Artist Stephanie Sanchez (née Sternberger) discovered what her Jewish background meant when her classmates in her first-grade class in Baltimore told her that she had killed Christ.
Until then, she only knew what her father had told her. That "Jewish" was what she was, despite the fact that the family observed only the major holidays and her mother was an avowed atheist. There were no rituals practiced in her home to indicate that she and her family were in any way less Christian than their neighbors.
Now, she regrets that her father and mother ignored the importance of that part of their lives and thus left her without any real foundation in Jewish life.
The painter, whose work depicting ordinary California life is on display this month in Santa Monica, started to paint at the age of 6.
Sanchez, 54, says she discovered her Jewish roots at the University of San Francisco. There, she found she was attracted to an intellectual environment that was principally populated by Jews. As she began to learn more about her background, she began to identify herself as a social and cultural Jew.
Her religious identity doesn't really impact her work directly: a row of ordinary tract houses in Fresno, the bridges over the Los Angeles river, industrial areas in downtown, rundown shops in Venice. Her work transforms the mundane into scenes that are both poetic and familiar, like the sudden and surprising beauty of an ordinary street in East Los Angeles or a paper plate discarded on a table.
Sanchez is not specifically a "plein air" painter (a painter who works outside) because she reworks most of her canvases extensively in her studio, but some of her works resemble that genre. Her still-life paintings are muted, well-crafted studies of the ordinary detritus of life with a bit of a Morandi influence.
The exhibit of work by Stephanie Sanchez, 1997-2001 will be on display now thru Mar. 2 at the Terrence Rogers Fine Art Gallery, 1231 Fifth Street, Santa Monica. Thurs.-Sat., 12-5 p.m., and by appointment. For more information call (310) 394-4999.
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