Lesley Bodzy’s debut New York solo show “The Soft Embrace” concludes a three-year chapter in the Houston and New York-based sculptor’s practice. This weekend marks your last shot to see it. We all know the best hugs, while cozy, are anything but soft. They’re sturdy and full of life — much like the artworks from several distinct series which independent curator Anna Stothart selected from Bodzy’s oeuvre. Since October they’ve played on the walls, plinths, and windowsills of a sunlit Chelsea gallery.
Bodzy began painting still lifes in watercolors, then oils, over a decade ago.
“One reason I stopped making still lifes is you’re basing it on a realistic setup,” she said. “With sculpture and abstract painting, there are a lot of accidents that happen. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. I liked that.”
The artist became fascinated with acrylic paint’s agency. She eventually tried pouring it on her studio floor, working it as a sculptural material, in the spirit of artists like Lynda Benglis and Kennedy Yanko. Such experiments anchor this show with two brilliant, malleable sheets — “I Knew Better” and “Soft Embrace I” both (2022), where gold paint mimics fabric. Forms echo from their convex and concave cascades. Problem solving proves Bodzy’s primary creative motivation, yet wider themes still arise.
“We’re looking at a golden drape that covers who we really are,” Bodzy explained. “Women of my generation, you’re encouraged to drape yourself in a golden facade. No one cares what you’re like underneath. If I’m interested in any narrative, I’m interested in the beauty industry. I think there’s still pressure on young women to look ‘beautiful.’” As economic straits grow more dire, some writers might argue that donning the golden drape used to be the job — now, it’s a necessary part of getting a job.
But all real beauty is a little wild. Without imperfection it’s something else. Scientific. Those elegant wall hanging works are activated by Bodzy’s numerous works throughout “The Soft Embrace,” like makeshift shells of gold paint on molded velvet from her “Dialogue” series, twists of discarded wet wipes cast in bronze from her “Relic” series, and abstract carved cubes of colorful, translucent resin from “Feminine Royale.” Bodzy earned her MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2021. There, she became interested in 3D printing and saved money by having a nephew in Idaho fabricate her designs.
Nine small works altogether titled “With Every Single Breath” (2002) neatly tile one gallery wall, exemplifying the dichotomy of hard and soft underpinning this show’s disparate components. Bodzy has overridden the machine’s proclivity for right angles by asking it to render the organic forms of crumpled paper bags, whose shapes, interestingly, mimic those of “Feminine Royale.” These inadvertent foils honor the balance not just of masculine and feminine, but deeper archetypes. Order and chaos. Each needs the other. Chaos is not a luxury of order, but the necessary negative space dictating its shape.
“But,” Bodzy noted of her experiments with 3D printing, “it’s not making stuff with your hands. You’re manipulating a computer. I don’t find that satisfying.” Remember, “The Soft Embrace” closes a chapter. The bronze relics featured here were cast at a foundry, too. Bodzy is moving deeper into her materially-involved, intuitive practice. She’s playing with color theory after years spent only with gold. She’s practicing with new mediums, new shapes — and new ways to experience the power of her hands.
Lesley Bodzy: The Soft Embrace, Curated by Anna Stothart, 526 West 26th Street #704 – December 2nd, 2023