Michael Bergt Painting
The history of art can be seen as an attempt to balance these two intentions: to create the illusion of three dimensions, or focus more on an interpretive, abstract quality, thereby enhancing pattern and decoration. This reflects the contrast between a literal and symbolic view of the world—confirming what we perceive—contrasted with what we feel about what we perceive.
When you include a narrative, the dynamic becomes even greater. What is the meaning of what we’re doing, how does it look, and what pattern does it create? If we relax the need to separate what is real from what is imagined it becomes simply a relationship, and thus gains power. Those relationships are the potentialities from which we construct our culture, our sense of self, and our identity. Time and space are in play, and “play” is the operative word for what I’m doing.
– Michael Bergt
Michael Bergt has worked primarily in egg tempera for over thirty years. He co-founded The Society of Tempera Painters and served as the organization’s president for twelve years. Working primarily with the human figure, Michael’s paintings refer to a range of interests, including classical myths, sensuality, the human condition, and topical events. He is represented by Nuart Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I realized while working on the Shunga Series how important it is to build on a vision and to refine a direction. With my current works I see a similar thread that ties them all together. While the Shunga Series dealt with juxtaposing erotic Japanese prints with mostly the portrait studies of an Asian/Caucasian model I’ve moved past both of those references. I continue to deal with the figure, erotic elements, and patterning but now most of the reference material comes from India and the Middle East. Persian Miniatures and Indian Mugal paintings along with Hindu references have become a subtext for the work. There’s a Sanskrit word for this tying together; it is “Sutra.” A sutra, which literally means thread, implies something more to me—the need for opposites to be stitched together. In India this was also implied, because a Sutra is an aphorism or a single piece of wisdom that brings together the material and spiritual worlds. My images serve the same purpose, crossing boundaries between the erotic and the spiritual, East and West, past and present.
Many of my thoughts about the dynamics at play in the world today center around this conflict of how we’ll be able to thread together all these diverse elements. For instance, the global economy has forced all of us regardless of our culture, education and beliefs to deal with one another. The conflict is one of integration. Shunga was my attempt to stitch together East/West, Realism/Pattern, along with Internal/External dynamics. This new body of work deals with similar issues, but is referencing India and the Middle East to create new “Sutras.” Therefore, this body of work is the “Sutra Series.”
Shunga in Japanese literally means “springtime,” with its promise of new life. The word also has a special meaning in Japanese art. From the late 17th century onward, Japan was undergoing a major social shift as the influence of the burgeoning business class began to overtake the traditional ruling and samurai class. The new power base perceived the world as a transient, ever-flowing “Floating World.” The pleasures of the Floating World were to be enjoyed by all. One form of expressing sensual pleasure were the erotic prints known as Shunga.
The traditional Shunga images that inspired this series of paintings and drawings are rich on many levels: as beautiful designs, as cultural references, as expressions of the erotic. Their highly stylized yet direct treatment of sex is shocking and compelling, foreign and familiar. The grossly enlarged genitalia typical of the genre are both comical and overwhelming: a multi-layered play of opposites.
Seen out of context, these images have often been dismissed as simply pornographic instructional manuals. However, major artists were commissioned to produce these works to help cultivate an erotic ideal. Utilizing an aesthetic that incorporated Eastern philosophy, these artists created erotic images depicting the individual playing in a field of opposites.
The play of opposites was a well-known concept throughout the East. In China, the I Ching, or “book of changes” had taught these principles from ancient times. The symbol of Yin/Yang demonstrates this basic tenet through the opposition of male and female. Even earlier, the Vedic sages of India taught that all matter is an illusion brought out of duality—physical form isn’t so much “created” but emerges in dualistic relationship to formlessness. All life is change, and all change happens through the play of opposites. The sages realized that sex is a metaphor for life’s dance of duality.
Personally, duality can be felt as a crisis in the unfolding of one’s awareness. Occasionally, artistic or personal awareness can collide with traditional values or social structures attempting to suppress or deny one’s expanding consciousness. Great art is about this tension, for it is in the realm of art that duality can be freely explored and ultimately transcended. Art transcends the duality of the material world by expanding the frame of reference, transposing ever-larger patterns onto its meaning. The specific becomes universal, and the timely, timeless.
Shungas, as I have used them, introduce a dialogue that isn’t possible through a literal reference. It is as a play-within-a-play that they truly begin to resonate, raising the question of pattern and dimension, imagined and realized, East and West, context and culture, thought and action. Different levels of meaning are brought to mind, further shaded by experience and references from various angles. We dance along with the play of contrasting relationships, all the while invited to expand our frame of reference. In that spirit I offer these new works inspired by a fascinating erotic tradition.
Heaven and Earth
A paradox is a seemingly absurd, or self-contradictory statement or proposition when we hold firm to the oppositions: believing if this is true then that can’t be. However, paradox is more than opposition, it reflects the dynamic nature of opposing forces. We understand something as being white, in relation to something being black – left in relation to right. Yet we tend to focus on only one aspect, for example: the object and its movement separate from the space surrounding it – they are in fact, interdependent.
In my sculpture “Paradox,” I’m playing with these relationships. One head/direction/color is in direct relation to its equal and interdependent other. We sit on top of this situation realizing it as a paradox, because we’re no longer able to see just one aspect separate from the other. We can’t just see one direction, or one color of horse. Through the tension of this paradox we can achieve insights.
St. Michael of the Apocalypse
A traditional Russian Icon inspired the painting St. Michael of the Apocalypse. The Icon reads: St. Michael trumpets in the final hours as he conquers the devil with cities toppling below. I’ve always been drawn to images of St. Michael because we share the same name. Icon painting has also fascinated me because of its use of egg tempera (my primary medium) and its stylized, narrative format. I bought an Icon of this subject a couple of years ago with the intention of working on my own version as a self-portrait. However, it was not until after the tragedy of September 11th that the Icon’s image began to have a greater meaning for me.As I watched the evening news, images of collapsing buildings, discussions of evildoers and unrest in far off lands made the apocalyptic subject of the Icon come alive. I decided to do a self-portrait based on the Icon. My need to rise above the turmoil meant I embraced the idea of riding a winged horse while holding a book of knowledge (a laptop computer). In the place of the devil, I painted a female nude. Not because I feel the nude is evil; rather, it’s an acknowledgment of our desires, flesh and humanity — a reminder of where we come from and the subject I’m most fond of painting.
In my painting, the winged horse will never escape the bounds of this earth because a carousel pole holds it aloft — we simply ride round and up and down. The toppling buildings are more than metaphors for us today, and the spare desert landscape is a view out of my window. On the horizon, one sees a fire approaching — a specter the west has known by the smoke in this summer’s air. Further portends of disaster.
While I don’t believe in a literal Apocalypse, I do believe there are times when we face relentless questions. One’s spirit longs to find greater meaning, and the promise of a new day (a rainbow) and maybe the need to identify with an angel….
A Delicate Balance
From Paul Cadmus’ introduction to the exhibition catalog Michael Bergt: A Delicate Balance, Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, 1993:
“Michael Bergt. Here is an artist who is very serious indeed, one who believes that ART, his own certainly, should prod, should point out, should arouse thoughts, should make the viewer cogitate. Even if unwillingly. the works must definitely not be merely decorative, merely pleasing, merely a background for an owner, nor something that can be passed by with a ‘How Nice!’, ‘How charming!’, ‘How well it fits!’, ‘What color, what pattern!’ No. He is concerned with the state of our world.
“‘THINK!’ He keeps saying. He says it without shouting, without raising his voice. No bullying, no pretentious obfuscation. The pictures are small and given the subject matter as simple as possible.
“The works have a kind of directness that seem to relate to British political caricature – Gilray, Rowlandson, and even comic strips. In a way they remind me of Spectator magazine covers. His characters are often small people (aren’t we all small people?) enmeshed in major problems (aren’t we all?), struggling, struggling, often helplessly.
“Aristotle said, ‘Man is, by nature, a political animal.’ This one is an example, but one who does not stomp or kick, does not paint with hooves. He is an animal with the digital dexterity of a goldsmith working in that most delicate of mediums, egg tempera.
“Repetitiousness is not for him. His subject matter is varied, influenced by what is happening in the world around us daily. Therefore, some are frightening, grim, sad, as in much Renaissance tempera painting where we are given martyrdoms, crucifixions, hellfire. These representations of horror and violence can delight in spite of the themes because of the impeccable technique and delicacy (How unlike the bloodiness of films and television). The craftsmanship of Bergt’s works is so assured that viewed alongside, say, a Crivelli, or a Cossa it need feel no shame.”
The First Act
“Michael Bergt: Bronze Sculptures From the Evansville Collections,” Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences, Evansville, Indiana 2010.
Mid-Career Retrospective, “Crossing the Lines,” Arnot Museum, Elmira, New York, traveling to: Chapel Art Center, St. Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire. 2006-2007.
“The Human Pageant,” Evansville Museum of Art and Science, Evansville, Indiana. 1998
Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, Michigan. 1998.
Awards and Prizes
2016 Elected “Fellow,” of the National Sculpture Society (NSS).
2000 “Grand Prize,” “Realism Today,” American Artist Magazine Competition, John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, New York
Ava de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire.
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, The Achenbach Collection, San Francisco, California
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Currier Museum, Manchester, New Hampshire
Eastern New Mexico State University, Portales, New Mexico
Evansville Museum, Evansville, Indiana
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco – de Young Museum, San Francisco, California
Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington
Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Michigan State University Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan
Fons D’Art del Diari Avui, Barcelona, Spain
St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico
West Publishing, Eagan, Minnesota (Art & the Law, Purchase Award, 1994)
Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016, 2015, 2013
Jane Sauer Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2011, 2009, 2008
John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California, 2003, 2000, 1990, 1986, 1984, 1983, 1981, 1980
Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2006, 2005, 2002, 1998, 1995
DC Moore Gallery, New York, New York 1997
Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York, 1993,1991
Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, 2003
Horwitch Newman Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona 1996
Santa Fe East Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1989, 1988,1986
Caixa De Barcelona, Sala Lloret, Spain, 1986
“The Male Gaze: Life, Legacy, and Legend,” Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, New York. February 17 – March 31.
“The Lower East Side Art Show,” The Venue: Project Gallery, New York, New York. February 28 – March 15.
“I Observe,” Rehs Contemporary, New York, New York. March 9 – 29.
“Tempera: Nature & Narrative,” Attleboro Arts Museum, Attleboro, Massachusetts. April 6 – May 4.
“Figurations,” Group Exhibition 2019, Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 9 – 25.
“The Art of the Portrait,” Tri-State Competition, The Portrait Society of America, Gaylord-Pickens Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. September 12 – November 21.
“BP Portrait Award,” The National Portrait Gallery, London, England, June 14 – September 23.
“Figurations,” Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 27 – August 12.
“Painting Now,” Maxwell Alexander Gallery, Los Angeles, California. Autust 4.
“Chronicles of a Future Foretold,” 33 Contemporary, Chicago, Illinois. August 17.
“American Masters,” Salmagundi Club, New York, New York. October 8 – 26.
“Dacia Gallery Holiday Exhibition,” Dacia Gallery, New York, New York. December 13 – January 5.
“The Nude-A Survey in Prints,” Argos Studio/Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. December 1 – December 31.
“Art from Art,” Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. November 10 – December 18.
“Art From The Egg: Five Tempera Painters,” UNCW Cultural Arts Gallery, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina. October 12 – November 10
“L’Origine du Monde: Eroticism,” Scarlet Seven Fine Art Gallery, Troy, New York. August 25 – September 24.
“Figurations,” Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 14 – July 30.
“American Realism: A Survey.” Gerald Peters Gallery, New York, New York. May 18 – June 16
“Naked in Santa Fe, Curated by John O’Hern,” Offroad Productions, Santa Fe, New Mexico. April 15.
“8th Annual NUDE Exhibition,” Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. August 12th-September 9th.
“83rd Annual Awards Exhibition,”“ National Sculpture Society, Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, August 6th-October 30th.
“Drawn That Way,” Offroads Productions, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 16th-23rd.
“Anamorfosi,” Galleria Civica D’Arte Contemporanea, Siracusa, Italy. July 1st -17th.
“The Art of Scandal: What Would Isabella Stewart Gardner Collect Today?” Childs Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts. March 16th-May 14th. “Hour by Hour: An Invitation to Rome.” Q Art Salon, Santa Ana, California. March 5th-April 22nd.
“Figures and Interiors,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. November 20 – December 19.
“The Armory Show,” Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico. April 11 – June 1.
“2014 Martha and Merritt deJong Foundation Art in Residence 20-Year Retrospective,” Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences, Evansville, Indiana. March 30 – July 6
“Drawings,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. August 14 – September 27.
“Figurations III,” Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. November 7 – December 7.
“Sacred Body; Sacred Sensuous II,” Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico. November 14. Wheelhouse Art Gallery, November 26.
“Untarnished: Egg Tempera Paintings and Silverpoint Drawings,” Mercy Gallery, Richmond Art Center, The Lomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Connecticut. September 24 – October 28.
“Figures,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. March 22 – April 13.
“Figurations” Nuart Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. December 21 – January 3, 2013.
“Drawings: Investigations and Explorations,” Sisko Gallery, Seattle, Washington. November 15 – December 30.
“3 du Nouveau-Mexique,” Gordes, France. July 1 – July 13.
“Re-Presenting The Nude,” Evoke Contemporary Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 6.
“Heads Up,” Steven Boone Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 6.
“Gallery Artists Group Show,” Guest curator: Will Wilson, John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. May 25 – June 23.
“5th Year Anniversary Show,” Sisko Gallery, Seatle, Washington. January 5 – February 5.
“Interlopers,” Evoke Contemporary Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. March 2 – March 31.
“Persons of Interest (Portraits and Figures),” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. March 16 – April 14.
“Gold,” Lower Belvedere Palace, Vienna, Austria. April 15 – June 17.
“Decadence,” Evoke Contemporary Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 1 – July 31.
“Body Works,” Sisko Gallery, Seattle, Washington. May 26 – July 10.
“Intention: The Nude,” Foothills Art Center, Golden, Colorado. April 30 – June 26.
“Contemporary Masters of Egg Tempera,” Saks Gallery, Denver, Colorado. March 25 – April 16.
“Size Matters: Very Large to Very Small,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. February 18 – March 26.
“Re-Presenting the Nude,” Evoke Contemporary Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. July 1 – July 31.
“The Human Figure,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. February 26 – April 10.
“A Contemporary View of Women Reading,” The Forbes Galleries, New York, New York. February 10 – April 17.
“Bird’s Nest Invitational,” Brandon Michael Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico. February 13.
“The Object Project,” Museum of Outdoor Arts, Denver, Colorado. February 20 – May 23.
“Beyond the Object Project,” Gallery 1261, Denver, Colorado. February 21.
“The Luster of Silver,” Evansville Museum of Art, History and Science, Evansville, Indiana. June 28 – September 13.
“Small Works Show,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California. July 9 – August 8.
“Group Show, Pt. 1,” The Clement Art Gallery, Try, New York. July 31 – August 26.
“On Paper,” Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York, New York. September 10 – October 17.
“A Figural Presence,” Alva deMars Megan Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire.
“The Object Project,” Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville. South Carolina, February 3 – April 27.
“The Object Project,” Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma. May 25 – August 17.
“The Object Project,” Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga. Tennessee, September 14 – December 7.
“The Object Project,” Evansville Museum, Evansville, Indiana. October 14, 2007 – January 6, 2008.
“New York Realism Invitational,” Karen Jenkins-Johnson Gallery, New York, New York.
“Elected Members Invitational,” National Sculpture Society, New York, New York.
“Salon 06,” Salon d’Arts. Denver, Colorado.
“Tomorrow’s Artists Today,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Re-Presenting Representation VII,” Arnot Museum, Elmira, New York.
“Sculpture,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Paint What You Want,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Valentines,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Salon Series: Collecting Under $2000,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Contemporary Realism: Selections from the Arnot Art Museum,” Lyme Academy College of Art, Old Lyme, Connecticut.
“Precious Metals,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Realism Now: Traditions and Departures, Mentors and Protégés, Part II,” Vose Contemporary, Boston, Massachusetts.
“Trompe L’Oeil,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“First International Human Figure Show,” Kent Gallery, Key West, Florida.
“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona.
“Uninterrupted Mysteries,” J. Cacciola Gallery, Bernardsville, New Jersey.
“2004 National Drawing Exhibition,” Wiford & Vogt Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“From the Realms of Glory: Angels in American Art,” Cahoon Museum of Art, Cotuit, Massachusetts.
” Self Portraits,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Preddrag Pajdic & Michael Bergt: Classic Form,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Invitational Figure Show,” Wiford & Vogt Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Magic Realists: A New Generation,” February 5-May 3, Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, Pueblo, Colorado.
“Tempera/New Temperaments,” Frye Art Museum, March 7-June 2003, Seattle Washington.
“Re-Presenting Representation VI,” Arnot Museum, Elmira, New York.
“Through the Looking Glass,” Auction, June 14, Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences, September 22-November 3, Evansville, Indiana.
Turner Carroll Gallery, November 22-December, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Egg Tempera: An Enduring Tradition:”
Miami Dade Community College, May 2-June 7, Miami, Florida.
Mary Wahington College Museum, August 26-October 11, Fredricksburg, Virginia
Wistariahurst Museum, November 2002-January 2003, Holyoke, Massachusetts.
“Re-presenting Representation V,” Arnot Museum, Elmira New York. “Tempera Painting 2001 Exhibition,” Leighton House Art Gallery and Museum, London.
“Egg Tempera: An Enduring Tradition,” St. Luke’s Gallery, Anna Maria College, Paxton, Massachusetts.
“Turner Carroll Gallery, Tenth Anniversary,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Homage to…” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Figure and Form,” John Cacciola Gallery, New York, New York.
“Realism Today,” American Artist Magazine Exhibition, John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“American Scene II,” Van Vechten-Lineberry Taos Art Museum, Taos, New Mexico
“Society of Gilders: Masterworks 2000,” Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.
“Michael Bergt and Scherer & Ouporov, New Egg Tempera Paintings,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Introductions,” John Cacciola Gallery, New York, New York.
“Still Lifes, Florals, and Trompe l’Oeil,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“International Drawing Exhibition,” Turner Carroll Gallery Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Drawings,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Miami Art Fair,” Miami, Florida.
“American Scene,” Van Vechten-Linberry Taos Art Museum, Taos, New Mexico.
“A Figurative Renaissance II,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Magic Realism: An American Response to Surrealism,” June 12-September 6, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania.
“Trompe l’Oeil,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Realism Knows No Bounds,” van de Griff Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“The Magnificent Subject IV,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Five Sculptors,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Re-Presenting Representation III,” Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, New York.
“A Figurative Renaissance,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Realism Knows No Bounds,” van de Griff Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Spring Exhibition,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Celebrate Summer in San Francisco,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“The Derriere Guard Festival,” The Kitchen, New York, New York.
“Figures and Interiors,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Still Lifes and Florals,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“International Small Drawings,” Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Annual Holiday Exhibition,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“The Order of Things: Contemporary American and European Still Life,” September 8-December 8, Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, Indiana.
“Realism ’96,” van de Griff Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“The Magnificent Subject lll,” St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Tradition, American Realism: Past and Present,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Contemporary American Realist Painters,” The Gallery Halls Crown Center, Kansas City , Missouri.
“Inaugural Exhibition,” DC Moore Gallery, New York, New York.
“47th Annual American Academy Purchase Exhibit,” The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, New York.
“Works on Paper 1889-1995,” Frank Croft Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Departures and Disclosures,” Rettig Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Enduring Inspriation: New Mexico Landscape Painting 1995,” Cline Fine Art, Santa Fe. New Mexico.
“Heroes and Heroines,” New Jersey Center for Visual Arts, Summit, New Jersey.
“West Art & The Law,” organized by West Publishing, Eagan, Minnesota traveled to:
The Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Seattle, Washington;
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, Louisiana;
Canton Art Institute, Canton, Ohio;
Gallery of Contemporary Art, Colorado Springs, Colorado;
Tyler Art Gallery, SUNY, Oswgo, New York.
“Winter Group Show,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Group Exhibition,” Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York.
“Four Figurative Artists,” Horwitch LewAllen Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Eros & Identity,” Stuart Levy Fine Art, New York, New York.
“From Barbizon to Santa Fe,” Amos Joseph Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Realism ’94,” Fletcher Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Who Needs A Bathing Suit, Anyway? Naked Men and Women in American Art,” Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York.
“Artist Select, Part 1: November 20, 1993-January 15, 1994,” Artist Space, New York, New York.
“Small Works For The Holidays,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Still Life: 1963-1993,” Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“The Art of Protest,” Benton Gallery, Southampton, New York.
“The Artist as Subject: Paul Cadmus,” Midtown Payson Galleries,New York, New York.
“Voyeur: A Show of the Erotic,” Rod Goebel Gallery, Taos, New Mexico.
“Major Works,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“The Magnificent Subject,” The College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“North American Sculpture Exhibition,” The Foothills Art Center, Golden, Colorado.
“Self Portrait: The Changing Self,” New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts, Summit, New Jersey.
“Midtown Flower Show,” Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York.
“Fine Works on Paper,” Frank Croft Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Man Revealed,” Graham Modern, New York, New York.
“Human Conditions, American 20th Century Paintings & Drawings,” Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery, Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut.
“Beyond Realism, Image & Enigma,” Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania.
“Figurative Sculpture,” One West Gallery, Ft. Collins, Colorado.
“Figurative Sculpture,” Mariani Gallery, University of Colorado, Greely, Colorado.
“Sculpture In The Park Exhibition,” Loveland, Colorado.
“The Figure,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“Dealers’ Choice,” In Collaboration, Santa Monica, California.
“Still Lifes and Florals,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
“I Myself & Me,” Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York.
“An Artists Christmas,” Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York.
“Images in American Art 1960-1990,” Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania
“The Regilded Age,” Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
“Sculpture In The Park Exhibition,” Loveland, Colorado
“Through the Window,” Midtown Gallery, New York, New York
“Celebrate Summer,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
“Varying Images,” Carol Siple Gallery, Denver, Colorado
“Third Anniversary Show,” Carol Siple Gallery, Denver, Colorado
“The Nude,” Midtown Galleries, New York, New York
“Tomorrow’s Collectables Today,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
“Small Works for the Holiday Season,” John Pence Gallery, San Franciso, California
“A Gathering of Artists,” Carol Siple Gallery, Denver, Colorado
“Second Anniversary Show,” Carol Siple Gallery, Denver, Colorado
“Major New Works,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
“Small Works for the Holiday Season,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
“Fons D’Art Diari Avui,” Traveling Collection, Center De Cultura, Tordera, Spain
“1975-1985 First Decade in Review,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
“1st Biennal D’Art FC Barcelona,” Palau de Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain
“VII Salon De Otono,” Caixa De Plasencia, Spain
“San Francisco Arts Festival,” San Francisco, California
“Works on Paper,” John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
“Imaginaire XI: Contemporary Realism,” Center for Art of International Imaginary Realism. Denmark. ISBN: 978-87-970439-1-2.
O’Hern, John. “Skin Deep: Collector’s Focus, Portraits,” pp. 74-88 and “Real Representations,” pp. 128-129, American Art Collector Magazine, August 2019.
“Studio Visit: Michael Bergt,” THE magazine, December 2017.
“Hour by Hour,” American Art Collector Magazine, pp. 56-61, March 2016.
“The Power of Form,” American Art Collector Magazine, pp. 64-67, September 2015.
“A Gift From The Heart: American Art from the Collection of James and Barbara Palmer,” Museum Catalogue, Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. Page 96.
“Untarnished,” American Art Collector Magazine, page 140, September 2013.
“Michael Bergt: Cross-cultural allusions,” American Art Collector Magazine, page 100, July 2013.
“Figuration: Upcoming Group Show,” American Art Collector Magazine, page 136, December 2012.
“Michael Bergt: About Face, Upcoming Exhibitions,” American Art Collector Magazine, page 134, August 2011.
“Michael Bergt,” Santa Fean Magazine, page 76, June/July 2011.
The Luster of Silver: Contemporary Metalpoint Drawings (Exhibition Catalogue), Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Sciences. Evansville, Indiana.
Parks, John A., “Water-Based (Not Watercolor): Michael Bergt on Egg Tempera,” American Artist Magazine/Watercolor Highlights, 2008.
Beyond Representation: San Francisco June 5 – July 19, 2008 (Exhibition Catalogue), Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, California.
O’Hern, John, “Shades of Love: From maternal bonds to passionate devotion, seven painters seek to depict the true heart of love in all its many glories,” American Art Collector, February 2008.
Rose, Joshua, “The Bones of Art,” American Art Collector, January 2008.
Doherty, M. Stephen, “Object Project: Common Subjects, Uncommon Results,” American Artist Magazine, October 2007.
Wilber, Ken, Audio Interview, “Crossing Lines: States, Structures, and the I of the Beholder,” “Crossing Lines: Exploring the Work of Michael Bergt,” Integral Naked website. June 4, 2007.
O’Hern, John, “Michael Bergt Turns 50: Mid-Career Retrospective is an Ordinary Name for this Extraordinary Process,” American Art Collector, August 2006.
Smith, Craig, “A Myth and a Hit,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, June 23-29, 2006.
Parks, John A. “Water-Based, Not Watercolor,” Watercolor Magazine, Summer 2006.
Crossing Lines, (Exhibition Catalog) Arnot Museum, Elmira, New York, St. Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire, Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Re-Presenting Representation, (Exhibition Catalog) Arnot Museum, Elmira, New York.
Alt, Jeanette, “Human Interest: The Art of Michael Bergt,” Santa Fean Magazine, November 2004, pages 40-41.
Brandauer, Aline, and Carver, Jon, 3-D art/techne: The New Mexico Series. New Mexico, Fresco Fine Art Publications Inc., 2004.
Costanza, Frank S., “Many Practices Make Perfect,” American Artist Drawing, Fall, 2004.
Soderberg, Paul, “Mastery Triumphant in San Francisco,” Art-Talk, April 2004.
Mah, Linda, “Building on the History of Art,” Kalamazoo Gazette, Kalamazoo, Michigan. March 2003.
Gangelhoff, Bonnie, “The Art of Drawing,” Southwest Art, February 2003.
Randall, Teri Thompson, “Mastery, Mystery, Movement,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, New Mexico. February 7-13, 2003.
Tempera/New Temperaments (Exhibition Catalog), Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, Indiana, Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington.
Smith, Craig, “The Egg and Eye,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 12, 2002.
“Michael Bergt at John Pence Gallery,” Antiques and Arts Weekly, San Francisco, California, November 17, 2000.
&Figures: Realism Today,” American Artist, October, 2000.
Cline, Lynn, “Drawing exhibit highlights root of all arts,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Sultan, Altoon, The Luminous Brush, New York: Watson-Guptil Publications, 1999. Work profiled on pp. 115-117.
Magic Realism (Exhibition Catalog) Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Quatro, Joe, “Tension gives show an energy beyond the ordinary,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 6, 1999.
Michael Bergt: Heaven and Earth (Exhibition Catalog), Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Indyke, Dottie, “An Artful Yearning to Live in the Clouds,” Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 11, 1998.
Jarrett, Dennis, “Drawing on Heaven and Earth,” Santa Fe Reporter, Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 18-24.
Knipe,Sandra. “Paint By Eggs,” Evansville Press, Evansville, Indiana, June 1998.
Sult, Amy, “Classical Bent in Contemporary Gems,” Kalamazoo Gazette, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Sunday, May 26, 1998.
Five Sculptors (Exhibition Catalog), John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California.
Michael Bergt: The Play’s the Thing (Exhibition Catalog), DC Moore Gallery, New York, New York.
Aker, Jane. “Human Figure a Magnificent Subject,” Pasatiempo, The Santa Fe New Mexican, September 6, 1996
Tradition, American Realism: Past and Present, (Exhibition Catalog), John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California
Sandoval, Emiliana. “Bergt Mixes Myth with Satire,” Pasatiempo, The Santa Fe New Mexican, September 15, 1995
Enduring Inspiration: New Mexico Lanscape Painting 1995, (Exhibition Catalog), Cline fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Heroes and Heroines: From Myth to Reality, (Exhibition Catalog). New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts. Summit, New Jersey
Art & The Law: Nineteenth Annual Exhibition, (Exhibition Catalog). West Publishing Corporation, 1994
Lipson, Karen. “A Naked Body Of Work: The beautiful, and not-so-beautiful, human form,” New York Newsday, New York, New York. Tuesday, August 2, 1994
Smith, Roberta. “Artists Select, Part I,” New York Times, Jan 7, 1994
Spring, Justin. “Michael Bergt, Midtown Payson Galleries,” (Exhibition review). Artforum, January, 1994
Steinberg, David. “Virtual Realism,” Albuqurque Journal, Sunday, June 19, 1994 Section F,p.1
Villani, John. “Realism’s Continual Battle to Get a Place to Work,” Pasatiempo, The Santa Fe New Mexican, June 17, 1994
“People,” The Golden Transcript, June 15, 1993, p.9
Arthur, John. Still Life: 1963-1993 (Exhibition Catalog). Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Bourden, David. “Michael Bergt at Midtown Payson,” (Exhibition review). Art In America, December, 1993
Haller, Emanuel. “Exhibit Centers on Self Portraits,” The Courier-News, Bridgewater, New Jersey. Sunday, May 2, 1993
Michael Bergt: A Delicate Balance (Exhibition Catalog). Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York
Self Portrait: The Changing Self, April 2-May 30 1993, (Exhibition catalog). Essay by Joan Good. New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts, New Jersey
Southworth, Linda. “Michael and the Wolfen,” Upper Eastside Resident, New York, New York. September 23-30, 1993
Zimmer, William. “Artist Turn the Brush on Themselves,” The New York Sunday Times, May 23, 1993
von Weist, Powell. “Where Gallery, Art and Antiques,” Where New York, January 1992
Daxland, John T. “Slippin’ N’ Slidin’ Away at Payson,” New York Daily News, April 20, 1992
Michael Bergt (Exhibition Catalog). Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, New York. April 3-April 27, 1992
“Focus on Bronze,” SFE Magazine, Winter/Spring, 1992
Gilcrese, Shannon. “Through the Window of the Artist’s Mind,” The New Mexican, September 9, 1989
Matas, Lluis. “The People and Landscape of Tordera, Michael Bergt’s Great Themes,” Diari D’Barcelona, January 11, 1988
“The Metaphoric Perceptions of Michael Bergt,” SFE Magazine, Summer/Fall, 1988
Michael Bergt: Drawings, 1987, Bowery Press, 1987
Ruscalleda, Joseph. “Michael Bergt,” Punt Diari, December 13, 1987
1st Biennal D’Art Barcelona (Exhibition catalog). Palau de Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain
Domergue, Denise. “Is It Furniture or Is It Art?,” Metropolitan Home, April 1984
Monhart, Jeff. “Michael Bergt,” American Artist, September 1984
Juror, “71st Regional,” Arnot Museum, Elmira, New York.
Juror for “52nd Mid-States Art Exhibition,” Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences, Evansville, Indiana.
Juror for “Western Michigan Art Show,” Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Lecture, “Revival of Tempera Painting,” Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington.
Juror for “Arts International,” El Paso Arts Association, El Paso, Texas
Co-Founder of Society Of Tempera Painters, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Juror for “First National Juried Egg Tempera Exhibition,” Amos Joseph Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Lecture, “Media and the Artistic Process,” Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Juror for “Realism Today,” sponsored by Bristal Myers Squibb Company, Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, Indiana
Lecture and Demonstration, Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, Indiana
“American Artist’s Methods and Materials Convention,” Egg Tempera workshop, October 6, Pasadena, California.
Arnot Art Museum, “Egg Tempera Painting,” June 4-11, Elmira, New York.
Glen Oaks Community College, “Egg Tempera Painting,” June 10-14, Centerville, Michigan.
The Artisan Santa Fe, “Egg Tempera Painting,” June 18-22, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Evansville Museum of Art and Science, “Egg Tempera Painting,” June 22-26, Evansville, Indiana
The Academy of Realist Art, “Egg Tempera Painting,” January 5-10, Seattle, Washington
Kalamazoo Institute of Art, “Egg Tempera Painting,” October 27-31, Kalamazoo, Michigan
The Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts, “Egg Tempera Painting,” August 11-15, Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Academy of Realist Art, “Egg Tempera Painting,” September 16-21, Seattle, Washington
The Academy of Realist Art, “Egg Tempera Painting,” August 21-25, Santa Fe, New Mexico
This collection of Michael Bergt artwork is not included all of his work, you can visit his website at Michael Bergt
Southwest Contemporary Interview with Michael Bergt
Southwest Contemporary Interview with Michael Bergt
DECEMBER 1, 2017
Michael Bergt has been in deep dialogue with art history over the course of his more than thirty-year career. Working across drawing, sculpture, and primarily egg tempera painting, Bergt has engaged art’s long history of grappling with representational and abstract sensibilities. Inspired by the early Renaissance, classical mythology, and other diverse religious and spiritual imagery, his artwork represents his own play with expression and interpretation of the contemporary human condition. While grounded in these art historical and visual traditions, Bergt also profoundly breaks from these as he creates his own cast of mythic characters, with their own poetic inclinations and relationships informed by modern dialogues around pressing topics such as gender and sexuality.
Lauren Tresp: You have said you knew you wanted to be an artist when you were five years old. Have you been an artist your whole life?
Michael Bergt: I’ve been very fortunate. I had my first show in San Francisco when I was 24 years old. That show sold out, and I never looked back from there. And that’s rare. I was born in a small farming community, and where I got the idea, I have no clue. But I was always drawing since I was little, and people would ask, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” And I said, “I’m going to be an artist.” You know, you’re quite often too naive to know [something] is impossible, and that sort of keeps you in that line. Because if anyone had said, “No that’s impossible, you can’t do this,” then I would have done something else. But obviously I didn’t fall in that pattern.
LT: Has the style of your work changed tremendously over time, or were there roots that were laid early on?
MB: In any career that has lasted over three decades, you’re going to have some evolution happen. It’s also that arc of refining your technique and what it is that you’re interested in. I’ve always been sort of craft oriented, and very methodical, precise in my rendering, so I’ve always looked toward the early Renaissance as an influence or inspiration. That’s the source of the kind of work I have always wanted to emulate, but it doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on contemporary art, or I don’t acknowledge it, or I don’t want to imbue my work with things that I feel address contemporary issues. I’m not lost in the early Renaissance of the 14th century.
I like the idea that those are two discrete ways we understand the world around us. We either make symbols of it, or we make very precise renderings of it
LT: Did the time you spent living in Spain have anything to do with that?
MB: Actually, I was working in egg tempera before I moved to Spain, but what Spain gave me was a different cultural experience. It got me to Europe and to live with a different language, different history. Also, the rest of Europe is so available once you’re there: within a couple hours you can drive or fly to visit anywhere. A couple of times a year we would just head out and visit France, drive around Spain, visit Morocco. It was a great cultural experience.
All I was doing was painting for that time. I used to call it my “backfill” years, because while I was there, I would go out every day and do watercolors on locations, studying everything: landscape, interiors, and people. I was filling my reservoir of imagery, the effects of light, technique. After that, I had this whole cache of information all ready. So I went through a period where a lot of my work was kind of invented; I would invent scenarios and people. That switched when I began to work more and more from life. Once I began working from life, that really changed a lot of narratives, because you can’t take the real figure and put it in an invented narrative the way you can [put] an invented figure into an invented narrative. The whole dynamic began to shift in terms of how I was going to create a dialogue with that figure and say something metaphorically about what was going on. That has evolved over time.
LT: You mean the grounding or framing of it changes?
MB: There’s a certain aspect of being grounded in representational reality, and then how do you launch it from there? It becomes more precarious creating the narrative around it. One of the things that I began to play with was the idea of two-dimensional patterning—symbolic representations of elements—and then a much more three-dimensional, western lineage of perspective and verisimilitude. For a period, I was combining both within the same painting because I like the idea that those are two discrete ways we understand the world around us. We either make symbols of it, or we make very precise renderings of it, and they are both ways of how we reflect what we think about the world. If you could somehow put those two things together, you actually create a more comprehensive sense of how the human mind understands its environment. So that was a lot of that blending of east and west. I did a whole series around shunga, which are Japanese prints. I saw that as both the flat patterning symbolic element that has something to do with psychological, internal representation, and then a drawing representing a person having this dialogue within themselves, and having them both combined in the same image.
LT: Do these concepts come from topics that you’ve studied?
MB: All of this just starts with asking, “What are you fascinated by? When you look at art history or you go through museums, why are you fascinated by certain painters, certain periods, certain styles, certain images?” Then start tracing that thread, and when you start pulling that thread back, you realize, “What I like about this is that it says this about how the world feels to me.” And then you ask, “Well then, how do I say that about living today in this world? What fascinates me?”
I’ve been doing this whole series on the Minotaur, and for years I’ve been playing with Leda and the Swan, classical mythology, and the blending of human and animal characteristics. Now it is distilled down to this idea of masculine and feminine polarity. If we look at contemporary life, what I perceive is that we see this evolution and empowerment of women, and there’s this bigger polarity in the feminine realm, but then what is matched in the masculine realm? In some ways it has become more ambiguous about what that polarity looks like. And when you lose that polarity you lose a lot of the energy, that tension that happens between the two. So how do you then expand upon that to make it kind of exciting again, and more vibrant?
I guess what I want to say more than anything is that I don’t see anything irrelevant about using these ancient techniques or iconography to address something that is very contemporary.
A lot of people have said that my female figures tend to be very powerful, either very athletic or self-possessed. So how do I match that with a masculine element? Suddenly the Minotaur became a great foil. The narrative that happens between the two of them, the sort of dance that they have between them, is one that is completely different from the historical stories—he’s not just grabbing her and hauling her off; they’re actually having this dialogue. There is an interaction, a negotiation to see who is going to invite whom to be acceptable to what—which is very much, as I see it, contemporary life. I’m just having a great time playing with this dance and seeing the reaction and seeing people saying “What’s the next one, what will they do next?” I have no idea.
The process for me is I tend to do these rather quick ink drawings, so that I can get models that have a pose that’s more energized and movement-based rather than a static sitting pose. Something in some of those poses invokes in me the beginning of a narrative, and that becomes the beginning of whatever story that happens, and I use that drawing to create more finished drawings. Usually it’s the female figure that sets the narrative, and then I draw the Minotaur in after the fact.
Clayton Porter: You said something earlier that I want to see if you can expand upon. You had mentioned you haven’t turned your back on contemporary art.
MB: Because so much of my work is so classically derived, people see it and automatically think I have no interest in contemporary art, that I’m only interested in the Renaissance, mythology, or Christian iconography. While I am interested in all of that, I see it all in terms of its reference to today, because you can’t help the fact that we’re living today, and we’re already influenced by the fact that we know so much more about psychology and the subconscious, art movements, communication, and we’re all plugged in with the world, we have Google, we can get information. All of that modifies how you understand any of this information. I guess what I want to say more than anything is that I don’t see anything irrelevant about using these ancient techniques or iconography to address something that is very contemporary. I think that makes it just as relevant, or more so, because you’re including a bigger array of history instead of saying, for instance, “I can only use Abstract Expressionism to say something about how we perceive the world, or how we understand color and light.” I think that that becomes a very formalistic concern, but it narrows the bandwidth.
For me, always the thing that seems to really resonate for me is when any artist—in any sort of field, whether it’s music or literature—can somehow take some references from history and incorporate them into something in contemporary life, and make you see it completely anew.
CP: Is there somebody who is working maybe in a genre or style that you appreciate that would catch us by surprise? And is there somebody that influences your work?
MB: For me, always the thing that seems to really resonate for me is when any artist—in any sort of field, whether it’s music or literature—can somehow take some references from history and incorporate them into something in contemporary life, and make you see it completely anew. To me, it’s brilliant. Think about something like the success of the play Hamilton. It’s like, what a boring character—but he’s not, he actually says something about current society, the issues we’re dealing with, but it’s all done with hip hop music, but it’s a classical character, and it’s talking about how to create a democracy, and what are the issues with forming a new nation. It entertains everyone today in a way that it couldn’t have done at any other time. I think that’s the most brilliant thing, and the same thing happened for me when I saw Angels in America. They took something that was about this cutting-edge, contemporary issue—AIDS—and created this beautiful, almost mythological story around it that made it so powerful. That’s when I go, “That’s art doing its job.” Suddenly you’ve said something beautifully about something that’s so contemporary, and it made me understand it in a way that made it seem bigger and more sublime than anything anyone writing a news story could ever say about it using facts and figures. And that’s our job. We can’t be history painters anymore like in the 18th century. Our job becomes narrowed to how the psyche interprets the world around us, and how you can then, as an individual, present that in a way that makes us so much bigger, so the world can say “Ah, that’s what it’s like to be human.” And you can’t teach that. But when you see it you just immediately recognize it, no matter what field.
I hate it when I go to shows, and I just go, “Man, I don’t know what this is.” Sometimes you just sort of feel sick; I don’t know if it’s me or if somebody just missed [the mark].
CP: Do you ever wish you could have another life or live in separate, parallel universes, doing something else?
MB: There is a lot of play with [media]. I do sculpture, drawings, paintings, I do a lot of things in terms of visual arts, and any one of those I could mine deeper. I could have spent a whole career just being a sculptor, and there are times I look at sculpture and I think, “God that would have been fun,” but there are times that I really like painting. I’m going to continue painting. In another way it kind of shifts over time when you realize that you aren’t a slave to the work, the work is a slave to you, in terms of where you’re growing or what’s happening for you. And as you evolve, the work that comes out of that is a reflection of who you are rather than you chasing your work. I think that’s where a lot of artists get it upside down. They start thinking “Okay, I’m doing this, so my life is about making this work,” but the work should be a byproduct of the work you’re doing to understand yourself and the world around you.
every time I’ve got stuck is when I chased the work, and I didn’t stay true to what was going on in me that created that work, and then that’s when I begin to realize, “Oh, I’ve gotta flip this equation, it’s the equation that’s wrong.”
CP: That’s a powerful statement. When do you feel like you came upon that revelation?
MB: I think it takes time to come to that realization, simply because when you’re young, you’re so busy trying to learn your craft: you’re focusing on improving your craft, seeing how you stand up to other people. Then you get caught up in the whole commercial aspect of fitting in a gallery, making sales, not making sales.
At a certain point there’s this epiphany, you know, that what makes sales happen or not is when you actually had something happen in yourself that got transferred to the work, and then everyone felt it in the work. So every time I’ve got stuck is when I chased the work, and I didn’t stay true to what was going on in me that created that work, and then that’s when I begin to realize, “Oh, I’ve gotta flip this equation, it’s the equation that’s wrong.” You see it in artists’ careers all the time, where you realize that at a certain point all they are doing are replications of themselves, they’re just sort of doing the same thing over and over and over, because that’s all that’s working.
CP: What happens, how or when do you know?
MB: That’s a really good question.
CP: Maybe it’s elusive.
MB: It is elusive, but there’s just this kind of a bone knowing. In a way, it’s sort of like looking around corners—you’re seeing around a corner and you know that it’s there and you’re coming on to it, and it’s true. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s… I guess I don’t want to fall into the Santa Fe stereotype of woo-woo spirituality, you know, but it almost becomes like that. I used to have a poet friend in Denver who is a beat poet, and he used to tell me when I was just 19 years old, I’d be illustrating broadsides and stuff for him and he’d be amazed by how some of the images could have been so close to something he was writing or thinking at the time, and then he would always say, “You know, that’s the muse.” And I said, “Well, what are you talking about, the muse?” He says, “None of us are hip enough to know that, that’s something that’s happening that you’re just channeling, that’s not something you’re aware of.” I think that’s also part of it. At a certain point you’re acknowledging that you’re a vehicle for something that’s coming through. When you are so attuned to that, you can feel that happening, that you’re not inventing any of it, you didn’t conceive any of that, it’s just something that’s like an “aha” and that’s what you’re creating. It’s just this flowing aha, and when that happens, that’s just ecstasy. Damn if I know how you stay there or how you get there [laughs], but I think the more that you do that, the more you sort of sense that coming along and you sort of line yourself up for that to happen.
LT: Are there things that you think about or practice to make yourself more receptive and more in tune with that “aha,” and allowing that to happen?
MB: I think we all have this issue as artists: what is our process? How do you get to that space where something starts to happen? Some people need to just start throwing paint on a canvas or whatever. For me, it’s always been to sit down and start drawing from life. And as I start drawing, I sort of drop down into something, and I start seeing something. I start moving things around and then it will kick off from there, but that’s just my process.
A lot of times I will just start looking through Pinterest or something and see images and start tracing. The internet is glorious, you can just get lost in this rabbit hole of endless imagery. You find something and you click on that, and it opens up a whole other category, and before you know it you’ve just started realizing, “I’m fascinated by this,” and once you realize you’re fascinated, then you’ve got a hook. Whatever that is, it’s like something wants to be expressed, you’re a vehicle for that to be expressed. Once you find that hook, it starts to pull that out of you, and you start to let that express itself.