Color Theory: Siri Berg opens at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center
Siri Berg: In Color, the retrospective of the Swedish-born veteran of hard-edge abstraction curated by Peter Hionas, opens November 17 at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Berg, who is a thriving and active artist now in her mid-90s, will also be the subject of a documentary set to premiere at Sundance Film Festival next Spring.
Like many artists, Berg tells me that she knew she wanted to be a painter when she was six years old. She attended the School of Art and Architecture at the University of Brussels before deciding, at 19, that she would move to New York. She has occupied her SoHo loft since 1981.
The artist likens her process to “a child playing with blocks.” This apt comparison doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as her working method is anything but childlike. She follows a regimented practice in which she might produce ten studies before approaching a canvas. She still mixes her own colors. When looking at Berg’s paintings, one sees that there is an underlying algebra, which the artist applies using equations of her own invention, forging new territory within her resolute geometric vocabulary.
To try and understand how Berg arrives at her compositions is a strenuous mental challenge. She admits it took her three months to solve one multi-paneled work. Yet the formal relationships in her work appeal immediately and intuitively to viewers.
Her “La Ronde” series from 1972 is the earliest example of how Berg began to apply what she learned from Josef Albers color theory, which she taught at Parsons for over 30 years. The title of the series is taken from the 1897 play by Arthur Schnitzler. But when asked about this, Berg says that when it comes to her inspiration, literature is “not necessarily the only thing. It can depend on anything.” She admits that in at least one work she took imagery from a BMW commercial as the source material.
Good luck trying to figure out which painting that was. Berg’s investigations are highly idiosyncratic. Even when she claims high-concept material as her source, the artist’s methodical, precise use of color, shape, and form always remain the focus.