Born 1938 in Chicago, Illinois, Levin attended Diploma, Music and Art High School in New York City. In 1961 after receiving his B.A. in Literature at New School for Social Research, New York, Levin moved to Boston. There he was expelled from the Museum School’s graduate program for both experimenting with egg tempera (an early Renaissance medium) and painting too realistically. One of his professors had insisted that Levin paint abstractly with oil or he would flunk him. In 1964 Eli Levin moved to New Mexico where the art scene was relaxed enough to accomodate Levin’s desire to pursue figurative painting. When he arrived in Santa Fe, the old art colony had all but disappeared, but he became friends with Louie Ewing and Arthur Haddock who made him feel as though he were a contiguous part of the New Mexico tradition. He briefly went to University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1965 to finish his M.A. in Art. In 1991 Levin returned to school to get an M.A. in Humanities at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. In 1993 Eli Levin changed his name to Jo Basiste, after his paternal grandfather. At this time he abandoned his bar scenes and starting painting mythological subject matter. Levin has been an art critic for several newspapers, including the Albuquerque Journal North, the Santa Fe Reporter and the Philadelphia Enquirer. Since 1985 to the present, he has held an etching workshop at his studio.
Levin is best known for his bar and dance-hall scenes of social commentary. These paintings are full of color with a distortion of form to express humanity satirically. His work has been influenced by the Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, American painters Thomas Hart Benton and John Sloan among others.