Inspiration: William A Berry

Last year the Boone County Historical Society held a retrospective exhibition for William A Berry, long time Professor of Art at the University of Missouri. I was struck by Professor Berry’s work from the moment I first saw it in person at Mizzou. Over the years I learned about the breadth and depth of his work and have returned to it again and again. The BCHS show, titled William A Berry: The Eye Behind The Eye, was a wonderful chance to see a wide variety of his work from the whole sweep of his career.

Photo Feb 22, 4 02 51 PMTwo large colored pencil works by William A Berry

One of the things I found most interesting about this exhibition was the inclusion of many of his preparatory sketches and hand-built geometric forms. There were a number of collections of these constructions, such as the groups below:

Photo Feb 22, 3 57 30 PMPhoto Feb 22, 3 58 47 PM

I found these compelling not only as the source materials from which he created many hundreds of works, but also as formally pleasing objects in themselves. So much of an artist’s work is based on the commitments he or she makes with the eye; commitments to specific shapes, colors, relationships, etc. The evidence of Berry’s lifelong love of these forms, and how they influenced his work, was clearly shown.

I also loved the various sketchbooks and individual sketchbook pages that were on display in the exhibition. Never meant to be presented as art, these works nevertheless represent the investigations and passions of the artist. The fine-tuning, the alterations, the second attempts; these are elements to which fellow artists can warmly relate.

Photo Feb 22, 4 01 32 PM

Above and below: samples of Berry’s sketchbook pages.

Photo Feb 22, 4 04 56 PM

The life of William A Berry was one of learning and seeing. His work as an educator was effective and inspiring. His work as an artist was clearly a product of his time and global interests. This retrospective exhibition really allowed viewers to get up close and see that life in art.

There is an excellent catalog for this exhibition, but a quick search doesn’t reveal if it is available online. The book is called William A Berry: The Eye Behind the Eye, and it’s by John Whelan (Valerie Wedel also contributed writing). Look for it if you can.

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Norleen On The Cusp

IMG_0268-1Norleen (On the Cusp). Graphite on paper, 16 by 16 inches. 2014.

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Norleen Nosri is an incredible person: Daughter, Artist, Mom, Malaysian, Muslim, Wife, Teacher, Lover of the World, Speaker of Truths, Embracer of Difference, Celebrant of Joy, Preparer of Meals, Peacemaker, Calmer of Hearts, Tea Drinker, and so much more. While each graduate student I have worked with has unique aspects which make them special and necessary to my experience as an educator, Norleen shares a special spot with Natalie Shelly; being with them is like spending time with God. Norleen’s gentleness, care for people, and passion for work are just humbling to witness.

In my portrait of her I got something we almost never see: a completely still and silent Norleen. Usually she’s a flurry of activity, all smiles and happy exclamations. Here I saw her in a moment of pensive awareness. She’s not unhappy, just leaning into life with resolve; she’s receiving some of that grace she so easily gives to others. That open face and intense look in her eyes speak volumes.

When I drew her she was on the cusp of a huge life change – moving into a new space and new opportunities in St Louis, MO. And now she’s about to undertake her greatest challenge yet: a tea ceremony installation work serving thousands of people (read more about her current work as Artist-in-Residence at the Craft Alliance in STL here). I’ve written a bit about Norleen before, so I’ll let her have the last word. Below are just a few of her thoughts from the conversation we had last year.

On graduate programs:

“I gotta do this. That’s the only mentality. My mind at first was like, what is the MFA? But I never took it lightly. It’s supposed to be intense. It’s gotta be intense. It’s going to squeeze all the crappy parts out and just leave the pure… so it’s going to be painful. I knew from many of my ceramics friends – with Bede (Clarke, head of Ceramics at Mizzou), just be prepared to cry a lot. But the best of what happens is reciprocal, between you and (your faculty). It’s not so much about discipline. The discipline is what got you in. The relationships get you through.”

On art:

“How I see the world – in terms if what part of life I’m imitating in my work – seems like a moral obligation to me. The way I interact with people, the way I hope for people; I have that embedded within my material and whatever I’m working on. It’s so specific. But the dialogue around art is often different. Critique in art can be such obsession with intense reason and cost/effect, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, concept, aesthetic… I hate that kind of conversation. I use art as my arena of letting go.”

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If you can spend some time with Norleen, do it. See her work. You’ll see there’s a bit of divinity hanging in the air.