Amateur Artist's Iraq-War Paintings Stir Passions

There's something about Marc Levine. His friends and professors at the University of Houston see it. Almost anyone who comes across his paintings sees it. And you can see it for yourself tonight at Rice University.

Levine, 21, began painting images of Iraqi civilians from war photographs he found online in 2007. He hadn't painted since a high-school art class and was suddenly completing 10 canvases in a week. A year later, he finished a powerful collection of abstract and mixed-media paintings chronicling the violence in Iraq from the civilian perspective. The student group Rice For Peace & Justice invited Levine to exhibit his paintings for the event entitled, Six Years: A Memorial. Along with his Iraq collection, Levine will be showing new works inspired by the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Levine's work is nothing you'd expect from a college student, and within a few minutes of speaking with him, you know he is someone with an old soul.  Most 21-year-olds aren't spending their time reading about global political conflict and translating their thoughts into art - and the war in Iraq isn't at the forefront of many college students' minds. That's what struck Bob Buzzanco when he first met Levine.

Buzzanco a professor of history at the University of Houston's main campus, tells Hair Balls he has a reputation of being "the old 60s hippie lefty professor" who is always playing rock music and showing YouTube videos during lectures. Levine was taking U.S. History from the Civil War to the Present, and started to talk to the professor after class.

"He would just ask these cool questions," says Buzzanco of his former student. "And one day, he came to my office after class and brought his portfolio. He's completely self taught, and I couldn't help but be incredibly impressed with what he accomplished."

Buzzanco began showing Levine's Web site to other students, and it didn't take long for them to start approaching the young artist after class with compliments and questions. His professor says he became a "mini-celebrity."

Levine's work has reached beyond the university campus. His close friend, Ayhan Aslan, says Levine's sensitivity to Iraqis and Palestinians has touched many in Houston's Muslim community.

"They receive his work as really inspiring...they have his paintings as their profile pictures on Facebook. Many Muslims go see his work. It's known all over," says Aslan, who is Muslim and a student at Houston Community College.

Aslan says Levine is more than just an inspiring and sensitive artist. "He's a very good human being...to the point that its unfathomable that someone like that exists."

But Levine is ever humble and reticent about his work. He can talk about Middle Eastern politics or the Bush administration with passion and ease, but when it comes to his painting, he'd rather let the work speak for itself.

"I'm excited that the work will be exhibited for the public to see," Levine says. "I just want people to see the art and experience it for themselves."

Levine's anti-war protest is a quiet one, and he says expressing his views through painting is the most powerful way he knows.

"I really wish I had no reason to have to paint this...but that's how it goes."

The exhibit will be held at 6100 Main St. from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday. You can view an invitation here.

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