Volume 10, Number 1, 2001

Modern master

Sunlight from the tall windows in Lisa Bartolozzi's art studio illuminates the trays of paints, brushes and supplies as well as the pencil sketches taped on the bright walls. Flopsy, a pet rabbit, keeps Bartolozzi, AS '84, company during the solitary hours of planning and painting. And, then, there are the paintings themselves--most of them life-sized depictions of the nude human figure.

Her talent for depicting the human body--with all its imperfections--has led to her status as a rising star in the competitive art world.

In a feature article in Art Matters, Edward Higgins wrote, "Lisa Bartolozzi approaches huge canvasses with physicality, intelligence, vision and technique. This combination has produced in recent years a body of work, which is beginning to attract the kind of major attention that only the art world can bring to bear. Her work often depicts the human nude in harsh reality but with the vocabulary of the romantic."

Bartolozzi's pieces do not depict an "ideal" physique. Instead, her models have included a pregnant woman, the homeless and the elderly.

With each creative work--often using wooden panels that measure up to 4 feet by 9 feet--Bartolozzi says she attempts to capture, and then transfer to viewers, her subject's mood, situation and message, using the nude figure plus the painting's setting, color, framing and title. Some critics describe her portraiture style as similar to that perfected by the Renaissance masters.

In her artist statement, Bartolozzi explains: "The nude form, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is a bridge of empathy to the viewer about the universal human condition. Figuration is designed for beauty and meditation. My use of imagery is intuitive and introspective, taken from dreams, social awareness and the search for spirituality.... The luminous optics of oil paint in layers of glazes, molten beeswax and the construction of two- and three-dimensional wooden panel supports are my artistic tools."

Bartolozzi's interest in drawing began as a young child. Her maternal grandfather was an interior designer from Malta, and she says she suspects that his influence was passed down to her. During her teens, Bartolozzi's mother bought her a Time-Life book series about famous artists, and while in high school, Bartolozzi began to notice her aptitude for and interest in the arts.

"I just knew I could make things and that people seemed to like them," she recalls.

At UD, Bartolozzi says she mastered design and the artistic vocabulary, the techniques needed to be creative and the ability to perfect ideas. She also learned how to react to criticism and, finally, how to be critical of herself.

Before entering a master of fine arts program at Washington University at St. Louis, Bartolozzi took a few years off to learn more about the art and museum field.

She spent two years as a tour coordinator at the Delaware Art Museum, teaching others the visual language of art and explaining how to appreciate the works of a number of artists.

She would return there in 1997 as a featured artist in a major exhibition. Her work was presented beside that of Robert Straight, a UD faculty member and her former teacher. That, Bartolozzi says, was something she never thought would occur and that she will never forget.

In undergraduate school, Bartolozzi says, "I was always drawn to painting people. And, while painting people and portraits at school, I began to experiment with nudes."

Realizing that the human body could tell a story, Bartolozzi says she recognized it also as "a vessel for what I want to say."

Bartolozzi says she wants viewers looking at her life-sized works to gain a sense of empathy with the subject in the painting.

At times, the artist concedes, finding nude subjects can be difficult. In graduate school, paid models appeared in classes. One, in particular, a homeless woman named Sue, became a regular classroom subject.

Because of the size of her pieces and their subject matter, Bartolozzi says they are not for every setting. While many are too large for an average home, they are finding their way into museum exhibitions and other shows. Since August 2000, pieces have been shown at New York City's Forum Gallery, which is known for figurative artwork.

Often, when a piece is completed, Bartolozzi moves it from her studio onto a wall in the main part of her house. That practice once provided a humorous backdrop to her sister's baby shower.

"There were all these women around the packages and decorations in pinks and pastels," she says. "We gathered the group for a photograph, and when we got the picture back, there was the rear view of a male nude hanging prominently in the background."

Even while on vacation and away from her Newark, Del., studio, Bartolozzi is never far from her art. In Florence with her husband, Christopher Cochran, owner of Newark's High Energy Gym, she noticed a group of young artists wearing punk-style attire. A woman in the group had a distinctive appearance, and Bartolozzi approached and asked for permission to take the young lady's picture. Later, the face of the Florentine student appeared in her painting, Tell Us About Magdalene, a work depicting the biblical figure, Mary Magdalene.

In her spare time, she teaches a course each semester in the Graduate School of Figurative Art in the New York Academy of Art.

"I teach figure painting issues," she says. "I just taught a class on clothing on the figure, which was a stretch for me. I learned a lot while teaching that course."

Bartolozzi has had solo exhibitions at the Delaware Art Museum and Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia and for the Delaware State Arts Council. Her works have been selected for group exhibitions at Germany's Vonnderau Museum, Connecticut's Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Sweden's Kalmar Lans Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has been reviewed or featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times and Philadelphia Weekly and in the books, The Nude in Contemporary Art and New American Paintings.

"I think I've painted honestly, and my works have been provoked by personal experience," she says. "I hope to be able to relate these experiences to people. While I may not relate to everybody, connections to viewers have been made on many levels. I feel very fortunate to be in the place I am now as a visual artist."?

Bartolozzi says her greatest supporter is her husband, who built her studio behind their Newark home. He included special supports and mechanisms that allow her to work easily and manipulate the large wooden panels.

She recalls that when she approached that young Italian woman about taking her photograph, her husband reached into his wallet and pulled out a slide of one of his wife's works to prove to the group that Bartolozzi was an artist. Bartolozzi says she was surprised, since she didn't realize until then that he carried a rendering of one of her pieces with him.

"My husband helps me and supports my goals," Bartolozzi says. "I don't think I'd be where I am now without his help."

--Ed Okonowicz AS '69, '84M