New YorkIsland Weiss Gallery
Cycling Guide to Lilliput
May 20 – June 20 Extended To July 10
Dina Brodsky has a love affair with the miniature. She was nineteen when she made her first miniature paintings. However, it was after exhibiting at the Micro Museum (Desert Places, 2013) that she began painting in oils on two-inch Plexiglas circles. Her recent exhibit Cycling Guide to Lilliput, based on her solitary travels across Europe, displays over fifty paintings, largely consisting of landscapes. Painting in this tiny format implies the use of intense concentration and fine brushes. Though it seems as if the size would be limiting, the work brings to mind the large-scale paintings of the 19th century Hudson River School with portrayals of pastoral scenes, a realistic depiction of nature and intimations of the sublime.
The painting technique that Brodsky employs is gleaned from Northern Renaissance methods in which multiple layers of thin glazes are applied to achieve a sense of luminosity and depth of field. An initial layer of opaque earth tone, which, once dry, creates enough texture for the Plexiglas to accept further coats of paint. Indiscernible unified brush strokes are only visible in small areas of impasto. Brodsky’s palette is directly borrowed from the palettes of her favorite painters, such as Frederic Church and George Inness and includes anywhere from two to seven colors, some of which are Turkey Umber, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre and variations of cold and warm blues, reds, and greens, depending on the composition. A final varnish gives a glowing sheen to these gem-like miniatures.
Brodsky’s paintings exude a feeling of solitude; not the solitude of a recluse, but of a careful observational traveler, a solitary anthropologist, or a ship’s captain, who keeps a detailed log of all that is seen through the magnified vision of a spyglass. Gaston Bachelard describes in his book The Poetics of Space this aspect of “distant miniatures” as a way of offering “themselves for our “possession,” while denying the distance that created them.” Indeed, in a recent conversation with the artist, Brodsky stated that, being a person of few possessions herself, her paintings represent an impulse to hold, collect or, for a moment, own a particular experience.
Like a visual travel guide, Brodsky’s paintings bring us to lands unknown yet familiar in their use of imagery. Through her use of atmospheric and one point perspective, we are pulled into an infinite and undefined distant horizon. We are taken through the woods (#5, #6, #10, #13) to open pastures (#4, #7, #24, #43), down paths both wide and narrow (#21, #22, #26, #32, #47) on midsummer mornings (#9, #17), at the setting of the sun (#8, #14, #33), and during nights kissed by moonlight (#2, #29). Brodsky seeks out moments of high contrast and quietude broken only by the incandescent depiction of a forest fire she witnessed while camping in Northern Germany (#3, #11, #46).
In tandem with these paintings, we are invited to view two sketchbooks on display. The books are covered with obsessive cursive writing in Russian, one of the official languages of Belarus, Brodsky’s birthplace. Laid down in ballpoint pen, these notations are intermixed with drawings of flora and fauna, details of environment and experience. Brodsky’s keen detailed observations, which harken back to Victorian journals such as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (1906), inform her painted landscapes.
It cannot be ignored that Brodsky’s work could fall within the category of kitsch. Certainly, there are elements present that Clement Greenberg laid out in his famous 1939 essay on the subject, such as the reproduction or imitation of past “. . . devices , tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes. . . .” Their repetitive commonality of shape, size, and sheer numbers underlined by the monotonous square frames in which the paintings are mounted on a grey background, suggest work that is mass-produced, bringing to mind Greenberg’s warning that, “The methods of industrialism displace the handicrafts.”
Odd Nerdrum reincarnated kitsch in a more positive light in 1988 following numerous brandings of his own work. According to Brandon Kralik, the author of “The Dawn of the Kitsch Movement” (Huffington Post, September 2013) the standards for this movement became “talent, skill, sentimentality, and the ability to tell a story with beautiful passages of light, to convey emotion.” Brodsky’s paintings are clearly an attempt to reify these ideals.
When asked how her work, which is so focused on craftsmanship and traditional techniques, fits into the contemporary dialogue, Brodsky responded with a quote by Winston Churchill, “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” In spite of the roadblocks she has set up for the perception of her work, of which she is well aware, Brodsky forges on unapologetically to present paintings that champion skill and sincerity of intention.