Sissy—Nana Sissy to me—was a perfect human. This exhibition is a series of colorful, meticulous half finished and finished works. Works that exude the elegance of the every day.
She kept her zillion pairs of shoes in a grid of lucite boxes in her glowing bright white and wood closet. Her house always smelled of her signature scent, the deep and rich fragrance Opium. She and her regal, midnight black standard poodle, Matisse, spent much of their days in her sun-drenched Santa Fe home—puttering, kibitzing, playing, having small snacks of tinned salmon, sardines with schmear, Canada Dry ginger ale, cranberry juice, hard gnarled pretzels, dijon-y green salads and vibrant raspberries—chicken for Matisse. She loved to host guests in her living room, by the fireplace and wooden bar chest—and did so with boundless grace. The warm hum of laughter, soft conversation, and glasses cin-cin-ing to life was a soundtrack in her home. “L’Chaim,” she’d exclaim—and she meant it. To life.
Home—a gorgeous adobe two story filled with art deco sculptures, mirrors, striped and floral throw pillows, carved wood furniture, printed linen napkins, crystal bowls of mint and chocolate stick candies and Dutch Mints for the kids and pistachios and green rosemary olives (served alongside bud vases of toothpicks) for the adults, and exquisite antiques—is where Sissy painted. Frank Sinatra’s transportive voice would drift through the space as she went about her days. His deep, ever romantic voice went into her paintings. It’s in the paint. You can hear him—and her firm, slightly raspy, sharp voice and wit—in each of the works.
She had THE eye for everything—jewelry—which she wore every day, art, punchy colors, details. The most impeccable taste. She loved and lived in pleated pants and crisp, perfectly ironed buttoned downs. She’d tuck them into her pants and accentuate her waist with leather, animal printed, or golden belts. She had a manicure once per week, and she gave the most incredible back scratches with her glossy maroon or shell pink nails. She loved dining out—usually for Italian with her loyal, coupled friends. She needed her glass of good red wine. Her taste for the best of life is evident in each of her paintings. As is her acute attention to detail, her understanding of color, her conception of form and shape. She was a firm believer in quality over quantity—and her paintings demonstrate this. They’re not too much—but they’re striking.
Each work in this show—and in Sissy’s collection—evokes the elegance that she created, surrounded herself with, and was. The way that she saw the world—the silver bowls of pears and golden vases of freshly cut flowers: calla lilies, roses, peonies, tulips—that she kept in her home. The long shadows cast onto the strong adobe buildings in Santa Fe, the upholstered blue and white printed furniture that she and Matisse would sit on. Thrones. Her memories of the breezy seaside and of travel, the faces of strangers. They’re paintings that accentuate any space that they’re in—stars that pierce the skies of blank walls. Conversation pieces—in the most pleasant, quotidian way.
She simply had it and got it. She navigated the world with such grace, which she infused into her works. She was opinionated; a tough cookie who adored what she adored and didn’t what she didn’t. Her ducks were in a row. Every night she’d wear gold slippers before getting into her crisp white bed next to her royal, luster-furred companion.
These are the paintings of an unbelievably strong person who surrounded herself with beauty and had an impeccable and meticulous way of navigating her life. Party Pickins features treasures by a woman who wore treasures, treasured and was treasured, who was the ultimate treasure. The paintings of a person who knew how to set her struggles aside, put on some rouge, and step into her gold.
written on the occasion of Party Pickins, an exhibition of Sissy Bershad's paintings at the Chicago Cultural Center organized by Bubbe Gallery
Alexandra is a writer for publications including Vogue.com, Coveteur, and Just Bobbi, and for a host of private clients in the style, wellness, travel, and lifestyle worlds. She lives in a treasure box of an adobe casita less than a mile from where Sissy lived and painted. She loves having her ducks in a row and adores her grandmother boundlessly. She likes to think that her taste for things in life came from Sissy. www.alexandramalmed.com