut, acrylic, pastel and Caran d'Arche on canvas 30 x 24"

Because of all this work, there is an innate depth to Labovitz's pieces; there's the sense that one is looking into a tunnel. A viewer finds themselves trying to dissect the layers, but to no avail.

Labovitz said she's keenly aware of the basic human need to be seen and noticed.

"It’s a way to acknowledge and engage with them in a way that’s not verbal or physical, but more spiritual and psychological," she said. "Reading faces is an important skill for surviving in society. It’s really primal… it’s like memory. It comes alive as long as the viewer is engaged."

“Layers” runs through March 2.