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