Category Archives: art critique

A literary sampling / Excerpts

Excerpts

In my youth, (meaning before I turned fifty), I would sit for hours each morning at the breakfast table guzzling coffee, chainsmoking cigarettes, and writing in my ever present journal.  I was an extremely thin, intense, and introspective chimney.  With my hair now kept moderately short and the desire for a cigarette permanently erased from my memory, the one thing remaining from those heady days of nicotine fueled self importance is my journal.  If gathered together, these journals would fill a generously sized bookshelf.  Mostly they add up to little more than a simple accounting of each days events, but over the years I have learned to depend upon this narrative for perspective and some degree of insight.

In times of crises, when everything depended upon the understanding I could bring to that moment, the writing could become nearly incandescent with meaning.  For these brief periods of time I would become a writer.  Looking back, I find in these sometimes extended periods of literary clarity the same rich brevity of language, awareness of form, and truthfulness of spirit that is fundamental to my precise and elegant abstractions.  In this way these two mediums of expression have grown to reinforce each other, each becoming part of a whole.

I am presenting here, for the first time, a sampling of this writing with links to the complete dialogue.

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A Figurative Derivation
This is a show proposal I prepared for a museum specializing in the figurative arts.  I imagined this to be the foundation for a catalogue raisonné
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“The medium in which I first discovered my voice was watercolor.  This fluid paint, rich in the mythos of unintended consequence, taught me to believe in the accident as a tool to enlightenment and forward progress.

“As a young man, just arrived to New Mexico, I drove for Pony Express, a courier service.  My route took me between Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and Espanola at all times of the day and night and through all seasons and weather.  In the triangle between these three cities lies a geology forming one of the most beautiful places on earth.  As I drove I would come upon constantly changing natural visions of cloud, desert, mountain, and sky.  I practiced memorizing those rapidly disappearing vignettes.  Taking them home with me, I would then try to paint them.  While studying the layering of a mist — a horizontal band of white and gray turned pinkish in the early morning light and as seemingly substantial as the earth itself with the peaks of the Jemez Range sitting firmly above and upon it, the golden autumn cottonwoods along the Rio Grande river meandering below — my permeable subconscious was plumbed to its depths as spaces were rearranged within my chest.  The experiences of those drives, reinforced and made indelible by my exercises in memory and visualization, have continued to influence the work I create, making possible many of the stacked spacial arrangements of my architectural series and guaranteeing even my most nonrepresentational work’s impulse towards the majesty of the landscape.  Twenty years later the late days of the high summer of my career would find me in a 2000 square foot studio in Santa Fe, NM.”

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about art
The writing of this novella occupied three years of my life.
Soon after self-publishing, “about art”, I was sitting in a restaurant in Prescott, AZ when an acquaintance asked me about the book.  I handed her a copy while I ran to the restroom.  When I returned the book was sitting on the table as far away from her as possible.  She looked at me as if I had presented her with a snake and said,  “I want to hear your views on art, Stan.  I don’t want to fall in love with you!.”  By far, this is the strongest negative response I have ever gotten to a quick perusal of my work.  Be warned, all of this is personal.
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Chapter One
a terrible-beautiful dream
 

In the street of a small rural town, surrounded by milling people, I was assisting with the lighting of candles.  These candles were then placed inside translucent papier-mâché balloons.  Some were no more than small paper bags clasped tightly in both hands above the head.  Others were slightly larger and attached to fragile wicker frames one could uncomfortably crouch within.  Once each person made the tremulous decision to ascend, they would grasp hold of these improbable contraptions and be lifted high into the air.  The blue sky was soon filled with a hundred or more.  Later, the candle light of each soul flickered impossibly high in a deep night sky.  These pinpoints of light converged or drifted apart in random movement on the still night air; a gathering of fireflies in the complete blackness of a starless night.

With a quick tremor of fear, I thought, “The candles will soon burn out!’” No sooner had this thought come to me than the first of the lights was extinguished and the body of that soul plunged to earth.  Soon more and more were falling.  Two lights came together, were extinguished, and the two fell as one.  From the vantage point of a bird poised just above them, I saw four who had come together.  Their bodies, intertwined, fell rapidly away from me, disappearing into a foggy, obscuring blackness to perish on the desert floor far below. 

Standing upon a small hill, gazing up at the few lights left flickering in the sky, I sensed with dread the bloated and decaying corpses that in the darkness surrounded us.  To the man standing next to me I said, “When daylight comes there will be bodies to collect and bury.”

This morning I am contemplating how we humans, awkwardly tangled in dreams of salvation, struggle to lend meaning to a physical world that is most often brutally indifferent.  It may be that the one thing of substantial power left to us is our own imagination.

As a painter, I grew up seeing the world through the prism of art.  As clear and true a prism as any other, art elevated me above the poverty of my everyday existence and conferred upon my life a spirit charged with potential.  That potential seemed to explode onto the public stage on March 3rd of 2005 with a one-man show at New York’s Lincoln Center and the premier of the film Off The Map.  In this very special movie, the story of which is, in part, about a man’s transformation from lost soul to artist, my paintings play a significant and pivotal role.  Though I am forever grateful to the films director, Campbell Scott, for the opportunity to be a part of his exceptional project, out of it came some surprising and devastating personal consequences that left me shaken to the core and in doubt of all I had once taken for granted. Two months after its release, I sold my home and studio and, with a profound sadness, abandoned all ties to the place I’d called home for 25 years.  With only the vaguest of plans and no idea of what was next required of me, I thrust myself out onto the highway in one last desperate reach for clarity.

Originally these stories, posted online at livejournal.com, were intended simply as a travel log to keep friends and family informed of my whereabouts.  The writing and rewriting of them soon became an integral tool in my quest for understanding, healing, and redemption.

This is a true telling of a decisive moment upon which my world turned and, as such, it is a bridge.  There will always now be that which came before and that which followed.  This bridge is for my father.  He never had the opportunity to make his own crossing, but through his music, despite his hard life, he bequeathed me the desire and faith to dream.

Herbert Anthony Berning

1915 – 1965

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letters and notes – Hieronymous Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” / Tatianabosch7-7-09

a short bit on art and subversion.
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“In 1959 I was 8 years old.  Though I did not know it at the time, soon the library in which I sat would be torn down, to be replaced by a gas station.  All the books would be moved to a larger, more contemporary building of lower ceilings and better light; a building that has since been replaced by a newer building of even less character than the second.  It amazes me how these bodies of flesh and bone we inhabit, these bodies that pump blood, bruise, heal, and sometimes hold their injuries hidden for years, outlast the brick and mortar that seem so much less flexible and, to the touch, appear convincingly more permanent than ourselves.”
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An Artists Statement 2017
 Finally, after a lifetime of painting, an understanding of its historical context.
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“Being a painter, I was born in 1951 already an antique.  After a lifetime of creating images in this post modern world I have come to champion no ism’s.  Taking to heart my eighty year old friend’s reminder that his generation made sure everything had been done, I have proceeded to do everything in each painting.  The resulting twelve oil paintings, though inevitably stamped with my distinctive aesthetic voice, travel freely through various fields of exploration.  Accepting that the act of working in paint will result in the echo of vaguely familiar imagery from past painters has released me from the tyrannical demand for newness and, ironically, opened the process to a multitude of possibilities embodied in each individual painting.  If it has all been done before there is no territory worth defending.  One either stands on shifting sands, or swims.”
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Welcome to Stan Berning Studio and ART BOX

Studio and Exhibition Space by appointment :

54 1/2 East San Francisco St. Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

928-460 2611 / stan@stanberning.com

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Mr. Berning, a resident of Santa Fe since 1981, is a well known artist, author, teacher, and former gallery owner .  His works have been exhibited in such diverse locations as San Francisco, Paris, and New York’s Lincoln Center.  In 2005 his paintings became the focus of the film OFF THE MAP starring Joan Allen and Sam Elliott.  Also in 2005 he began a year long journey up the west coast of North America.  Experiences during this time became the foundation for his memoir about art, which was written over the next three years.

Evocative of the New Mexico landscape with its sweeping vistas and ever changing light, these most recent oil, egg tempera, and watercolor paintings are the result of a ten year process described in the entry “A Figurative Derivation”.

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ART BOX was opened in August of 2015 as an exhibition space for one-off installations by emerging and established artists and a tool to introduce new videos produced by In The Studio Productions.  When not in use it becomes an extension of Stan’s studio.

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Featured here are his newest paintings, a brief bio, the first chapter of about art, a museum presentation written in 2011 titled “A Figurative Derivation”, an overview of ART BOX and this years exhibition schedule.

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     “Being a painter, I was born in 1951 already an antique.  After a lifetime of creating images in this post modern world I have come to champion no ism’s.  Taking to heart my eighty year old friend’s reminder that his generation made sure everything had been done, I have proceeded to do everything in each painting.  The resulting fifteen oil paintings, though inevitably stamped with my distinctive aesthetic voice, travel freely through various fields of contemporary exploration.  Accepting that the act of working in paint will result in the echo of vaguely familiar imagery from past painters has released me from the tyrannical demand for newness and, ironically, opened the process to a multitude of possibilities embodied in each individual painting.  If it has all been done before there is no territory worth defending.  One either stands on shifting sands, or swims”.

Stan Berning
April 2017

A Brief Bio    http://stanberningstudios.com/stan-berning-bio-2014/

letters and notes – your face / Alberto Oliveira

So, Alberto, I was writing you last night this email and my mind got carried away with the following thoughts.  I wrote till midnight and finally hauled myself off to bed.  (I really need a girlfriend!)  This morning, in the light of day, I have gone back to your website and looked more carefully at your 3 portfolios.  I see now that you are aware of the issue I present here and you are dealing with it as best you can; the combination of photography, painting, and digital work feeding one another.

Still, I want to send this to you simply because it was so difficult to write and you might enjoy it.
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albertosportrait

Dear Alberto,

I was on artmesh tonight, landed upon your photo and thought, ‘You know, I would really like to see more of Alberto’s face!’  I am fascinated by the portrait photos people choose to represent them on this site.  More often than not they seem to mirror the quality and substance or their work.  This half-view portrait implies a beautiful symmetry.  The space to your right suggests an out of body connection to something greater than yourself.  Your eyes (eye) closed makes you less approachable and more mysterious.  The portrait photo’s perfect lighting lends a persona of professionalism.  All these attributes are evident in your work and so I am assuming that this portrait is a very good representation of what you are about and that you are completely happy with it.

Still, I landed upon your photo again tonight and thought, ‘I wish I could see more of Alberto’s face.’

I suppose I would not even think to write this if you had not posted your ‘study for hovering bodies’.  It has me thinking that maybe you are smart enough and genuine enough to need no secretiveness.

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Several years ago I found myself at the Dallas Art Museum, transfixed before a winter landscape painting done by Paul Cezanne over 100 years earlier.  For 15 minutes I stood before this painting and, I swear, every stroke, every decision which led to its completion, was there for me to experience as if I were painting it myself for the first time.  Most paintings never achieve that level of grace, but most paintings don’t count.

Alberto, can that moment of creative electricity, prolonged over an hour or a days time, be contained and released in a digital image?  To reference your last note to me: the reason people think digital imagery is born into the world fully formed is that it is seamless.  Unlike painting, it does not easily reveal its process, thus little of its nature as an ‘object-in-the-world’ is revealed.  It is born without a record of its physical history.  Does this mean then that, in this digital realm, the revelatory dimension of the art making process will forever remain a mystery?  And if so, where then does its soul reside?

My conundrum when it comes to your work is this:  You approach your imagery with the aesthetics of a painter.  I see these images and think, ‘What a beautiful painting.” but they are not.  Seen in the flesh I know that, at best, they would appear as beautiful photos.  They cannot do what paintings do; carry in the physical materials used to create them a history that can be uncovered and rediscovered with each new viewer.

I must ask myself, “In asking this question am I looking in the wrong direction?  Is this only an issue for an antiquated painter such as myself?  Am I simply wanting your beautiful images to be something other than what they are?”  Ultimately though, I think it is a valid point of inquiry.

Well, that is as far as I can go with this thought tonight.  I am suddenly very tired.
Alberto, I hope you don’t mind my pestering you with these thoughts.  I like to write and I am sincerely curious as to your process and your ideas about what you do.  I believe that there are revelatory acts and there are obfuscations.  Your work feels genuine to me.  Within these images you are being who you are, bringing to them a complexity and painterliness that is appealing.

I don’t wish to challenge the roots of who you are or what you do.  I just want to understand how you reconcile the substantial qualities of traditional materials with this new medium you are using.

Yours sincerely,

Stan B

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Hello Stan,I received your email and I’d like thank you so much!..so Cool!!!  I wish to have this conversation face to face one day.  Maybe my lack of english skills turns it into less or more than it really is?  Your text is deep and asks questions that concern me too.  I believe the anima is behind the creation, and behind the creator.  Maybe the difference is to be found in the nature of our trajectory.

Yes, we’re able to access the importance of a piece of art through its process, but also we can taste a hint, or maybe sense completely, the quality of a Rembrandt, Ingres, or Bonnard painting seen reproduced in the magazine which we are looking through while waiting on the street corner for a friend to arrive.  The eletricity you mentioned and the capability of an image to turn into a light for the world (a light which makes colors exist even in the dark) are part of the same visions artists have applied since the first paintings on cave walls.  Traditional art to nanoart, creativity is inner.

To me it is a challenge to all my senses.  The hovering bodies, for example, I had to draw in digital form using a mouse device and, more difficult still, with a right hand device.  I’m left handed.  All efforts and results (good or not) must live in the elements which constitute what you’ve created.  Painting or photography, they are both manipulated with an eye toward the platform that it is intended to “reach”.

2005_etherI’m so excited about this issue that I created a series of works called “Practical Manual to the Intangible”.  I love painting.  I love the process and the studio environment, the smell of paint.  I love painting in early morning; that universe of white canvas waiting for my appearance.  And I believe these feelings can be transported to any media.  If you believe so, its there.  The value is also there and present for everyone who creates, who feels it, who sees it.  There is a part in Aldus Huxley’s book, Brave New World.  He mentions something called Sensitive Cinema; a place where you watch a movie and feel exactly what the characters feel.

And honestly, all in all, I undertand that artists need to have talent, vocation, and technical development but, behind all of these, the aim is to create sensibility (and more and more, re-sensibility) to experience and make connections to others, to create extensions….

Well, 2 am here.  My mind is fading too :)  I don’t know if what I have said is exactly what you were asking about or if what I have said makes sense but,  anyhow, I’d like to thank you so much for considering my art and this discussion….. honestly.… thank you very much.

Kind regards from Brazil,

Alberto

(authors note:  To see more of Alberto’s work click on Alberto’s face.)

 

letters and notes – Hieronymous Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” / Tatiana

bosch7-7-09
In 1959 I was 8 years old.  Though I did not know it at the time, soon the library in which I sat would be torn down, to be replaced by a gas station.  All the books would be moved to a larger, more contemporary building of lower ceilings and better light; a building that has since been replaced by a newer building of even less character than the second.  It amazes me how these bodies of flesh and bone we inhabit, these bodies that pump blood, bruise, heal, and sometimes hold their injuries hidden for years, outlast the brick and mortar that seem so much less flexible and, to the touch, appear convincingly more permanent than ourselves.

The red brick Canal building I sat in was situated upon the featureless flatlands of corn and soybean fields of West Central Ohio.  Being only 8, my horizons stretched only so far as the nearest tree line a mile or two away.  With my feet dangling a foot off the floor, I sat in a large leather chair studying the book that lay in front of me.  It was one of the “Metropolitan” volumes on art history.  With its oversize plates and sheets of velum paper between each page, it was itself a Masterpiece.  Its sheer weight was awe inspiring.  For my first few visits, during which I always returned to the same book, the librarian kept upon me a watchful eye, advising me how to carefully turn its pages.
bosch7-7-09detail21
The first time I lay eyes on Hieronymous Bosch’s In The Garden of Earthly Delights, with its gorgeously rendered figures and unique and terrifying vision of hell, I looked about surreptitiously as if I had stumbled upon some forbidden secret, some pornography not intended for a child’s eyes.  Once I realized that no one would stop me from looking, I poured over this image like no other.  It entered my subconscious and soon began to emerge in dreams and visions.  That a man could imagine and realize such a detailed and frightening subterranean world seemed to make the possibility of that world a reality.  I knew, even then, this painting spoke of a place that exists beneath the surface of the physical world.  It brought to life that world.  In doing so, it has become, for me, the world’s most subversive painting, for it taught me to search beneath the surface, trust in dreams, and question practically everything.

Stan Berning

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