Denise Adler is a New York-based mixed media artist who makes use of a wide range of materials and resources to create stunning collage-style works, paintings, and photographs. Much of her work depicts the many manifestations of the feminine form in dreamlike landscapes that seek to capture the experiences of the past and present day. Adler makes use of newspapers, magazines, photographs, found objects, and more to create dense collages full of color and expression.
Adler’s collection of works creates a fusion between past and present, combining the old with the new, highlighting the cycle of life and the commonality of the human experience across time. The use of archetypal shapes and symbols like circles, stars and arches, filter through even her earliest works.
Psyche - Mixed Media on Linen
We had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Adler and speak about her story. I loved getting to hear about Adler’s desire to continue creating, and how she believes there is still so much left to say with her art. Adler was highly resourceful in her approach to art as a child, commonly collecting paper, scraps, and anything she could find to draw on. Today, this resourceful approach to her art still remains as Adler uses found materials along with oil sticks, spray paint and stencils, turning the detritus into something beautiful rather than leaving them behind.
Read on to find out more in an exclusive interview with Denise Adler:
Denise Adler next to her works at Clio Art Fair
You've mentioned that you have been marking art since you were a child, can you set the scene and talk about your early experiences creating?
-I grew up in the Bronx, New York. I had always loved to draw and paint ever since I was a child. I didn't have a lot of access to materials in my home though like paper, colors, or other craft supplies. I would often find and collect materials like construction paper, scraps, even the little cardboard inserts in a pack of stockings. I would draw on any kind of paper I could find. Because I had little access to supplies, I made use of the materials that I would come by in my day to day.
In my elementary years I went to Catholic school and we had art class once a week, which didn't feel like enough for me. The art teacher Mrs. Smith would come in every week and we would carve sculptures out of a bar of soap. Iconic figures from the church like the Virgin Mary were ruggedly carved into these soap bars by elementary schoolers. These early experiences are where I realized that I like really historic, iconic images, which now I often incorporate in my works. In school I was surrounded by beautiful art works of iconic, religious figures which definitely played a role in shaping my approach to my art. I have Mrs. Smith to thank, as she helped me learn a lot about figurative drawing and really supported my artistic pursuit in my early years.
My family moved to Long Island when I began highschool, and this new public school had a well funded art program that really excited me. No more soap sculptures or scrap construction paper, I was now recreating album covers and working on fashion design. I also began creating collage works with paper mache and glue. This new art program was like heaven to me, it felt like home. I still have some of my first collage works from high school that I love. These early works were very expressionistic, portraying volcanos, arches, and gates, which are a motif that I've continued to use in my work over the years.
A Look Inside Adler’s Studio
You have been drawing and painting for many years, but what was the inspiration for taking photos and making collage/mixed media works?
-I got into photography when I was maybe 20 years old. I really enjoyed taking photos, but it was something that I only dabbled in for fun at first. I enjoyed playing around with photos, as I would take pictures of other printed photographs. I then began combining these photos together in Photoshop and I found that the end results were very evocative. I created a piece called Playing with Mom, where I combined a photo of my mother, along with another photo in a hair salon that reminded me of my mother. The combination of the two had made this new thing that was fun and had invoked a very strong response from me. After modifying these works in Photoshop, I then began adding more elements such as oil sticks, which I would paint on these altered photos. I also had an understanding that photographs were often printed a lot and hence felt less limited. So when I printed and altered my photos, I made unique and limited versions of my works.
How would you explain your process when beginning a new piece?
-I approach a new piece with not much of an idea in mind. The first marks on the canvas are improvisational sketches made up of geometric and fluid lines, anything to get that white space filled. From these sketches and lines, I can begin to make out forms and figures. This process is not always the same though. I like to paint first and then lay down a collage, but in my piece Finding the Horizon, I started with a collage instead. I tend to start in the center of the canvas, but on this piece, I felt compelled to start in the upper left-hand corner of the canvas. The way this piece unfolded and revealed itself was remarkable. I surprised myself with my slightly different approach to the canvas and my ability to let it happen.
Visual Echos - Mixed Media on Linen
Above you mentioned that you sketch out the beginning of a new work, anything to stop the canvas from being just a blank white space. After all these years of creating, is a blank canvas still intimidating?
-Yes very much so, but I think this fear of the blank space is a good thing. I often reflect and think about how much I enjoy being an artist, and I see the blank space as a new opportunity to communicate. While the start of a piece can be scary, I find so much joy in the process and result. There is still so much more I want to do and communicate with my work. I can't imagine stopping.
While I don't feel the need to be constantly painting and drawing all day, I often find myself sketching and creating things any chance I can. I was in jury duty the other day and brought my sketchbook along to help pass the time. I found myself looking up at multiple points and thinking to myself “Wow, this is what I do. This is so much fun”. I feel very lucky to be in a position to create and express myself in my work.
What shows have you been involved in recently, and do you have any shows in the near future?
-I have some works in a group show called “Memories” that is currently on display at the Pictor Gallery in New York till 6/17. I have a solo show “Face Value” approaching in October 3-28, 2023 also at Pictor Gallery. In May I showed some of my works at the Clio Art Fair in New York hosted by Alessandro Berni, I displayed works along with my gallery (Pictor Gallery). I've been attending Clio for almost 10 years now and hope to participate in more future Clio shows!
View from Alder’s Studio in NY
You can learn more about Denise's art and follow her journey via these links: