NAME: Tatiana Berg
STUDIO LOCATION: 17-17 Troutman Street (on the Bushwick-Ridgewood border)
TIME IN BUSHWICK: 2.5 years
SHARED STUDIO: Yes, but we each have our own spaces, and doors that shut.
[Editor’s note: Over the next three days we’ll be recommending artist studios we think readers should visit during Bushwick Open Studios this weekend, providing interviews with selected artists and compiling it into handy AFC maps you all can use to get around. We know the size of this event can be a little overwhelming. Hopefully, our work will make navigating the Bushwick terrain a little easier.]
Tatiana Berg’s paintings look like her lipstick and her shirts. That’s meant as a compliment — she clearly likes pastel, loose patterns and the 80’s, and so do we. Berg is also rarely content with standard canvas shapes. In one metallic-colored piece, she combines five separate canvases to create an anvil-like shape. In another series of tent-shaped paintings she equips the pieces with wheels and brakes. Our favorite, though, may be the painting in which Berg overlays colorful polka-dots with a creamy transparent white. She then runs through the paint with her fingers as though it were fog on a car window.
Why the decision to add wheels to many of the tent paintings? What’s your process like?
My tent-paintings arose from a curiosity wondering what a painting looked like broken open, its interior structures and materials exposed. All two-dimensional work indulges in illusionism to some degree, but the tents allow me to get line and color off the wall and into corporeal space. They’re made of all the same stuff as a regular painting—canvas, wood, staples, hardware, paint—but all remain determindly visible. To me the fun is in knowing; if the wonder’s gone when the truth is shown, there was never any wonder in the first place. In brutalizing and exposing the material structures of painting, I think the wonder remains, and that’s encouraging.
When I first started building these things, I liked calling them tents, because a tent is canvas stretched over a framework, like a painting. At the time I was making all these drawings and gouaches of things that resembled tents or huts. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, never having have lived anywhere for more than a couple of years so the thought of a personalized shelter you can take with you and plop anywhere has been very appealing to me. I’m obsessed with things like “Drop City,” the failed 1960s commune in Colorado where a bunch of people built these homes and transformed a bare place into one of raucous, spontaneous, painterly beauty.
As a painter the only thing I ever learned how to build was a stretcher, so I started by making these three-dimensional stretchers that sat on the floor. I make decisions as I go along; starting with the wooden framework, then canvas, finally paint, oftentimes pulling the whole thing apart and starting over as I go. I tend to work round-robin on more than one thing at once, and oftentimes I’ll allow another completed work to suggest what should come next on what I’m currently painting.
Adding wheels came, I thought, naturally; they are the best hardware to “hang” a painting on the floor. Of course they’re more visible than a D-ring or wall-hooks, but it lends them mobility and humor, and references the idea of transportability in a way that I immediately liked. They crack me up, and I hope they make you laugh too.
Are your paintings a response to Minimalism and/or Abstract Expressionism?
A lot of my painting heroes are guys and gals from the 70s: Alan Shields, Lynda Benglis, Kimber Smith. That 2007 “High Times, Hard Times” show [at the National Academy Museum] was a great revelation to me and a lot of my peers, and got me thinking about the master narratives of art history more, and how much stuff gets left out by strict ideals. I might sometimes be making paintings about painting, but hopefully more fun and less stodgy-macho than this moniker evokes. Even though I might be exploring some of the legacy of Modernism and Minimalism, I view them not as a monolith but as a field open to my sneaky interpretation.
You attended Skowhegan after RISD. Did that experience change your work significantly?
When I got back I think I spent a week shuffling around wringing my hands and muttering, “It’s never going to get easier, painting is everything, ahhh, etc.” I got very dramatic about it, which looking back is hilarious, but it was a real trip! And coming back to city life was a real culture shock after a bucolic, cultish nine weeks in the woods. I was so young and straight out of undergrad, I was just amazed to be included among those kind of peers and suddenly was being taken so seriously for the first time, you know? I was a little bit in love with everyone and everything. It did wonders for how I thought about my work, because the only way I learned to take myself seriously was by not taking myself seriously at all.
It’s corny, but it’s really a magical, transformative place. Believe me when I say I got as much out of the studio visits as sitting, hungover, and staring at the lake.
What music do you listen to in the studio?
Stevie Nicks, NPR.