Actress/Artist Lisa Edelstein charms with off-kilter family portraits
Many of us know TV star Lisa Edelstein for her role in House, M.D., but locally, many folks also know her as Bonnie and Alvin’s shayna daughter – the Edelsteins had homes in the Berkshires and were members of Knesset Israel for years. During the pandemic, Lisa tried her hand at painting, creating watercolors that were recently on view at SFA Gallery in New York City.
The BJV caught up with Lisa Edelstein by email in early February about her work and experiences in the Berkshires. For the JTA article about her work (with more images), click here. Pictured here is "Snapshot."
BJV Interview: Lisa Edelstein
When the JTA article about your work was published online, my inbox was inundated with emails sent by your parents’ Berkshire friends at Knesset Israel in Pittsfield – and I’ve been asked to pass along best wishes. Do you have any thoughts or memories to share about the Berkshires or your parents’ experience here?
How sweet! Yes, my parents kept a house in the Berkshires since I was a teenager. At first, they lived in Otis, then they later moved to Pittsfield. They loved it there and spent every summer with their East Coast friends. I really wasn’t there very often once they moved to the Pittsfield house, but the Otis house has some childhood memories attached to it for sure. The sweetest is of a night that my father and I took a canoe out onto the lake. The lake was covered in fog so being on the canoe was like floating on a cloud. The sky was so clear we could see the Milky Way. And there were so many fireflies that it was hard to tell where the sky ended and the ground began. Magical! I also loved going with my mother to see dance performances at Jacob’s Pillow. What an incredible place to perform.
You used old family photos as a resource in creating the work that was on view at the SFA Gallery. How do your childhood memories, the images captured in those old photographs, and your creative imagination intersect in your paintings? How much do your paintings capture what is portrayed in those old photos and how much do they diverge from them?
For the most part, the images I painted were painted as I saw them in the original photo. The creative part was finding the photos that had the kind of imagery I was looking for, which considering how many photos I had access to, was surprisingly difficult. I was specifically looking for pictures that felt closer to the memory of the moment than the posed way we all tend to use to try and curate our life stories in reverse. Sometimes there may have been multiple shots of the same moment – one before people were ready for the picture, and that would be the moment I was more interested in.
In an interview, you described your painting as “an extension of what I’ve always been doing — story-telling.” What is the story you are trying to tell with this series of works and how would you characterize its Jewish aspect?
I think part of what attracted me to an image was whether or not the people in it, the characters, were having an honest moment. That’s the kind of thing that always makes me lean into an image and I suppose I was hoping others would feel the same pull, even if the people in the image itself did not look like they did. Because these are all personal photos, the Jewish aspect was unavoidable. But beyond that, having rarely seen Jewish representation or identity in contemporary art, I was definitely drawn to the moments where that aspect of my family was front and center. The humanity, the Jewish humanity, is absolutely its own character in the storytelling.
You started painting more ambitiously during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Now that we’re living in the new normal and I’m supposing you are busier with your acting career, what direction are you taking with your painting?
Once we were about six months into the lockdown I started working a ton. I was shooting both The Kominsky Method and Lone Star, so I was being tested 12 times a week and driving all over the city. I still managed to paint! When I had to go to Manitoba to shoot Little Bird (an as-of-yet unreleased Limited Series by Freemantle/CBC) I painted on location, in my hotel, and even in my trailer. I feel so lucky to have this other thing to do now! An actor’s life, even in busy times, is full of waiting. I’m not good with waiting. Now I don’t have to be.
And is the show going to travel?
That’s not completely up to me, it depends on the interest of the right gallery at the right time in the right place. So I don’t know yet! I’ll be sure to post about it if and when that does happen. In the meantime, I’m having a blast making more.