Upper West hosts new work by Santa Monica painter Stephanie Trachtenberg, a painter of women now exploring the male psyche

By Kathy Leonardo

Stephanie Trachtenberg and her painting “String of Pearls”

Stephanie Trachtenberg and her painting “String of Pearls”

Art and the dining experience often entwine, but more often than not the artwork takes a back seat to the cuisine. While many upscale restaurants are finally getting hip to celebrating the art on their walls and the artists who create it, Santa Monica’s Upper West has not only been showing art since it opened in 2010, it’s also been giving artists their due with artists’ receptions three or four times a year.

On Sunday, veteran Santa Monica painter Stephanie Trachtenberg steps into that spotlight with a new exhibit titled “L’Homme.”

“I think art openings are very important to artists,” said Elad Benisti, co-owner of Upper West, which also refreshes the dining experience with a continually changing menu. “I believe that changing the art is an important part of a restaurant moving forward. Stephanie’s work reminds me of French [Parisian] paintings from the 1920s and ‘30s.”

Trachtenberg has a penchant for painting women, but for this collection her focus has shifted primarily to men.

“I find that I get the weight and sensibility of women when I paint them with curved lines. And I can better express the male perspective with straight lines. As a woman, I definitely feel that exploring the male psyche opens the other side of me and somehow creates a synthesis that makes me a more empathetic and harmonious whole,” she said.

The subjects in “L’Homme” are complex, sometimes brooding. That’s because Trachtenberg’s work focuses on a social context: “I am showing several subjects rather than a single one to illuminate more complex relationships and intimacies between them,” she said.

“I just saw the new exhibit at LACMA, “Van Gogh to Kandinsky,” featuring the fauvists and post-impressionists I love, especially Van Gogh and Matisse,” she said. “I also visited the Jack Rutberg Gallery, which is currently showing the Witkin brothers. I like Jerome Witkin’s paintings very much because of their social content.”

Starting as a sculptor at just 16, Trachtenberg made a natural progression to painting.

“My first visions in art were three-dimensional, which helped me understand the way to enter the flat canvas,” Trachtenberg said. “I also love photography and sometimes work from my own photos.”

A close friend of Gino Paino, who curates the show, introduced the artist to Upper West.

“I went to her studio and was blown away by what I saw,” Paino said. “I consider her a Santa Monica contemporary master, totally in control of her craft.”

The restaurant, he said, is as good a showcase for artists as a gallery wall.

“Upper West carries the harmony and the spirit of the people that work there  … they all have a sweet way to make you feel welcome and at home. The simple design and the scale of the space create a perfect venue for showing art,” Paino said.

Trachtenberg paints daily and revealed that inspiration often comes from within.

“I breathe life into my works and they breathe life back into me. It is literal inspiration.”

The opening reception for “L’Homme” is from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Upper West, 3321 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Light appetizers and wine will be served. Trachtenberg’s art remains on view through mid-November. Call (310) 586-1111 or visit theupperwest.com.

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