Dan’s Cover Artist Rabbi Hanniel Levenson Talks Art & Faith

November 4, 2022 Dan's Papers cover art (detail) by Hanniel Levenson
November 4, 2022 Dan’s Papers cover art (detail) by Hanniel Levenson

This week’s colorful cover art, “Felines and Flowers,” was created by Hanniel Levenson. Described by The New York Times as the “free-wheeling rabbi of the East End” while serving as the associate rabbi at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in 2014, Levenson has since founded the House of Surf and Prayer and is gaining recognition for his vibrant art.

His first solo show, Return to the Garden, opened on November 3 at the new Triangle Loft gallery space on the top floor of the Little Flatiron building in Manhattan.

Hanniel Levenson
Hanniel LevensonDrew Gurian

A Conversation with Hanniel Levenson

What inspired “Felines and Flowers?”

Watch a cat move, a leaf fall, a flower bloom. It’s majestic. Silent dances, happening around us at all times. The roar is a yearning, a prayer, to tap into my true self. To hear the call to follow my passion. Endurance and grace are needed in this journey to tell the one story each one of us is called to tell as we dance through our lives. “Felines and Flowers” seeks this dance, listens for the call and moves towards the sacred center.

What does your creative process typically look like, and what do you enjoy most about the physical act of painting?

Painting is definitely a physical practice for me. My canvases are as big as me or bigger. I’m moving around the canvas at all times. I find myself in a mix of yoga postures and awkward poses to reach all corners of the canvas. It’s a great stretch with a side of ache. But it’s a great ache — satisfying and exhausting.

In between pieces I wander the city or get out east to surf. It helps me clear the slate and prepare for another piece. Starting a new canvas never feels forced for me. Usually I see an image, I get a spark and the paint flows.

Hanniel Levenson's "In the Garden with You" (oil on canvas, 60” x 48”)
Hanniel Levenson’s “In the Garden with You” (oil on canvas, 60” x 48”)

How would you describe your art style and how did you develop it?

I’d say it’s playful soul scribing and scribbling. Pure fun. Somewhere between mystical mayhem and an adult coloring book. I love using as many colors as I can, playing with the rainbow, for a full spectrum experience.

I used to work with oil paint but it got a bit messy. This led me to using oil and acrylic paint markers. It takes patience to fill a canvas with small markers but it’s definitely a cleaner process.

This is always helpful because I like to make a mess. There are no rules when I’m painting. It’s an exploration. I might have a vision of what I want my painting to look like and it never does.

It’s a beautiful practice in surrender and allowing for the present moment to reveal whatever it wants.

How does your art intersect with your faith, and what do you find most fulfilling about the way you’ve incorporated both into your life?

Sacred art is one of the six main practices of my spiritual life. The others are surfing, studying, singing, stretching and social action. These are all “ways in,” that is, practices that bring me into the present moment.

My teacher would say, everything we need is here right now — whether we like it or not is irrelevant. Here right now, I fill my life with loving kindness, always trying to do the best that I can.

My art and my faith are intertwined and are rooted in the practices of loving kindness and presence. Each informs the other. Each is a practice in being fully present.

The tools are slightly different, but the intention is the same. Faith and art can tap into a timeless place where we can feel the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things.

Allowing myself the space to embark on this practice is a great gift.

Hanniel Levenson "Hold Your Horses" (oil on canvas, 60" x 48")
Hanniel Levenson’s “Hold Your Horses” (oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″)

How has your art career thus far been leading up to your first solo show?

I have been painting for many years. My style is continuously changing. I have exhibited in group shows and in virtual shows. My studio is full of canvases and could use a little breathing space. I’ve learned that time is irrelevant and organic.

When I met Karen at Triangle Lofts she offered to host my show. The opportunity presented itself and I leapt. I am so excited to bring people together for this show.

What series or specific artwork are you most excited to present in the Return to the Garden exhibition?

Each piece is unique and playful, I am excited to see all of them presented. It will be the first time that they all get to be shown together. It will be interesting to see how they all interact with one another in the gallery space.

It will be full of color and light!

Hanniel Levenson painting "Blessing of the Animals" (oil on canvas, 60" x 48")
Hanniel Levenson painting “Blessing of the Animals” (oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″)

What is one short-term or long-term artistic goal you’d like to achieve?

I have started working on an abstract photo collage series. Each piece is 8 feet tall (that is the greatest height that I can fit in my studio right now). I am working with various people, creating larger-than-life art pieces. I hope to build this into a large body of work to share.

Long-term, I seek to always be the student, experimenting and creating with curiosity and wonder. I’d love to make more murals, collaborate with other artists and continue to have fun!

Would you like to share any closing thoughts or additional information?

I am grateful to you for sharing my work. I have a deep love for the Hamptons community. It is a special place for me — I have so many friends there. I hope to show some of my art out east soon!

To see more of Hanniel Levenson’s art, visit honeyEL.shop. Return to the Garden is on view at the Triangle Loft through November 20 by online appointment at triangleloft.com.

November 4, 2022 Dan's Papers cover art by Hanniel Levenson
November 4, 2022 Dan’s Papers cover art by Hanniel Levenson

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