Artist Makes Studio A Life-Size Playhouse

By Pat Rogers

Publication: Southampton East; Date: Oct 4, 2007; Section: Arts & Living; Page Number: B3 Artist Makes Studio 

This is the sixth installment in a series by Press contributor Pat Rogers exploring what artists collect and the ways in which their collections affect their work.

Grown men don’t play with dolls, right? Well, tell that to artist and photographer Mark Seidenfeld. His art studio, which he calls his “laboratory,” is chock full of them. So is his work—whether this means pieces of dolls incorporated as collage in sculpture, miniature figures arranged to conjure fantastic stories or adult women represented in situations designed to push viewers’ buttons or to suggest stories of a cinematic kind.
All of his work borrows something from the philosophy of surrealism. His aesthetic imperatives include the notion that art should contain an element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequiturs. Mr. Seidenfeld collects surrealist art, tribal art, and robots. Lots and lots of robots.

A walk through his studio madhouse of miniature plastic arms and legs, fake hair protruding from artificial heads, life-size hands and miniature brides encased in plastic, all organized on shelves or in bins, reveals a chaotic wonderment of sculpture and art that defy reason.

Robot-like heads are attached to nude generic mannequin bodies. A doll holding a crow-like shape that incorporates shells in its construction takes on demonic power. Mr. Seidenfeld’s Bridgehampton laboratory/studio is populated with sculpture that warrants—and in some cases demands—contemplation.
His paintings contain similar elements of the unexpected and the shocking. Blue animated “nuns” wearing black thigh-high stockings and red high heels dream of male genitalia. A green cartoon like naked blonde lies hair flowing, with a pair of black stilleto heels attached to crossed legs clad in thigh-high stockings resting on top of her chest. In another portion of the painting, the legs of a different green woman with a transparent body appear to walk by, her white stilletoclad feet linked by a white chain. The painting bears the title “While the Men Were Fishing.”

A similar sexuality runs through Mr. Seidenfeld’s photography. Shot in black and white, his photographs are a cross between film noir and soft-core pornography. All of his work is designed to elicit strong reactions on the part of the viewer, Mr. Seidenfeld said.

So why dolls?

“I was interested in the dolls because they are archetypical in American consciousness,” Mr. Seidenfeld said. “I used dolls in some artworks to push buttons.”

Drawing on doll parts and doll imagery for use in his art appears to spring from the same well of fascination that drew him to robots as a child. Brand new as a concept back then, for toys or labor-saving devices, robots became popular when he was growing up in Queens. The rub, at the time, was that his family couldn’t afford them. As an adult, as happenstance would have it, a friend of Mr. Seidenfeld gave him some robots that he had collected.

Immediately smitten and now financially successful, he began collecting the automatons in earnest, which opened up a whole new world of collectible robots, dolls, action figures and the like. The robots, he collected. The dolls and action figures became raw material for art.

Shelves in his New York home are dedicated to housing classic robots and contemporary ones. They sometimes share space with his tribal collections, which includes many figurative objects.

Mr. Seidenfeld also likes to collect gadgets and gears and industrial objects. Most end up in his sculpture. He enjoys placing ordinary items in atypical settings.

Whether beginning his work with mechanical pieces, pieces of dolls or miniature figurines set in diorama-like settings, Mr. Seidenfeld lets the objects indicate which direction the artwork should take.

The artist believes the women depicted in his art are empowered rather than objectified, and invites viewers to ask questions about the work and their reactions to it. All of the women in his photographs are friends, people he knows or strangers whom he asks to play along and be photographed in the role-playing needed to suggest a story. Beyond the subject matter, Mr. Seidenfeld is an explorer—of technique and effect. An attorney by day, he taught himself photography at night and on weekends. He is currently exploring the effects flashlights have on composition when used as the only light source in a pitch black setting.

In his paintings, Mr. Seidenfeld uses intellectualism and philosophy as a springboard. Like jazz musicians, he lets his brush or creativity run with the muse while he discovers what is possible.

Mr. Seidenfeld’s art can be viewed at www.markseidenfeld.com. One of his photographs won Best in Show in the second part of the Guild Hall Artist Members Show last spring. His art has been exhibited locally at the Elaine Benson Gallery and in a group show in Wainscott.