In Focus: Siri Berg
Throwing herself into the unknown seems to be a bit what artist Siri Berg is all about. Berg’s paintings can soon be seen at New York’s Franklin 54 Gallery, New York, exhibition opening on September 30 at 6 p.m.
She was born in Stockholm to a German father and a Polish mother, but left Sweden when still a teenager, all alone. Throwing herself into the unknown seems to be a bit what artist Siri Berg is all about.
“From the time when I was 6 years old, I knew I wanted to become an artist,” says Siri Berg. “When I grew up we lived in Prague and in Brussels, and I studied art, but I suppose I was more interested in the boys there then!”
Berg’s art is simple yet complex, and very, very sophisticated—a bit like a bento box with beautifully arranged sushi. It’s abstract art at its most organized and elegant, and her sense of color is simply sublime.
“I was always attracted to abstraction,” Berg says. "For me abstract art offers a challenge that reality doesn’t.”
But let’s go back to the young Berg for a moment—the one who left a turbulent Sweden in order to come to America. Perhaps she felt a bit stifled at home as an only child, because she does remember being eager to get going.
“I wanted to grow up,” she says. “I wanted to become my own person.”
Though her mother didn’t much like the thought of young Siri crossing the ocean, the political situation worked in Berg’s favor. She left Sweden via a ship from Norway to Baltimore—a journey that took 28 days.
“We played bridge the entire 28 days,” she says.
In America, a bus took her to Columbus Circle in New York City where an aunt was waiting for her.
“Thus the adventure was over,” Berg says with a smile. “And six months later my parents joined me in the U.S.”
In New York, Berg studied fashion and interior design, and her art fell by the wayside. She married twice and had two sons. When she was in her early thirties she began painting on a bridge table in the master bedroom of the apartment she shared with her husband and sons in Riverdale. When one son moved out, his room became her studio.
“I felt that it was finally my time to work with fine arts. In the early days, I relied on stories in order to work. I was inspired by Yeats, and I did work modeled after Arthur Schnitzler’s play ‘Der Reigen.’ It is a play with 10 episodes, but since I’ve always been attracted to the number 7, I made it into seven visual episodes.”
Eventually Berg needed a studio of her own. Her stepdaughter told her it was time to leave Riverdale behind and get into the swing of things, and urged her to move into Manhattan.
“I went searching for a studio,” Berg recalls, “but buying one was quite an undertaking in those days. And I remember thinking ‘what am I doing with the family savings?’ But I got my studio!”
This Soho studio is where she lives and works to this day. It's an amazing, space sparsely decorated and with stylish furniture, including a couple Mies van der Rohe chairs and an old dalahäst. Berg also began teaching—something she is still doing.
“I like teaching. It’s very satisfying for me to watch a student and the transformation he or she goes through during those 15 weeks, and knowing that I contributed to their change.“
Today Siri Berg needs no story in order to work. Maybe New York itself is story enough; it certainly gives her enough energy. After more than 25 years, she still teaches color theory at Parson’s School of Design, and her studio—as immaculately organized and beautiful as her art—is full of projects. Her work can be divided into three main bodies: painting, collages (made with Japanese woodblock printing) and assemblages (made from found industrial objects).
“What I am doing today has evolved through the years,” she says. “But in the end it’s all about color, and I always have a goal and a method.”
Don’t miss Siri Berg at “The Easels,” an exhibition at Franklin 54 Gallery, curated by Elisa Pritzker. It opens on September 30 at 6 p.m. and will include a conversation with Berg (6:30-7 p.m.). Works will remain on exhibit through October 2. Siri can also be seen in a group show at the Museum of the Aragonese Castle of Otranto, Italy, called "American Abstract Artists International". Until November 19, she is one of the artists featured in a group show at the Shorecrest Preparatory School Fine Arts Gallery, St. Petersburg, Florida called "Visual play: 5 contemporary painters".
In her home and studio you can gain a serious overview of her work throughout the years. The work of Berg consists of three main bodies, assemblages (made from found objects), paintings and collages. Most are minimalist, but there are other works created in a more geometric abstraction. She speaks of her influences from the Bauhaus, mostly it would seem, in terms their “revolutionary and unconventional” approach, and adds, more pragmatically, that her influence derives from the “home furnishings not furniture or fine art, forks and knives and things like that… I was open to it – nothing stopped me.”
The show of her work that opens on the 6th September: Black and White 1976 – 1981: Redux 2012 focuses on a moment when there is a departure from her normal striking use of colour. Her choice of black and white, at this time, is perhaps not surprising in that her use of colour is typically very bold and direct including series’ of monochromatic panels. The show at Hionas Gallery, New York, NY, provides a rare opportunity to see these earlier pieces, concentrated on black and white.
In her current show which is a selection of work from her previous exhibition of 1986, at the American Swedish museum in Philadelphia, she uses circles in space, not so much to create an image that might be thought minimalist in the nihilistic sense of being stripped of emotion to the bare bones, but rather, still full of energy and deep reflection. In the original exhibit (now in her studio) her piece “Big Bang” in title and in composition is a perfect reflection of this. She speaks of the redux with excitement: “interesting,” she says, “when it’s up to see how one reacts when it has been so long ago,” poignantly, in fact, as this group of works marked her departure, at the time, from these compositions of spheres ending with the aptly titled “Big Bang.” Fascinatingly she would return to this theme 7 years later but with the injection of powerful colour very much changing the mood, which she explains by saying “the theme needed to be explored again.” In this show we can appreciate the cool, calm and collected precision of this excursion into pure black and white.