Strosberg & Mandel: contemporary alchemists

David Mandel (Left) and Serge Strosberg (right) with their common work inspired by Cher

French artist Serge Strosberg and New Yorker jewelry designer David Mandel met in 2016 and quickly identified an interest to work together: their duo StrosbergMandel was born. Together they create a series of mixed-media works combining portraiture in oil/enamel with an assemblage of carefully chosen materials and multi-layered techniques using crystals, feathers, metal and luxe fabrics. They found a friend in each and they complete each other artistically: Strosberg is a painter acclaimed for his ability to capture the essence and character of his subjects in his work; Mandel, whose extensive collection of fine vintage costume jewelry brings new depth to Serge Strosberg’s intimate portraiture. Their work is influenced by the work of Flemish painters such as Jan Van Eyck and Hans Holbein, where the representation of beauty and wealth hides a dark spiritual reality and the fragility of life.  The collaborative work of StrosbergMandel can be seen May 16-28, at The White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton, NY. 

3D portrait by StrosbergMandel

Tell us about your artistic duo: how did you start working together?

Serge: We met in the spring of 2016 through a curator. I was producing a solo exhibition on the controversial topic of feminism and adult movies at studio 26 Gallery: “GirlsGirlsGirls” and hired David Mandel to create neon signs for the show. I thought he was very easy to work with and also a talented jewelry designer. I obtained critical acclaim in Europe for my portraits that were exhibited next to painter Lucian Freud in Museum shows and sold to many private collectors but in New York, I find it difficult to break through with the lack of art history knowledge or interest from dealers and collectors. Most seem to focus on what and how fast art sells. How many young collectors and dealers know, today, who are: Freud, Balthus, Soutine, Holbein, a German renaissance portrait painter who became our main source of inspiration for our duo creations…I wanted to create something new, a form of portraiture and still life that hadn’t been done before, dimensional, using contemporary materials as well as old fashion skills (not machine made) to keep the human touch. My ability to capture the essence of people in portraits and a delicate use of color combined with David Mandel’s capability of adding dimension with a collection of vintage stones, fabrics, found objects, are what make Strosberg-Mandel beautiful and unique.

David: Inspired by the work of the painter Holbein, Serge talked about bringing these incredible works into the present while paying homage to him. I come with over 30 years experience as a jewelry artist; also ready for reopening my artistic journey by “painting with stones” all of which are from a vast collection of materials from Vintage Swarovski crystals to the tiniest googly eyes. I’m very grateful for a wonderful jewelry career and this is a natural transition for my visual art. Of course, still creating the Mandel Jewels. Besides gaining a partner art I found a new friend and brother. After our initial meeting and both of us being willing to “grow” our new work, my instinct told me that our introduction was no accident.

How do you balance your personal works and the duo creations?

Serge: When a client orders jewelry from David or a portrait from me, we allow each other to take a break to fulfill the commissions unless Strosberg-Mandel has a deadline for a show or a commission. With our duo creations, we are attracting new buyers, usually young collectors who are looking for something new, unique and out of the box.
David: For myself, as for many, I find “balance” a difficult word. As we began to work together it became very apparent that we would need to work together on a daily basis to complete our body of works. When our journey opened up as a creative duo; my focus shifted from mine to ours. Of course I still continue to receive jewelry commissions for which I’m very grateful. The jewelry work has now become an important part of our collaborative works.

You have very different backgrounds; how do your differences feed your work?

Serge: It may seem that we are from very different backgrounds (European versus American) and yet, we share similar family values and ethics because of our Ashkenazi Jewish origins. As people as well as artists, we are drawn to “others” and share humanistic values. Many of our subject matters come from groups that might have suffered from persecution or been abused: African Americans, transgender, women, etc…

David: As a child of the early sixties, growing up in industrial Elizabeth, NJ, I could only dream of Europe, which I fantasized about, thinking of the life that I imagined awaited me there one day. Many times I realize that I’ve used an American expression and Serge will ask what it means. That led us to put up a board where all of these expressions are listed. As well as many of the euphemisms that don’t register but after explanation may end up driving the work in another way. In turn, I’ve learned so much more about Europe; which has broadened my perspective in a major way. Serge brings the classical foundation upon which he continues to push the limits of his painting and I bring the 3 dimensional assemblage abilities to our collaboration.

Who are each of your favorite artists?
: Tony Duquette, Dali, Rauschenberg, Van Gogh, the Surrealist group and the Dada artists. Cindy Sherman and her transformations. Honestly, there are too many to name them all. I get influenced in some way by all other artists. Even if their work does not appeal to me; I will usually find something that inspires me in some way. We are also inspired by different time periods and history. So, many of those ancient masterpieces by unknown artisans also need to be considered influencers as well.
Serge: To name a few : Soutine, Rembrandt, Lucian Freud, Holbein, Balthus, Tony Duquette, Liberace, Schiaparelli, Magritte, Dali,

Prince by StrosbergMandel

How do you get inspired for new creations?
: Serge and myself are both very driven and committed to our collaboration. We try to push an image or subject to the furthest dimension that we can create. We also have different series that we are always thinking about besides the portraits.

Serge: Images that we see on internet, extraordinary subjects, portraits, landscapes, animals that lend them selves to dimensional work

Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share?
: Our first completed piece, which was the portrait of Prince, was completely finished on the same day that Serge’s twin sons were born.

What is your dream project?
: Serge and I are looking forward to doing installation work. One of our other series entitled “Grade A” is based on red meat which is done from “life”. We’d create a total environment using different tableaux and would have the project done in an industrial meat locker. Incorporating music composed for the work and the displays of household objects that would function as furniture and much, much more.

Serge: and a one man show at Swarovski’s Kristall Welt in Austria!

Still life Reef by StrosbergMandel

What are your projects over the next few months?
Serge: May 16-28, we are showing 5 music icon portraits (David Bowie, Cher, Elvis, Tom Petty and Prince) at The White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton. Simultaneously we started working on series of 10 small works inspired by vintage images of Miami and Southern Florida and small scale more intimate portraits with dimension of course.

David: There are more musicians and old Hollywood movie stars that we will add to the “Troubadours of Eternity”series. We’ll also be working on commissioned portraits that incorporate the person’s special mementos and clothing among other favorite materials.

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