Les Levine is a conceptual artist and one of the originators of media art. He was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1935. Early on, he recognized the potential of television as an art medium and a means of mass dissemination. He was one of the first artists to use videotape. Levine regards himself as a “media sculptor” and has used outdoor advertising, posters, television, radio, and telephone conversations in his work. He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and exhibited and lived in Canada during the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973 he was an artist-in-residence at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. He has been based in New York City since 1964.
At the beginning of his career, Levine introduced the idea of disposable art, earning the name “Plastic man”. In 1966 he exhibited thousands of vacuum-formed plastic reliefs in various colours, selling them for between $3 and $6 each. This was considered a populist response to art world conceptions of art as unique and precious objects. Wiretap, 1970, in the National Gallery of Canada collection, consists of 12 speakers on the wall, each playing a loop of 12 hours of recorded telephone conversations that Levine made on his home phone. The audience listens to the taped document of actual inquiries and conversations about the production of artwork over a period of one year. For its time, Wiretap was radical in proposing that the activity surrounding the process of making a work of art is as valid and interesting as the end product.
Like others of his generation, Levine addresses in his artwork issues of value and consumption in North American society. In the early 1980s, his first billboard campaigns in Los Angeles and Minneapolis followed on the heels of a successful mass media project that featured 4000 images along the NYC subway system.