Stephanie Nadler

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Painter Stephanie Nadler: A Darkness Denied By Society

by on Apr.01, 2009, under WayFare Magazine Article

WayFare Magazine Article

June/July 1992


Painter Stephanie Nadler: A Darkness Denied By Society by Christina Frei

Stephanie Nadler is seated on a wooden, paint-spattered chair in front of me, her legs crossed, one hand gripping a bottle of raspberry juice. She looks very small in front of a huge canvas of a work-in-progress; a self-portrait. The more than life-size painted head looms with an eerie green hue above the real one, which is smiling cheerfully. I find it difficult not to keep looking from one to the other, wondering which of the two is more real. As she later points out “people judge you from the outside, but it’s hard to tell what you’re really like. I kind of confuse people”.

Her paintings are rich in dark, earthy tones and the oil paint is thickly layered. Grotesque images seem to lurch into the foregrounds of the canvases, out of nowhere, commanding attention and defying the viewer to react. They are powerful; not only in terms of physical intensity, but also in the way a ghostly green or blue light plays on faces to give them an uncanny and ominous distortion.

Stephanie’s work is inspired by her dreams, her experiences and emotions, and is therefore quite personal. Often, it takes her a year or more to finally reach the point where she records her experiences. “Every time I try to do something logically…if intuitively I’m not ready, it doesn’t work. I have to sit and wait. It’s frustrating…but its part of every aspect of my life. My painting is tied tightly to my life.”

Medusa’s Breast’s—-painted one year after the dream on which it is based—shows the torso of a woman whose breasts eject long streams of blood. The response to the painting has been strong and Stephanie finds it absurd that such a personal image could engender such extreme reactions; particularly with some women who found it offensive and sexist.

“I wasn’t doing it to make a statement”, she protests. “But that’s what it became after the fact…the fact that she has no head, well…a lot of women are looked at like that.” She further argues that breasts—which are considered passive sexual objects—became active in a very strong way in the dream. “Blood is frightening,” she shrugs, “But it is also life-giving.”

There is a distinctly Spanish aspect to her work. “I really like the realists—and Goya. I have a strong feeling for Spanish artist, maybe because my family comes from there. We got kicked out after the Inquisition. Goya was one of the first painters who sort of threw paint on and turned it into an image.” The German expressionists and Munch are also favourites. “I like angst-ridden paintings, anxiety provoked, neurotic—I like that kind of stuff.”

This kind of ‘neurotic’ feeling can be perceived in Don’t Talk, which depicts a person being overwhelmed by a monstrous hand. “People were telling me to shut up all the time. I’m pretty open about my feelings and I say it right away. It causes problems.” She concedes. But the meaning of the work is more subtle than “just physically, being told to shut up. The painting stands for oppression against—not only what you’re saying—but also who you are”.

The intensity of emotion in her work can be horrifying. She calls it “the darkness in human nature” which society often refuses individuals the right to express. “It’s a reality a lot of people don’t want to face. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. If people were more honest about that, it would be a lot easier to live in this world. I can paint about the darkness and that’s probably why I’m so light-hearted.” She takes another drink of her juice, her painted self frowning malevolently behind her.

Since 1982, Stephanie’s work has been exhibited in various cafes and group shows throughout Toronto and performance-art venues in the U.S. Her work will be shown at Roundup.


Running between June 6th and June 14th across Toronto, Roundup is an artist-run exhibition giving artists a chance to show their work with having to depend on commercial galleries. Over 350 artists will take part this year, as compared to 78 during the first year of operation in 1987. Artists either open their studios to the public, or form collectives and share the cost of renting space. As participant Madelaine Lamont put it “Roundup is a great opportunity, especially for young artists. It gives them a sense that there’s a community they can be a part of. “Artist Heather Graham concurs, believing it is beneficial in motivating artists to display their work. “I feel like I need the exposure and feedback. That’s really healthy. In Roundup, the paintings are likely to be seen both by other artists and by people in the artist community.” Not to mention all those interested in art. Catalogues are available. The Hotline number is 961-5136

This article is reproduced with permission from the publisher, Wolfgang Dios and writer Christina Frei:

Wayfare Magazine, vol. 1, No. 3 June/July 92

© All text Copyright Christina Frei

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