Fresh off the boat from a three-week tour from Singapore to Dubai, Dr. Gary Bodner and wife Melanie returned with a passel of colors and scenes to interpret on canvas.
I hadn’t seen Gary since he delivered my son in 1982. That was a worthwhile session, and it was worth the wait to experience his art decades later.
After retiring from his 38-year medical practice two years ago, he can focus on his painting, granddaughter, travel and bridge. Bodner is modest yet confident in his high-octane, aesthetic use of color de vivre — robust designs that come out swinging, spatially interesting yet a bit playful.
Bodner was voted the best painter in the Southeast by the Huntsville (Ala.) Museum of Art, which houses two of his paintings in its permanent collection.
Jaffe: As a child were you showing artistic acumen or leaning more toward a career in medicine?
Gary: Actually, I was recognized in junior high for artistic talent, but my parents encouraged me to be more practical. Fast-forward, I got involved with Phil Carpenter at the Chastain Arts Center. I first tried watercolor, but oil painting clicked with me.
Jaffe: How would you describe your style?
Gary: I would say I am an abstract expressionist and colorist. My medium is usually oil, which may start out with acrylic or even house paint. You know oil can be messy and difficult to dry. When I travel, I take photos on my iPad and glean inspiration from colors or settings. My iPad is full of categories, files and 2,000 photos. Recently I saw the old movie “Key Largo” and envisioned doing a painting of the opening scene.
Melanie: I would say that Gary’s strength is in his eye for detail. He notices very specific things like the complexity of shadows.
Jaffe: I see a profusion of aqua in your work and in your house. Where do you paint?
Gary: I have a studio in the basement, and also the studio outside by the pool is very inspiring on nice days. In the basement I have a corner area for production and then rotate various projects in different stages to get alternative angles. I paint four or five paintings concurrently at varying stages.
Melanie: Yes, we coordinated aqua and turquoise into various settings like accented with black in the dining room. We don’t adhere to a particular style. We like to travel and pick up things along the way: a camel bone box from Tangiers, lacquer from Myanmar, pottery from Mykonos.
Jaffe: On the business end, how much can you produce, and what do you charge for a painting?
Gary: I can finish three paintings a month. A 48-by-48-inch would sell for $4,700. Smaller would be less, obviously. I also conduct workshops in Atlanta and Charleston. They fill up rather quickly. My work here is at the Anne Irwin Fine Art Gallery. In her book I am noted for my use of color. Actually, today’s art market is leaning toward even more nonrepresentational techniques.
Melanie: Gary is also in the Bennett Gallery in Nashville, Studio E in Palm Beach and the Shain Gallery in Charlotte. We have many lively discussions with other artists in our home. In his workshops, Gary does not teach cookie-cutter art, where everyone leaves with the same still life.
Jaffe: What is your own favorite piece?
Gary: “Mug Shots” in the card room. You see the series of faces. … Note that they are all different, but I reinterpreted this vertical facial line that we all share. I used the lilac to set off the flesh tones and give a focus to the painting. Note also that we all have a fatter lower lip; thus, the top lip has a darker hue. Even in abstract art, it helps to use classic painting rules.
Jaffe: Whose work do you admire the most?
Then I’d select John Singer Sargent, who now has a magnificent show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He started by doing portraits in the late 1800s of Jewish women who didn’t warrant the top artists commissioned by aristocracy.
In our home, I treasure this Richard Johnson in the front entrance, “Perspective.” I am fascinated by his complex use of light in an abstract work.
Jaffe: The kitchen is delicious with your gourmet food paintings. From what did that stem?
Gary: I donated a painting for a Breman auction and these gourmet food paintings to photograph for the museum’s cookbook, entitled “Seasoned With Love.” And I do love good cuisine.
Jaffe: I see a lot of feminine figures in your work.
Gary: I started out doing my wife and daughter, then added the landscape and still lifes. One of my first paintings is this “Nude on a Chair.” I got the inspiration from her posture in a Calgon ad.
Jaffe: Maybe it’s not a coincidence that you paint women. You have a good jump-start on Grandma Moses, who started painting as a septuagenarian.
A final thought from Pablo Picasso: “I do not seek. I find.”
Photos by Duane Stork