By Annette Hinkle
For Stephanie Brody-Lederman, art and life are not about the big moments and grand efforts, but rather the small details. Those memories and images that come from a simple gesture, a single moment in time that reflects all that it means to be human.
Those subtleties are what define the paintings in “Dancing with Truffaut,” Ms. Brody-Lederman’s new exhibit which opens this weekend at the Museum at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Ms. Lederman took top honors in Guild Hall’s 2013 Artists Members Exhibition, and she explains how she came up with the title for this solo show and the eight paintings in it.
“Truffaut’s movies were valentines to every day — the beauty of the small incident,” explains Ms. Brody-Lederman. “That’s what I’m trying to do. This is not about painting people who are being feted for big achievements or about holidays per se, but about the life we’re living, putting one foot in front of the other.”
“Life is in the small moments,” she adds.
Ms. Brody-Lederman’s paintings evoke the familiar. Abstract canvases painted in a range of vibrant, or sometimes not so vibrant, hues are populated by simple floating imagery from our collective past — a boat, trees, cloth covered tables, birds, fruit, a dog, even a blanket that evokes the notion of security.
She also includes simple words or phrases in her work to trigger that emotion — “our small lives,” “under the extra blanket” “our own smooth passage” “flaws you and I share.” The work speaks of objects we’ve all touched, emotions we’ve each felt and places we’ve visited — not necessarily in real time, but rather in our psyches and in our souls.
The artist explains that in her work, she’s encouraging viewers to create a personal narrative reflecting individual associations to the objects. The surface of her canvases have texture and are built up by layers — a smear of paint or layering of color that speaks to that sense of history and memory, like peeling walls in very old cities, even if those cities exist only in the mind.
“I think it connects with everything you are,” she says. “The whole conglomeration that makes you you. We react in a visceral way. Why does a table with a tablecloth on it mean something to me? It’s a certain childhood memory of an oilcloth tablecloth. A lot of the things I do are about comfort and security — the blanket, the cherries when things are blooming and everyone is young, and the trees each year that give us leaves and rebirth.”
Though her work is not geographically specific, Europe is a very real inspiration for Ms. Brody-Lederman. She and her husband own a tiny apartment on Ile St. Louis in Paris and they spend several weeks each year there. Her paintings may not be referencing one concrete locale, but the overlap of influence both at home and abroad can’t be avoided.
“Sometimes something happens in Europe that’s moving visually or psychologically,” explains Ms. Brody-Lederman. “It will hold its presence over here, and sometimes something here overlaps with there.”
“It’s almost like good meals. You remember them,” she adds. “I remember certain images and they come back to me when I have a loaded brush. I’m a pure flaneuse. I let it all pass in front of me in a non-hierarchical way and I see what has staying power.”
The solo exhibition represents the second time Ms. Brody-Lederman has taken top honors in Guild Hall’s annual member show. The first time was in 2003. Which leads one to wonder, how has her painting changed in the intervening years?
“I got braver and my work is bigger now,” says Ms. Brody-Lederman. “I’m bolder and I’ve added to my icons. I’m much less afraid. In fact I’m not afraid of breaking all the rules I was told about painting.”
“It’s about mystery and being able to live with less closure,” she adds. “I think that’s a big thing. I once heard that the sign of a grownup was a person who could live with two opposing points of view at the same time and have less closure about them. That’s what some of my paintings do for me, they make me arrive at different circumstances.”
But what about the departure point? Where do her paintings begin and how does she determine where she’s going with a given piece?
“The starting point is to be frightened by the white canvas and almost in a chance way stick a brush in some acrylic paint and cover it so it’s not white,” says Ms. Brody-Lederman. “It’s enough of an incident to know what this little gene pool is going to be and other things can overlap, you just have to get away from the white canvas.”
Ultimately, Ms. Brody-Lederman’s work is not only about what she puts into a painting, but what her audience brings to it through their own unique experience as well.
“I want viewers to feel more alive when they see the work, and be more accepting of their humanness,” says Ms. Brody-Lederman. “I don’t want to say ‘humanity,’ but the awkward humanness of being alive, and what we all share in our foibles and our stumbles.”
Stephanie Brody-Lederman’s “Dancing with Truffaut” opens with a reception Saturday, October 24, 2015 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Spiga Gallery at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton. On Saturday, November 14 at 11:30 a.m. Ms. Brody-Lederman will take part in a gallery talk with Guild Hall’s chief curator and museum director Christina Strassfield. The show runs through January 3, 2016. For more information call (631) 324-0806 or visit guildhall.org.