The Lionheart Five: An Interview with Serge Strosberg
Five questions we ask every Lionheart Gallery artist.
Photo Credit Alan Barry
Described as the "Expressionist of Fashion," Serge Strosberg is an observer of downtown New York and its stories, a lover of rich color and intriguing personalities. Belgian by birth, he received his formal art education in Paris. After several successful exhibitions in Europe and the United States, Strosberg moved to New York in 2008 and has lived and worked in SoHo ever since. His paintings exude the vibrant flavors of this neighborhood. In Tales of the High Line, Strosberg explores the architecture and the people of Manhattan's iconic elevated park and brings them to life in striking hues.
1) Name one of your most defining moments as an artist.
Serge Strosberg: In 2006, I had a one man show at Artsenat in the Luxembourg Garden in Paris. As I walked outside the park, I noticed an eight foot tall poster on the street announcing my exhibition with a larger-than-life reproduction of a self-portrait. This was a huge honor for me. The exhibition attracted more than 2,000 visitors of all nationalities and was officially promoted by the French senate with all the protocol.
2) Do you collect anything?
SS: I collect art, mostly from artist friends I have met or wanted to help. This is mostly abstract art to have something to look at other than portraits when I am not painting in my studio. I also own a small etching by Lucian Freud that represents an Egyptian book given to him at age sixteen by his grandfather, the illustrious Sigmund Freud! This was of great sentimental value to Lucian and it is to me as well. The etching was given to me by my mother. It has far more symbolic and sentimental value than material value to me—it was etched by one of my main inspirations.
Lucien Freud, The Egyptian Book, 1994, etching, sheet: 16 3/4 x 18 1/2 in.
Lucien Freud was drawn to Egyptian sculpture made during the reign of Akhenaten (1353–1336 BC), who decreed that the visual arts should move toward naturalism and away from hieratic representation. This etching shows photographs from J. H. Breasted’s Geschichte Aegyptens (History of Egypt, 1936). The two sculpted heads were discovered in the workshop of Thutmose, the pharaoh’s chief sculptor, during an early 20th century excavation of Tell el-Amarna. Freud received a copy of the book in 1939 when he was sixteen and newly enrolled in art school.
He featured his prized possession, with its worn binding and creased pages, opened to the two sculptures, in numerous works and staged in locations and poses normally occupied by models, such as flat on a bed or upright in an old leather chair.
3) If you could choose anyone—and we mean anyone—whom would you pick as a mentor?
SS: There are many great painters but very few were generous of their time and knowledge. Camille Pissarro was said to be generous. I would have liked to have him as a mentor. I am still looking for an older and established mentor in NY. Do you know anyone? <laughs>
This work by Pissarro reminds of Paris.
Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, 1897, Oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
4) What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
SS: My palette, which I use to mix my paints is my most indispensable item in the studio. I have kept the same one for the past four years; I rarely change palettes (which is not necessarily a good thing!). However, I do clean my palette three times a day to achieve the cleanest color mixes. I use oil and egg tempera together, like the German Expressionists (Otto Dix, Felix Nussbaum, Max Beckmann), and add some enamel paint. I distill and dilute damar crystals to make my own varnish, and try to make my oil lighter by exposing it to the sunlight. The homemade mediums are then mixed with color pigments that come from Italy and Germany.
I use several different reds in my paint, and in fact red seems to be a favorite color...
Serge Strosberg’s palette
5) Tell us about one piece of art in this show. Describe your inspiration, your process, and what it means to you.
SS: The Starrett-Lehigh Building with more than 2.3 million square feet has always impressed me while walking in the meatpacking district of New York City. On a sunny afternoon of December 2014, I decided to photograph it and perhaps turn it into a painting. The building looked like a city itself with its thousands of windows and many angles. It is as big as an entire block.
As painter Lucian Freud once said, concentration is even more important than talent. I tried to paint each floor and each window with the same color vibrations and precision without counting them, not to be discouraged. Eventually, I forgot what I was painting and treated this subject as if I was making a colorful abstract expressionistic painting to allow more emotion into the work.
Serge Strosberg giving an artist’s talk at the Tales of the High Line opening reception, The Lionheart Gallery, March 2016