Through her New York City headhunting company placing lawyers in part-time positions, California native Lesley Bodzy helped set the standard for professional women to have more options in the corporate world. Maintaining a studio in Houston and frequently traveling to New York, Bodzy is developing her artist practice with a similar zeal. I spoke with Bodzy on the phone about the similarities and differences between being an entrepreneur in corporate America and expanding her studio practice.
When Bodzy, a lawyer, discovered that law firms had difficulty retaining women lawyers, she founded a unique headhunting company to help lawyers work part-time. “I wanted to advocate for women colleagues to achieve a better work/motherhood balance, to be able to work part-time and to still be able to practice law on a high-level basis,” she says in her measured and kind tone. In the 1970s, women flocked into the previously all-male professional schools. “My law school class at NYU was more than 50% women, which was true for other previously all-male professions too. But the workplace had trouble retaining these women after they started working,” she explains. Female employees left because they wanted to have families and needed paid maternity leave and the ability to work part-time during a portion of their careers. Bodzy—who had been active in women’s issues since attending Mount Holyoke, a women’s college—saw her opportunity to bridge this gap.
Living proof that, in her words, “entrepreneurs have the power to change the world,” she helped Harvard and other top law-school graduates to work at leading law firms on a part-time basis. Today, this sounds like a no-brainer, but at the time, it was frowned upon. Several Bar Associations tried to shut her down by prohibiting lawyers from working this way. It was an uphill battle, but one that suited her. She believed in her concept. “Looking back, I’ve come to believe entrepreneurs are a personality type, and I later learned I fit that type. Entrepreneurs don’t take “no” for an answer,” she states.
Bodzy ran her company from the 1980s-2000s. During that time, she saw corporate America’s shift from neglecting diversity in the workforce to striving towards it and making accommodations to achieve it.
Throughout her life, Bodzy has always made art. A few years ago, she made the bold move to close the chapter on her headhunting business and go back to school to attend the School at the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA program in studio art. “Graduate school helped me to find my voice and the meaning behind the work I’d been making,” she says. As a former entrepreneur, Bodzy’s shift into studio practice was seamless. Well, at least concerning its practical elements, “To run an efficient and well-organized studio, you must run it like a business,” she told me.
Further explaining what is often not taught in art schools. “You need a good inventory and accounting system like Artwork Archive and a good email marketing system like Mailchimp. You must spend at least 50% of your time on marketing and 50% on making the art.”
Career trajectory in the art world is different from the corporate world. “If you get an education and work hard, you can be successful in the corporate world. However, education and hard work are not as correlated in the art world. It’s more subjective, and luck plays a decisive role,” she says.
Luckily, Bodzy entered the art world at the right time. Women are front and center. At the art world’s flagship exhibition, the Venice Bienniale, women, particularly mature women, are in focus, with a rough nine out of ten ratio for female artists in this year’s central exhibition; this is a reversal of the 1995 stats. Nevertheless, female artists have much catching up to do in the last 127 years. As a result, this decisive bi-annual exhibition had historically presented a predominantly male roster of artists.
Major museums and galleries have also raced to stage large-scale retrospectives to canonize great living and deceased female artists such as Suzanne Lacy, Carmen Herrera, Faith Ringgold, Carol Rama, and Hilma Af Klint, among others.
Bodzy’s headhunting business created a community and a new class of lawyers who could have it all; for example, lawyers could stay on the partnership track while having a work-life balance. As her artistic career develops, turning to her community for support is still essential. Bodzy values giving and receiving critique and collaborating on exhibitions. “Community is crucial and exciting. I belong to two artist groups: Paradice Palase, a group in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and the NY Crit Club, which offers critique classes for post-MFA artists,” she explains.
Bodzy makes art because she enjoys the constant challenge, just as she did entrepreneurship. Her planned art pieces seldom turn out as expected, and she rolls with that, a reality that many entrepreneurs also navigate. “It’s a lot of problem-solving, and I love this. I don’t like to take no for an answer. Sometimes I hang onto a hideous piece because I keep thinking I can fix and improve it. Sometimes I can problem solve to make it better, but other times it would be better to walk away sooner,” she says. Speaking on the subjectivity of art, she says, “Every now and then my gallerists sell the odd-looking piece, yet the buyer saw something beautiful that spoke to them.”
Lesley Bodzy is on view with Andrew Orloski in the exhibition “Leftover and Over” curated by Giovanni Aloi and Erica Criss at SPRING/BREAK Art Show in booth #1143 at 625 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022 between September 7-12, 2022. Follow her on Instagram.