Levers, Robert L., Jr. (1930–1992)

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: November 19, 2019

Robert L. Levers, Jr., painter, printmaker, and teacher, was born on April 11, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Gertrude (Burrow) and Robert L. Levers, Sr. He earned a B.F.A. in 1952 and an M.F.A. in 1961, both from Yale University. He began his career as a teacher at Whitney Art School in New Haven, Connecticut, worked at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York in the early 1950s, then served in the United States Navy as a gunnery officer until 1957. He taught at Yale for one year before accepting an appointment in the University of Texas art department in 1961. There he taught painting and drawing courses and won teaching-excellence awards in 1963 and 1984. Among his students were such talented artists as Luis Jiménez, Chuck Cooper, Millie Wilson, Carol Ivey, Phillip Wade, Cole Welter, and Judy Maxwell.

Levers's early work ranged from a brushy abstract expressionism to geometric abstractions inspired by Josef Albers, one of his teachers at Yale. A 1968 visit to Mexico City, where Levers witnessed attacks on students during the Olympic games and viewed Mayan ruins, prompted him to paint more representational, political works. Inspired by such Renaissance masters as Peter Paul Rubens and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, he developed a fluid, richly colored style that he used to dramatize improbable situations described by one critic as a "mixture of the playful and the apocalyptic." One series, for example, featured terrorists engaged in juggling and playing volleyball. Another series centered around the fancied destruction of Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas. Levers made a number of prints and was active with the Peregrine Press in Dallas and the Flatbed Press in Austin.

He participated in over 100 group exhibitions and nineteen solo exhibitions at such museums as the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (1961, 1979); the Dallas Museum of Art (1964); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1986); the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery in Austin (1962–83, 1985–88, 1990); and galleries in New York City, Washington, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Dallas. In 1984 his work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Faculty Grant, in addition to many other awards and grants from the University of Texas. The university named him the Leslie Waggener Professor of Fine Arts in 1987.

Levers married Mary Lou Schlichting on August 12, 1954, and they had two daughters and a son. Shortly before his death, Laguna Gloria Art Museum organized a retrospective of his work that traveled to several other institutions. Commenting on his work at that time Levers remarked, "things, well, they always have been sort of absurd and cruel and kind all at the same time; it's such a stew, and I just try to respond to this as richly as I can." He died in Austin on February 6, 1992. Examples of his work are included in the collections of the Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; the Huntington Gallery at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Old Jail Art Center in Albany.

The Art of Robert Levers: A Retrospective (Exhibition Catalogue, Austin: Laguna Gloria Art Museum, 1991). Austin American-Statesman, February 9, 1992. Annette Carlozzi, Fifty Texas Artists: A Critical Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in Texas (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1986). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Art and Architecture
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Museums
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting
  • Printmaking

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kendall Curlee, “Levers, Robert L., Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/levers-robert-l-jr.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995
November 19, 2019