MICHAEL LEVITT is a surgeon and health bureaucrat, and the author of scientific articles.
Good Reading caught up with him to discuss his debut novel, The Gallerist, a compelling mystery set in Australia’s art scene.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Fake or fortune? The Gallerist is a feel-good cosy crime novel that will take you behind the scenes of the art world.
James Devlin is a celebrated artist whose past is as blank as an empty canvas. When Jan Bilowski brings a painting, which was a gift to her dead sister, into Mark Lewis’s gallery, she tells him it was created by a seventeen-year-old boy called Charlie. Why then does the work look exactly like a James Devlin – painted a whole decade before the artist’s career began on the other side of the country?
The novel is set in the Australian art world – what research did you do to capture this scene?
I have been somewhat obsessively involved in the world of Australian fine art since I started collecting in a serious manner well over 20 years ago. I followed the first bit of advice I received – to train my eye – by looking at loads of catalogues, reading books, visiting exhibitions and museums, in a joyously and selfishly disciplined fashion. And I still do. I’ve followed and participated in the debate about art in self-managed superannuation funds, liaised with art journalists and politicians, written articles for magazines and newspapers and have sat and chewed the fat for many hours with art gallerists, dealers and artists themselves.
So, in describing the Australian art scene, I felt that I was writing about material with which I was familiar and describing individual scenarios that I had experienced myself.
Your characters deal with varying forms of grief – what compelled you to explore this?
The focus on dealing with grief was not a conscious one, although, on reflection, a cluster of deaths at about the time I started to write the story – my father’s expected, almost merciful passing aged almost 90 as well as the tragic deaths of two young men, sons of colleagues – had undoubtedly triggered some serious contemplation about the meaning of life and the vagaries of human existence.
I was consciously trying to express sentiments and attitudes that reflected my own stage of life. I wanted the lead characters to be imbued with both the added knowledge and the growing uncertainty that simultaneously attend late middle age; the realisation that, when the dust of youth settles, it is humanity that eclipses materiality, and it’s the appreciation of life’s unfathomability that holds sway over the belief that things will occur according to rational rules.
Is the character Mark shaped by your own personal experiences?
Definitely. In describing Mark as a retired surgeon and former avid art collector, I make the story transparently autobiographical. This allowed me to describe his reactions with confidence. Knowing how he would react and feel in specific circumstances meant that he would have authenticity as a fictional creation.
The Gallerist is, above all, a meditation upon the way in which art can move the human spirit, and both convey and elicit emotions, as if a painting can literally speak to the viewer. So what I regard as the central theme of the novel – the inherent spirituality of art – undoubtedly reflects my personal experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Levitt is a practising surgeon and health bureaucrat. He is also a sought-after public speaker who in 2003, was awarded the Centenary Medal (in Australia) for services to public education about colorectal cancer. Michael has been collecting art for many years, has been the invited speaker at the launch of art exhibitions and at the launch of books about art, and has written numerous articles about art and artworks for newspapers, magazines and art exhibition catalogues. An exhibition of selected works from his and his wife, Carolyn’s, personal collection was held at Ellenbrook Gallery in 2021.