Wall sculptures by Lesley Bodzy will be on view during Armory Week 2022 at SPRING/BREAK in Leftover and Over curated by Giovanni Aloi and Erica Criss. Anna Mikaela Ekstrand interviewed the California-born Houston and New York City-based artist about her evolving practice.
Anna Mikaela Ekstrand: At SPRING/BREAK you are showing some of your ‘paint skins,’ poured then draped acrylic paint. What does it mean to ‘paint’ without canvas, or do you see these works akin to sculptures?
Lesley Bodzy: I sculpt acrylic paint by draping, rearranging, and layering it. Using acrylic skins, I explore the ways in which materiality can give form and visibility to psychologically complex experiences. Trauma, loss, and desire are recurring themes that emerge during my material processes. The larger format works are flexible and can be shaped by the viewer. Two works I am showing at SPRING/BREAK, Soft Embrace and I Knew Better are approximately 66” tall and 33” wide. I performed these experimental and intuitive gestures, creating the work to simultaneously acknowledge and exorcise the past.
I started as a still-life painter, using watercolors and oil paint. When I transitioned to painting acrylic, I became fascinated with the plastic nature of acrylic paint and its mediums. So, began using it as a sculptural material, making small hanging and standing sculptures.
AME: Your thesis show was about desire, but rather than sexual desire, the works navigate the expectations placed on women in patriarchal societies. Many titles have dark undertones alluding to the actions and thoughts of victims in abusive situations. How did you reconcile beauty, desire, and empowerment in this series?
LB: The golden drapes that comprise my MFA show ….is this desire? —are symbolic of the pressures women face to look beautiful. Although progress has been made since I was a young woman, society still values a women’s beauty over her mind or character.
The gold drapes are facades, skins, membranes, shrouds, veils—each work emerges from the point in which language crumbles as I struggle to grasp the meaning of my experiences. The gold draperies allude to the shiny veneer women present to the world. Taught to play roles that please our parents and society throughout our childhood, and our challenge as adults is to seek our true selves. The drapes conceal feelings and emotions we experience daily in the quietness of our reflections.
With the series I also wanted to reimagine Venus’ drapes of modesty and decorum—vibrant visualizations of vulnerability, the aftermath of everyday traumas that still define women’s lives. Thin and yet resistant, drapes illustrate the vulnerability of many women who, oppressed by patriarchal institutions, must conceal feelings and emotions beneath a guise of crafted perfection.
AME: There is still much work to be done to find gender equity. What is your relationship to color?
LB: It’s funny—you might think I am uninterested in color because I’ve been focused on gold for two years. I love monochromatic combinations and a very insightful book on this topic called Chromophobia by David Batchelor. But I have also made a lot of paintings using unusual color combinations and I enjoy color theory. My next series is based on sea slugs which are a highly colorful species that are endangered due to our pollution of the oceans.
AME: Slugs are a cool expansion. There are so many ways to be an artist or a maker. What have the ebbs and flows of art-making looked like for you in different stages of your life. What motivates you to work in the studio?
LB: Working in the studio is deeply satisfying. I am also influenced by the passage of time; I do not have the luxury of spending time outside the studio. For many years I was away from art making working in the corporate world, during which time I engaged in it as an infrequent hobby. I got very serious about it later in life which is why I went back for my MFA in studio art. This helped me to find my own voice about my personal narrative and the meaning of the work I’d been making subconsciously.
AME: You graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago MFA in 2021. However, you returned to school after a multi-decade long career in another field. How was it beneficial coming in as a mature student and what was challenging?
LB: Having worked in the corporate world for many years I could handle the intensity and voluminous workload in stride. There is an artificial hysteria that accompanys intense graduate degree programs—that is not about the practice in the real world. In fact, I think it would be beneficial if art students could be taught real world marketing and coping skills. It was challenging to tackle some of the technological innovations though. Luckily there was a whole tech department that was extraordinary at training me.
AME: You work between Houston and New York. These art scenes are different. How do you nurture artistic community in both places?
LB: In both cities I try to find like-minded artists and gallerists and spend time with them. I think Houston’s art scene is becoming more and more like NYC’s art scene. A lot of NYC and Calif artists are moving to Houston because it’s cheaper, lower taxes, and has a vibrant arts scene.
AME: What are your inspirations?
LB: Surrealism and feminism are themes inherent in the work as well as the 1970s abstract aesthetics of a host of female pioneer artists. For example, Meret Oppenheim’s fur wrapped teacup and saucer; Lynda Benglis’s poured paint; Eva Hesse’s latex and cheesecloth banners; and the more contemporary remodeled cowhides of Nandipha Mntambo.
AME: What’s next for you?
LB: Larger and perhaps less permanent installations.
Lesley Bodzy is a sculptor and painter based in Houston and New York City. Her work explores the ways in which materiality can give form and visibility to psychologically complex experiences. Trauma, loss, and desire are recurring themes that emerge through material processes and a thoughtfully devised personal metaphorical language.
Bodzy holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied at Mount Holyoke College, Hunter College, and the Art Students League of New York. Her work is represented by Yvonamor Palix Gallery in Houston, TX and has been exhibited widely across the United States and abroad. Past exhibitions have been held at ChaShaMa and Sculptors Alliance in New York City, Holy Art Gallery in London, UK, Site:Brooklyn, Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, NY, the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT, the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, PA, and the Meadows Gallery in Tyler, TX.
Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a New York based writer and the editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream both published by Sternberg Press. Website: https://cultbytes.com/