“There are internal painters, and there are external painters. I’m very definitely external,” says Dina Brodsky from Falmouth, where she’s on vacation from New York City. “I’m interested in the world around me, rather than the world inside my head. It’s a documentation of my life in visual form.”
Brodsky’s paintings — oils on 3-inch diameter copper tondos, or circles — are like tiny portals. Though Brodsky doesn’t consider herself a “narrative painter,” the works transport the viewer somewhere vast and open. It’s partly because of the way Brodsky captures light — vivid, clear, independent of time of day. Each reflects hours of work, as well as something about the artist herself.
Brodsky’s latest works are inspired by Cape Cod’s natural beauty — tidal flats, wooded trails, silver sunsets over the bay. They are being exhibited at William Scott Gallery, alongside works by Frederick Brosen and Chet Jones, from Friday, Aug. 20 through Aug. 31.
“This whole Cape Cod show has been a guilty pleasure,” she says. “It’s so beautiful here, and for years I’ve wanted to paint it, but I was afraid of making it be cheesy, having it be too much. Then, I just sort of gave in to it.” The paintings stand in contrast to Brodsky’s previous work — abandoned interiors, decaying urban exteriors, lone trees filled with existential angst. The Cape Cod paintings are buoyant and inviting. They have a diaristic feel.
Born in Minsk, Belarus, Brodsky emigrated with her family in 1990, when she was nine, settling in Brookline, where there was a large Russian community.
When she was 18, Brodsky discovered painting and long-distance cycling, which would become lifelong joys that reinforce one another. Her 2015 series Cycling Guide to Lilliput, for example, is based on her tours around Europe.
Brodsky went on to get a B.F.A. from UMass Amherst in 2004. Two years later, she got her M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art. She’s lived in New York City ever since.
Brodsky’s Falmouth foray is far from her first time on the Cape. “My parents and I camped here for probably 20 years up in Truro,” she says. “I have years of sketchbook drawings.” The show at William Scott Gallery is in some ways an excuse, she says, to transfer some of those drawings to paint.
Just as the Cape Cod paintings are a guilty pleasure, the miniature paintings, as a whole, started out that way, too. Brodsky first explored them during her undergraduate years, when she studied Islamic miniature art and illuminated medieval manuscripts. She also studied Hudson River School painters such as Frederic Church and George Inness, connecting with their use of color and ethereal light. “The place where I’m at my best is under three inches,” says Brodsky. “It’s the right fit.”
Brodsky doesn’t paint plein air. Instead, she paints from a combination of drawings, photographs, and memory. The works are a culmination of hours spent immersing herself in the landscape. “Time is part of the privilege of being a painter — just being able to look at something very, very closely,” says Brodsky. “It’s like catching the moment and being able to spend time sort of dissecting something.”
It’s a protracted process that takes “about halfway to forever,” she says. “I feel like I’m happy with a piece when I’ve spent 100 hours with it.” The interiors take longer, upwards of 200 hours, with the pressure of a deadline often forcing their conclusion. “If there were no deadline, it would just never be done. There’s always something to fiddle around with.
“I’m an observationalist, a documenter of reality,” continues Brodsky. “It can be my internal reality, or what happened that day, or just directly observing. What I’m trying to give the viewer is just a piece of my world.” The shape and scale makes each painting a porthole into a different universe. “I don’t think I chose it for a reason. It’s more like it chose me.”
Life in Miniature
The event: Works by Dina Brodsky
The time: Friday, Aug. 20 through Aug. 31
The place: William Scott Gallery, 439 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free