My Sensual Surfaces: A Painter Returns to Her Roots


Marcy Bernstein

My artwork and creative inspiration has relied on accidents for as long as I can remember. The objects and images and detritus I find wherever I go; the way that images reveal themselves as I scrape away at layers of paint, sometimes laid down years earlier and revisited, find themselves weaved into my work in unplanned ways. Despite years of training and education as an artist, the accidental approach allows for visually and emotionally stimulating surprises that I may not have intended, and I capitalize on the results. I prize accidents. But, the thing about accidents is that often their value is hidden when they occur, only revealing what they add to a picture, or a life, in their aftermath. 

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So, little did I imagine that an accident that caused me severe head and bodily injuries, and an abrupt end to the life I had experienced for over fifty years, would become a catalyst for my growth as an artist and builder of a thriving arts community. And now it has lead me to the opportunity to present a solo show of my work at Roost Gallery in New Paltz this August. As Theodore Roethke wrote in his poem, The Waking, “I learn by going where I have to go.”

I moved to New Paltz in 1986 following the completion of my Master of Fine Arts Degree at Parsons School of Design, and began teaching art in the Newburgh public school system. I raised my children in New Paltz and have maintained a continuing love affair with this area and community that has never waned. While teaching art, like most other artists, I have often been challenged to find enough time to make my own art and to participate as fully as I would like in the local arts community. For all that time, I was also a fitness enthusiast; a proficient rock climber leading hard Gunks routes, a long distance runner and an avid cyclist. I loved riding my bicycle. 


But, on August 23, 2016, so much of all that came to a sudden halt. On a beautiful, sunny Sunday as I rode following a group of friends, in an instant that I can (fortunately) only barely recall, I was sent careening over the front of my handlebars at full speed face-first onto the pavement, the result of a poorly maintained roadway. If not for the fortuitous intervention of a gifted and caring bystander,  who happened to be a nurse, I would surely have died that morning. Following a helicopter airlift to Albany Medical Center, I underwent numerous surgeries to reconstruct my face and jaw and implant new teeth for the eleven that were never found. 

Recovery was long and painful. I was unable to begin the school year, and was left with endless hours – in and out of consciousness – in which to ponder what my future would look like. As the surgeries progressed, I began to adjust to seeing someone in the mirror that I hardly recognized. We all struggle with the changes imposed by natural aging. This was something different; I felt deformed. I didn’t feel pretty. I also had trouble speaking and lacked energy, both of which were essential to my job as a teacher, in a challenging school district with nearly a thousand students passing through my classroom each year.

And at the same time, I began to wonder what was possible. Being away from teaching for an extended period of time, and thinking about what was important to me, I began to map out the germ of an idea to create an arts community in New Paltz like none other. I began looking at spaces nearby that might be a forum and showcase for artists. One morning, quite by accident (as usual), I stumbled upon a gorgeous, sun-drenched second floor vacant space with polished wood floors in the heart of Main Street, New Paltz. The landlord turned out to be generous and had an artist’s spirit in his heart. As an experiment, and with no ability to pay rent, we invited would-be members to the space, and Roost Studios and Art Gallery was born, named for the iconic “Bandit’s Roost” photograph by Nineteenth Century photographer Jacob Riis.

Roost has thrived since its inception. Incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) enterprise, the gallery operates as a cooperative with over 20 full-time members who are all volunteers, working hand-in-hand with a corp of interns from SUNY that perennially refreshes itself with new faces as the semesters pass.

Yet again, for me, an accident proved to be a valuable turning point in my life that has impacted an entire community. 

A show of my body of work, entitled, “Sensual Surfaces: Windows, Walls and Doors Explored,” will open to the public on Saturday, August 18, 2018, at Roost Studios in New Paltz and will be on display through September 9, 2018.

To finally have a chance to display my personal work, after so many years, is both exciting and a bit scary for me. Art is a personal and intimate communication sent out into the world. In my abstract paintings there is a strong figurative reference to both human fragility and resilience.

The artwork you will experience recombines, reimagines and recreates distressed and eroded geometric forms into sensual surfaces made up of my own photographic images, painting, drawing and encaustic combinations. All of these elements are then put together on recycled and repurposed surfaces to create the final piece.

One theme in my work is time itself, and the way human energy and natural forces both form and deform abstract perfection over the years. I am interested in pushing the boundaries of geometric forms to create something physical, sensual and evocative. The creative process to me is a bit like being a magical Rumpelstiltskin spinning gold out of straw by taking whatever circumstances that life has handed me and creating opportunities out of them. Along the way I intend to add a bit of beauty to the world.

When speaking about my art I often list these adjectives:  unresolved, messy, luminous, resilient, scarred, beautiful and wise. It is my hope that my work, as well as my life, are imbued with these qualities.

Please visit our website:
or for more information email
or call Roost Studios and Art Gallery: 845 419 2208
Regular Gallery hours: 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, 
Thursdays through Sundays every week of the year.

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