“An artist has a tendency to resolve aesthetic issues in very similar and predictable ways.” An interview with Mike Berg

By Anna Savitskaya - Sunday, May 21, 2017
“An artist has a tendency to resolve aesthetic issues in very similar and predictable ways.” An interview with Mike Berg

Born in Portland, Oregon, artist Mike Berg has been interested in abstraction since the early days of his career. Feeling connected to countries such as Turkey, Uzbekistan and Armenia, Berg created his own form of artistic expression through geometrical abstractions created on tapestry.

“An artist has a tendency to resolve aesthetic issues in very similar and predictable ways.” An interview with Mike Berg

Born in Portland, Oregon, artist Mike Berg has been interested in abstraction since the early days of his career. Feeling connected to countries such as Turkey, Uzbekistan and Armenia, Berg created his own form of artistic expression through geometrical abstractions created on tapestry. Over the span of his 6 decade long career, Berg has exhibited in countless galleries and museums throughout New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Seattle, Rome, and Istanbul. Famed art critic Linda Yablonsky once praised Mike Berg as “a kind of aesthetic anarchist, disrupting the natural processes of decay and organizing his interventions into exquisitely layered abstraction.” His show "Degenerate Work" is now on view at Site:Brooklyn Gallery in NY until June 11, 2017.

Anna Savitskaya: When did you first turn to the media of tapestry and why?

Mike Berg: I’ve been making kilims (flat woven rugs) for about 6 years, although I don’t think of them as rugs in the common sense, but rather as abstract geometric paintings. For nearly 15 years I’ve been making embroidered paintings. In both types of work I view the materials -both thread and yarn – as simply a different type of paint that makes a different type of surface from oil or acrylic paint.

AS: What does the process of creation look like?

MB: For the kilims, the process is this: starting with a line drawing of geometric shapes, each shape is given a number in sequence from 1 to as many shapes as there are in the composition. I will decide in advance the number of colors and which colors will be used. Those colors will be given a number, for example, the color red will be 1, the color blue 2, black number 3, and so on.

Using a random column of numbers taken from the stock market closing page in the newspaper, the numbers as they appear in order will be applied to the shape in sequence in the composition from 1 and on to the last shape in the composition. Once each shape has a color determined for it, the drawing is enlarged in exact proportions onto the loom and then woven.

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

AS: Tell us about the number system. Shouldn't it derive from your heart?

MB: As an artist who’s been working for many years I’ve found that it’s important not to become entrenched in repeating myself. In composition, in color organization, an artist has a tendency to resolve aesthetic issues in very similar and predictable ways. In order to keep my work fresh and surprising for myself, I began to think of ways to compose works using sets of rules that determined how a piece would be made in terms of shape placement and color by random number selection. In a series of works, repetitively using the same set of rules, the finished works would look both similar and yet very different from one to the next as a result of the varying number sequences that occur by chance.

AS: The title of your show is "Degenerate Work", meaning disappearing, as far as I understand?

MB: Degenerate work can have multiple meanings. The title emerged in a conversation I had with an artist friend of mine while we were discussing a wall mural that I had done on a 4 story building on Renwick Street in New York City, 1995. 22 years later the work has “degenerated” considerably as a result of time and weathering. It’s different now than it was when it was first painted, but over time it’s still maintained something of a degenerate beauty. I also do metal sculptures, some of them are quite fragile. As they patina with age they also change, becoming something a bit different from the original, sometimes significantly different. 

In the world of rugs and kilims the process of degeneration is understood. There are many collectors that specialize in collecting fragments or worn pieces as highly valuable works of art. They show the passing of time, of degeneration that is random, an example of the consequence of chance.

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

AS: Who are your favourite abstract painters?

MB: There is a very long list of abstract artists whose work I admire. Malevich, Mondrian – and less well known, but someone whose work I admore for similar reasons is Robert Mangold. All of those artists compose focusing on the edges of the piece. Richard Diebenkorn and Ellsworth Kelly make beautiful shapes and surfaces, but very differently. Ad Reinhardt’s ultra sophisticated late minimalist tonal black on black paintings are also amongs my inspirations. In the abstract expressionist mode, De Kooning and Pollock and Gerhard Richter’s squeegee paintings. In terms of concept and process, the artist I feel closest to is Sol LeWitt.

AS: What is more important, color or forms?

MB: Form and color are so codependent in my work that it would be impossible to favor one over the other.

AS: What does abstraction mean to you, a possibility to run away from reality or getting deeper into yourself?

MB: Abstraction is a pure thing for me, unburdened issues of content or narrative. It’s a form that is the most accessible and least alienating. 

"Degenerate Work" installation view at Site:Brooklyn

 

Anna is a graduate of Moscow’s Photo Academy, with a previous background in intellectual property rights. In 2012 she founded the company Perspectiva Art, dealing in art consultancy, curatorship, and the coordination of exhibitions. During the bilateral year between Russia and The Netherlands in 2013, Perspectiva Art organized a tour for a Dutch artist across Russia, as well as putting together several exhibitions in the Netherlands, curated by Anna. Since October 2014, Anna has taken an active role the development and management of ArtDependence Magazine. Anna interviews curators and artists, in addition to reviewing books and events, and collaborating with museums and art fairs.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Image of the Day

Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995.  Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995. Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

Search

About ArtDependence

ArtDependence Magazine is an international magazine covering all spheres of contemporary art, as well as modern and classical art.

ArtDependence features the latest art news, highlighting interviews with today’s most influential artists, galleries, curators, collectors, fair directors and individuals at the axis of the arts.

The magazine also covers series of articles and reviews on critical art events, new publications and other foremost happenings in the art world.

If you would like to submit events or editorial content to ArtDependence Magazine, please feel free to reach the magazine via the contact page.