Interview with Neil Berger

Neil Berger, "Grain Silo Red Hook," 30 x 42 inches

Neil Berger, “Grain Silo Red Hook,” 30 x 42 inches

During July 2012, F.A.N. will show the work of Neil Berger. Neil’s work includes landscapes, monoprints, and portraits. His paintings capture the familiarity of life without being too specific. Neil edits out the extraneous information giving the viewer the essence of the landscape, urbanscape, or portrait.

Neil’s paintings are thickly built up in juicy layers of paint in vibrant color.  Conversely, his approach to monoprint is more of a subtractive method: thick ink is evenly layered on a plexiglas plate and then areas of ink are removed to allow the color of the paper color to come through after printing.

Neil Berger, "Oil Lube 39th," 21 x 25 inches

Neil Berger, “Oil Lube 39th,” 21 x 25 inches

Do you work through the same subject in a painting and then revisit it through the monoprint medium?

Yes! Many of my monoprints are reworkings of things I’ve painted. It’s funny – if I paint something twice or made two monoprints of the same subject in a short interval I’m sure I’d lose a little ‘juice’, but in switching mediums, the fact that I’ve done it before gives me more energy.

In your statement you talk about becoming a studio painter and working from memory instead of working en plein air. Do you do any preparatory drawings or work directly in paint?

I used to do tiny little preparatory sketches, with more verbal notes than drawing, but now I just look and then paint. Even with the tiny sketches I was doing too much blind copying and not enough inner inhabiting of the subject. I used to think complex things like tree branches were too hard to just make up, and maybe they are, but I hate copying them into my paintings.

Neil Berger, "Chinatown," 24 x 30 inches

Neil Berger, “Chinatown,” 24 x 30 inches

What do you read, listen to, or look at to recharge you or fuel your work and find inspiration?

Music is a big inspiration. Bach is a big hero. I want to do paintings like Bach, like the Brandenburg concertos, or sonatas for Cello and Harpsichord. I look at painting books a lot. In the past year I’ve especially enjoyed Canaletto, late DeKooning, Bellows’ cityscapes and Hudson-scapes, and Diebenkorn, especially the Berkeley series.

I’m not a voracious reader but I like what I like. I just read The Sun Also Rises for the hundredth time. I also have a taste for the right ‘spiritual’ journey book, like the Castaneda books or The Alchemist or The Pilgrimage by Coelho.

Neil Berger, "Lower Man Ship Wake," 36 x 44 inches

Neil Berger, “Lower Man Ship Wake,” 36 x 44 inches

There are small groupings of people or sometimes a lone figure in some of your urbanscapes. How do you use figures in your composition to further the narrative of the painting?

As you can see, I tend to put non-whites, usually women and children in the paintings. Throughout the years I’ve often depicted “the other.” I was putting a lot of figures in my paintings when I lived in Sunset Park, because I loved the people there. I think Mexicans are beautiful, somehow.

Now I’m in a more cosmic period. I often don’t even want the anchor of the earth, much less a figure. I paint to the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack to get me in a “beyond the infinite” kind of mood. But when I do use figures, I would not say it is to advance a narrative. I have nothing to say!  Only to show. But they are there for different reasons: because they are beautiful; maybe to push back against a crushing environment; maybe to show the light – bright noontime gleaming on their hair or Golden Hour rays catching their clothes.

Neil Berger, "Smith St. Folks, " 30 x 36 inches

Neil Berger, “Smith St. Folks, ” 30 x 36 inches

Do you think of your paintings as having a narrative?

Nah. But I’m open to one existing in the mind of the viewer. I just don’t think in those terms, except maybe crude verbal formulations like “bit of life against desert bleakness,”  “dark noontime painting,” or “Venus, Moon and Jupiter lined up.”

What do you do for fun when you are not in the studio?

I guess I wasn’t honest about how central books are to me. I spend a lot of time looking at books, all kinds: ancient cultures, biology, paleontology, archaeology, architecture, war, biography, books that react against accepted, respected news media, spiritual books, etc.

I like to play basketball, though my attendance is down lately. I like to take walks in nature. I like to travel. Lately I’ve been taking smaller trips with my girlfriend to the Catskills, the Smoky Mountains, Cape May, New Jersey, Illinois.

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