Before Corwin Levi left an associate position at WilmerHale to become a full-time visual artist in March of 2009, he was turning law school note-taking into an art form at the University of Virginia School of Law (don’t take our word for it, take a look at his 1L Property Notes here).
In fact, based on the artistic merits of his law school notes, Second Street Gallery, a Charlottesville-based gallery located just three miles east of UVA Law, invited Corwin to display his work last September in a solo show entitled “Marks and Remarks. The show is one of dozens of exhibitions he has had in the last year, and Corwin kicks off 2011 with four shows including exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, VA and UNC Asheville in Asheville, NC.
Though Corwin’s law school notes may look nontraditional (to say the least), they not only caught the attention of the art world but were key to his rise to an executive editor on law review, too. “I took my notes with me to the interview,” says Corwin, “and apparently the attention to detail in the notes went a long way toward landing me that position.”
DOING THE LAW THING
Corwin began law school shortly after graduating with an MFA from the Tyler School of Art at 22. Like most people at 22, he had no idea what the hell he was doing. “When I graduated, there were so many possibilities and so many things to explore,” says Levi with a laugh. “I could have been traveling around the world, investigating the mysteries of synaesthesia, looking at the stars, and so I decided to go to law school.”
But even before Corwin began his 1L year, he was warned that law school would suck the creativity out of him. “But I think that wasn’t really the case,” says Corwin. In fact, to this day, legal terms make guest appearances in his paintings. “To the extent that legal terms show up,” Corwin says, “it’s that the law and that way of thinking has become an intrinsic part of who I am, so I still think in those terms.”
Though Corwin kept hours at Wilmer that allowed for little time for art (or anything else for that matter), he continued to generate new ideas for art projects during his time as an attorney. “I had a pad of sticky notes by my computer,” recalls Corwin, “and as I was running through doc review or something and suddenly these artistic ideas would flash into my head, I would write them down on my sticky notes and put them in a jar.” When that jar filled up, Corwin knew it was time to give notice.
By the time Corwin left WilmerHale, he had squirreled away some savings and paid off his private loans, too. But amongst his biglaw friends, his career change automatically made him the de facto poorest kid on the block. “As a firm attorney, I was not conscious of how much everything costs,” says Corwin. “My ability to participate in a night out these days is really dependent on what venue my friends choose.” However, Corwin adds, “for me personally, it has been a good thing. Before, whenever I wanted to experience something, I would just go do it, but now because money’s tight, I have to think about what I want to do and choose my experiences, and it makes those experiences much more valuable.”
Realistically, Corwin could not sustain himself on savings and occasional contract work alone. So he changed zip codes to save dough, first relocating into a basement in the suburbs of DC where he “lived with a nice lady and her poodles” and then back in with his parents, where he lives in the short periods between artist residencies.
“I was excited about making art when I left the firm,” says Corwin, “but I couldn’t make very much art in the first six months because there was so much business of being an artist to take care of.”
The loss of his co-workers was isolating as well. “I missed working with so many very smart people who are doing the same thing I am doing, and getting the chance to interact with them every day,” says Corwin. “I knew almost no one in the field that I was going into. Plus, after being very excited at being a full time artist instead of an attorney and getting to introduce myself as such, I’m still surprised when I hear things like “I’m sorry, but I’m a scientist. I don’t date artists. It just wouldn’t work.””
Despite being a major blow to his game, Corwin has no regrets. “After I quit working at the firm,” Corwin says, “I ran into some people I hadn’t seen in a while who didn’t know I was no longer with the firm, and they would inevitably say ‘There’s something different about you or you’re kind of glowing today,’ and I think it was from all this creative energy that I had bottled up that was now pouring out.
Before, I could say that I had a beautiful apartment, an interesting job, worked with brilliant people, and make more than enough money and that my life was pretty good. Now I can say that I am 31 years old, live with my parents, don’t have a steady job, and my life is amazing.”
View Corwin’s work at Radio Sebastian.
See a video on Corwin produced by the University of Virginia Magazine Onine.
Join Corwin’s mailing list.
Like Corwin on Facebook.
Check out Clarity Law Group, where Corwin practices from time-to-time
in an of counsel role.