I spoke to painter Dina Brodsky who is generating a huge buzz with her minature landscape paintings. She has a solo show entitled "Cycling Guide to Liliput" at Pontone Gallery in London UK opening February 2nd, 2018.
By NOAH BECKER, January, 2018
Noah Becker: Where were you born and when did you first start making art?
Dina Brodsky: I was born in Minsk, Belarus, but my family immigrated to America when I was 8, so most of my formative years were spent in a suburb outside of Boston. My mother was a musician,and a lot of her friends were artists, but I was always more interested in animals and adventuring - I grew up convinced I was going to be a veterinarian or a professional hitchhiker.
Becker: When did you start studying art?
Brodsky: I started university, and accidentally ended up taking a foundations art class- within less than a week I was completely in love (or addicted, depending on the point of view) - I knew that this was what I wanted to do, every day, for the rest of my life.
Becker: And this was ok with your family?
Brodsky: I think at first my family was supportive of the fact that I was taking anything academic seriously, and when they realized that I was planning to pursue art as a career it was too late. I believe their feelings about it ranged between amused and resigned.
Becker: That’s good in a way...
Brodsky: Yes, and that being said - my family’s overall environment was incredibly stable and supportive, and my parents are curious, intelligent and open-minded - I believe art was not the ideal career choice for either of their daughters, but once me and my sister chose it, they were absolutely wonderful. Because art is not a straight- forward or financially stable path, having a happy and interesting home I could always go back to if things didn’t work out made me capable of greater career risks than I would have been able to otherwise.
Becker: What inspired you when you first studied painting?
Brodsky: I started painting at UMass Amherst, which, in retrospect was the perfect place for me- it was a large university, where it was easy to slip through the cracks, academically, but which also allowed someone who was self-driven the freedom to explore, and the time to figure out what they were committed to.
Becker: And you made a few breakthroughs during this time?
Brodsky: Yes, I was fortunate enough my first year there to take a class with a professor who introduced me to oil paint, and had a classical art education, which I had never been exposed to before. Until he retired two years later, I took every class he had to offer, as well as doing several independent studies with him.
Becker: What did you focus on with him?
Brodsky: When he saw how small I was comfortable painting, he suggested that I try miniature painting, and worked on a series of miniatures with me. I only later realized how fortunate I was to have met him- there was no other teacher there that would have exposed me to the techniques I learned. After he retired, I would stay in the library for hours, looking for information that would help me paint the way I was driven to.
Becker: Other than the guidance you found at school, what happened that pushed you in the direction of miniature paintings?
Brodsky: I don’t think I was ever anything except for a miniature painter, although I’ve tried painting on all sorts of scales. I remember my mother taking me to a children’s art school in Minsk that one of her friends was running - I must have been around 5. He asked me to draw a figure, and put me in front of an easel with a large pad of newsprint, I drew a figure that took up a tiny corner. He asked me to try again, bigger, and I drew something only slightly bigger- after a few attempts he told my mother he couldn’t really teach me.
Becker: So this was the end of early art classes?
Brodsky: Yes, I believe that was my last experience with an art class until a few failed attempts my senior year of high school, where I was also consistently told to paint bigger, and frustrated both myself and my teachers by my inability to do so. I was first encouraged to paint miniatures by the professor I mentioned at university, and haven’t stopped doing them since, mostly as a guilty pleasure, since it was considered so impractical by most galleries I was working with. I was always too scared to do an entire show dedicated to miniatures, until the “Cycling Guide to Lilliput” series.
Becker: What surface are you painting on?
Brodsky: the current part of the series is actually on small pieces of copper. I’ve been experimenting with painting on copper a little bit over many years, but only figured out how to make it work recently. Because it’s naturally warm, and naturally smooth it’s the perfect surface for miniatures.
Becker: How are you able to keep your hand steady and work on the tiny details.
Brodsky: That’s something that has always come organically to me, when I paint small I’m like a fish in water. I am much less comfortable painting on a larger scale, and very few of my large works hold up as well as the miniatures.
Becker: I'm thinking that Casper David Friedrich is interesting to you and perhaps Atkinson Grimshaw? What historical artists do you find inspiration from?
Brodsky: I love both Casper David Friedrich for his sadness and lonely beauty, and Atkinson Grimshaw for his moody nightscapes. A lot of my inspiration comes from medieval manuscript illumination and Islamic miniature art - I believe that those were the artists who were trying to connect to the sublime by being incredibly compulsive in their attention to detail.
Becker: And the Northern Renissance?
Brodsky: I love the Northern Renaissance - the Van Eyck brothers, Hans Holbein, Matthias Grunewald for the love that they had for their paint and their subjects. The 17th century Dutch landscape painters like Jacob Van Ruisdael, and the Hudson River painters are the ones I’ve been looking at for inspiration this year. George Inness and his use of color and light, and the way he is capable of getting to the essence of a painting, in a way that’s very simple and incredibly intelligent.
Becker: What contemporary living artists interest you from your generation or before?
Brodsky: I think I’m incredibly fortunate, because within the last 15 years that I’ve been working as a professional artist, the art world has started to emerge from what I always thought of as a sort of dark age. I think for a lot of the 20th century the mainstream art world has been dominated by art that is very commercial, conceptually heavy handed and visually bland.
Becker: Hmm…it seems to keep going back and forth for some reason - but I know what you mean.
Brodsky: There were a lot of fantastic artists working during that time, but their work was not nearly as recognized as I believe it should have been. Recently though, there has been a renaissance of sorts, both a recognition of the older generation of artists, and a new wave of fantastic artists who are having a much easier time launching their career than they would have had a few decades ago.
Becker: This is true.
Brodsky: I feel incredibly fortunate in my contemporaries and hugely inspired by them. The ones that immediately come to mind are Vincent Desiderio, Donald Jurney, Tim Lowly, Sue Bryan, Michelle Doll, Melanie Vote and April Coppini. Also, my sister, Maya Brodsky, who is a phenomenal painter and always up for a discussion of the best tiny brushes to use for detail work.
Becker: Great to hear those names. I'm interested in your color sense, do you have a specific way of working with color that you could talk about or is it more intuitive as you work through your pieces?
Brodsky: For me color has always been intuitive. When I was studying, the things I had trouble with had more to do with drawing - proportion, perspective, anatomy, architecture- I feel like I am still catching up and trying to master a lot of those things. But color has always come organically - I never think about what colors to mix, and how to achieve a certain effect, I just let the paint play together on my palette.
Becker: Do you invent the light source in your paintings? For example if something is in the moonlight do you sit in an actual moonlit setting and paint on site?
Brodsky: I invent the light source for a lot of the paintings (or “borrow” it from paintings that inspire me). Landscapes are the only thing I feel comfortable inventing, because I have painted so many of them, and know which rules I need to follow, and which ones I can break. The paintings in “Cycling Guide to Lilliput” are semi-imaginary - I base some of them on sketches and photos from my cycling trips, but I make up the colors and light to correspond with my memory or perception of a place or a time. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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