A person spends years, sometimes a lifetime, discovering themselves and their capabilities. When individuals become fully aware of their capacity and begin performing to their fullest, nothing stops them from succeeding. It is said that being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses is key to success. The journey of self-discovery is not easy due to ever-evolving perspectives and changing mindsets. The deeper a person is involved in this journey, the more they discover about themselves. The results of self-discovery are often rewarding and life-changing. One individual who has pushed the envelope, played outside the lines, and reinvented herself time and time again is professional artist Deborah Feinstein Bigeleisen.
Deborah’s first career began in New York City after graduating from The Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in textile design. She rose from the position as the creative director for a major textile firm to pioneering a global print design studio serving the apparel and home furnishings industries. Her concept facilitated European design houses to have ongoing access to the North American market. She founded Creative Print Center, Inc. with Juni Designs as a private label focused on floral patterns. As her company grew, it was regarded as the go-to resource for floral prints in the New York and Los Angeles markets.
After eighteen years of managing her company, she sold the business and moved to South Florida. Deborah was excited about taking up painting as a hobby. Captivated by flowers since childhood, they were the focus of her work. She states, “Flowers are in my DNA. I am awed by flowers – their mystery, their complexity, and their beauty.”
It is no surprise that her subjects, her “portraits,” were of flowers. She enrolled in local art classes and master artists workshops. During this time, Deborah met technical master Sam Perry. He is the reason her work is rooted in the labor-intensive techniques of the Dutch master artists. Sam was aware of Deborah’s talent. He knew she had the patience to capture the richness and depth of the shadows and the illumination of the highlights through the implementation of multiple translucent layers. Spending time under his instruction and channeling her creative abilities, she established herself as a prominent entity in the world of fine arts. Deborah mirrored Rembrandt’s personal philosophy: “Love what you paint and only paint what you love.”
Describing her paintings, she states, “Looking into the depth of a flower beyond what the naked eye can see, there is an explosion of boundless inspiration.” Within two years, Deborah’s work was accepted into several established galleries. A prominent dealer requested her to paint a series of white roses. The first three illuminated roses delivered to the gallery sold in ten days – this was the launch of her second career.
Another mentor reviewing Deborah’s work said that she gave a voice to flowers that he had not seen in his thirty years in the art business. She was urged to paint ten more white roses and, after that, at least thirty more. Deborah states, “White is the energy that has flowed from inside me throughout my painting career. White is a positive color. It emits light and illumination. White suggests goodness and spirituality. White reflects how I feel about my life and my outlook for the future.”
Her style of capturing the essence of flowers has given her work distinction and established her identity. Many artists that paint nature tend to be scattered in their subject choice. Over the course of her twenty-year career, Deborah has painted more than 150 roses in a multitude of colors and with interpretations from hyper-realist to non-objective. Lilies, gardenias, lisianthus, orchids, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers have also seen intense feelings poured into their depiction. As art critic Jean McKig wrote, Deborah’s portraits of flowers “attain the feeling of a family portrait.”
Following her love and admiration for flowers, she began pushing her artistic boundaries, with images that exploded off the edges of the canvas in sizes from 50” x 50” to 48” x 72”. Then came the abstract breakthrough. Having started her painting career by creating hyper-realistic portraits of illuminated white roses, Deborah credits her discovery of fractals for transforming her artistic vision and giving new energy and voice to her work. Observing these new enlarged images, a good friend (a neuroscientist) noted that these macro views reminded him of fractals. Not being familiar with the subject, she invested significant time in studying fractals, starting with a full semester Cornell University course in Chaos Theory, of which fractals are a component.
Simply envisaged, fractals are the self-similar properties found within a single object of nature when viewed thousands of times at different magnifications. Deborah states, “They have taken my vision to depths beyond what the naked eye can see, to the point of pure abstraction. My subject is no longer simply a flower. It is a dynamic system filled with energy, turbulence, mystery, and beauty. I gained a deeper insight into scale, Euclidean space, expanding and unfolding symmetry, and the universal properties of all-natural phenomena. I have discovered that nature repeats itself endlessly.” Deborah’s body of work in fractals and her conceptual non-objective Multiple Perspectives “Untitled” series is the result of this research.
Throughout her art career and even her life, Deborah has always looked for new challenges. Artistically, it has resulted in finding new voices within herself. After working for more than four years on groups of conceptual paintings in analogous tonalities – tones of grays and beiges and blacks and whites – her discovery of fractals transformed her vision of a flower. Never having considered herself an abstract thinker, thus began her journey into abstract art. A journey she calls Sublime Chaos because, at the onset, her vision and her studio were in utter chaos.
She has had many serendipitous events impact her art career. Stumbling upon the inspiration for the abstracts was just the latest in a long line of such occurrences. During the ‘Art Miami’ International Art Fair in December 2015, she came across a painting on an unprimed canvas by color-field artist Irene Monat Stern. Deborah was captivated by everything about the painting. The colors were dull, but it did not matter; it was the big, bold forms, the layering of colors, and the texture of how the paint interacted with the canvas that excited her. The fact that the painting loosely suggested a flower drew her even more closely to work.
Art Comes from Within
Deborah knew that to achieve these effects, she had to make a major shift in her practice. After working in oils for 16 years, making that switch was a major commitment. It involved turning her studio and her painting process upside down, including learning how to manipulate the paint, using different mediums, different brushes, and working on a flat surface instead of on an easel.
She was drawn to the work of the color-field artists, their materials, their painting techniques, and the effect of painting on unprimed canvas; how the paint interacts with the canvas rather than sitting on top of the surface. While working out some of the issues, Deborah was also exploring the work of some of the abstract expressionist artists because she has always loved working with color. Deborah felt that this was the time to break away from the subtle transitions of color that she had worked with for so long and go after something completely new. She was particularly drawn to the paintings of Paul Jenkins. His work appealed to her artistic senses – color, movement, spontaneity, and the ‘happy accidents.’
Initially, Deborah felt that replicating some of Jenkins’ work would give her the technical road map to a destination of abstract work she had not yet defined. By emulating his bold splashes of color, the bleeding watercolor effects, the drippy paint, and other elements of his work, she thought it would teach her freedom with paint that she had never explored.
The emerging artist was now at the point of incorporating HER voice into the work. Deborah had no intentions of channeling Jenkins’; his work was merely a tool. She experimented with the paint, becoming more comfortable with the results. She started ‘letting go,’ and her own voice surfaced. The whole transition ignited an entirely new artistic inventiveness. Yet, the key elements that have defined her work – the brushwork, the expertise with layered transparencies, and her innate sense of color – merged into the abstracts, giving the work a distinctive and unique voice.
She is still captivated by working on an unprimed canvas and intends to continue experimenting. Deborah feels that she has barely touched the surface. It is a whole new creative paradigm for her, and she loves the newness and the unpredictability of what is down that creative road.
Today, Deborah is known worldwide for her evocative, endlessly engaging paintings of a single image of a flower. Her work has been presented by fine art galleries across the United States, notable locations in Aspen, CO; Greenwich, CT; North Miami Beach, FL; Palm Beach Gardens, FL; Southampton, NY; and New York City, NY. Deborah Bigeleisen has created upwards of 460 paintings over the course of her career. Because her subject is flowers, she is often mentioned alongside Georgia O’Keeffe, although her vision and technique set them apart. Her capability to observe nature from a unique perspective, along with her ability to use colors as emotions, makes Deborah’s work distinctive in the fine art arena. As art critic Jean McKig states, “The vision is hers; the joy belongs to the viewer.” Deborah brings a unique vision to the floral genre to embody a contemporary world.
Such is the life of an abstract thinker and the different roads one takes. Deborah Feinstein Bigeleisen, according to art dealer Gary Haynes is “one of the finest American realist painters working today.”