Wesley Berg, Drawing a Line from Your Place to Mine

Welsey Berg is a mixed media artist and an Assistant Professor of Art at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Jessica Sanders and I were lucky enough to meet Berg at the Meadows Gallery at UT Tyler last year during the opening of the 33rd Annual International Exhibition, where we fell in love with his work. His mixed media works defy gravity and imagination. We decided he would be an amazing juror for etx creative's one year anniversary event, and luckily, he said yes. I was able to get an interview with him despite the busy holiday season and everyone gearing up for the Spring semester. Read about his unique perspectives on composition, process, community, and persistence. Be sure to attend our event, Drawing a Line from Your Place to Mine this Saturday, January 18th to hear him speak about the exhibition.

What is your background?

I have a BFA from Miami University of Ohio and an MFA from the University of Florida, both degrees in painting and drawing.  I lived in New York City for three years after graduate school and worked as a full-time art preparator at Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea (NYC) and also did freelance art handling at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.  I left New York to pursue artist residencies which took me to lots of places: Vermont, Santa Fe(NM), Finland, Iceland, and Sweden, to name a few.  After deciding I wanted to pursue teaching art, I taught first at the University of Dayton (OH) and then at Stephen F. Austin State University (TX), where I currently teach drawing.

As a beginning artist, how did you pave a way for yourself?

I had a studio space in Gowanus, Brooklyn while working as an art preparator.  It was tough to find time and affordable space to work while living in New York.  The work I made in grad school was large and messy.  With a small space and less time to make work, my drawings got smaller and faster.  I went to see as many exhibitions and art openings as possible while living there.  I got in a few group shows through meeting people, but my biggest concern was the lack of studio time.  I decided to focus on time to create work, which meant leaving New York so that I could live on less money and afford the time to focus on the studio.  My stays at artist residencies allowed for focused time to devote to making work.  I would find a temporary job for a while, save some money, and then go to a residency for a few months.  It was a transient way of life, but it kept the focus on making work.

How would you describe your work?

In the past two years, my work changed drastically from large representational charcoal drawings to small, non-objective watercolor and graphite drawings.  Both bodies of work, however, focus on mark-making and composition -- just in very different ways.  I think about drawing as a direct way of conveying a thought.  My work seems to always happen in a short time frame, like I'm trying to capture that thought before I lose it.  The current body of work uses elements of architecture and design to create small moments that question the space in the composition.  

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?  

I usually begin with a simple mark of graphite or gouache and then add a few other elements based on the gesture of the first mark.  I respond the energy of those marks and place the next marks creating simple tension and balance (or imbalance) of composition.  Line weight is important to me, and I don't redraw marks.  So I basically get one shot at the mark I want.  Sometimes it's a surprise and sometimes it misses.  I've always worked by limiting my materials.  In this case, that limit is graphite and gouache.  

Was there a moment that made you confident to pursue art?

In my first painting class, as a junior, my professor Dana Saulnier told me that I should be a painting major.  Everyone needs some encouragement in their life.  I must have needed it at that time because I took that recommendation to heart and my confidence in art making as a career began to grow.  

Who has influenced you the most?

Another professor of mine, Arnold Mesches.  Mesches was the most passionately focused artist I've ever met.  He had a long life and career in painting, with works shown all over the world and in collections, including the Met.  He accepted nothing but absolute commitment from me and other artists he taught.  He forever changed the way I look at art and being an artist.  

Are you influenced by anyone making art, music, or otherwise now?

I am influenced by a lot of electronic musicians.  Jon Hopkins and Nils Frahm are musical heroes of mine.  I think about their music in very visual ways and often listen while working in the studio.  

What exhibitions are you most proud of being involved in?

I was in an exhibition at the Watermill Center on Long Island.  There, my work shared a space with Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring.  That was a cool moment.  Also, I was very proud of my recent exhibitions here in Nacogdoches, TX and at the PULSE Art Fair, Miami Beach.  Both opportunities involved showing a lot of my new work.  It was exciting to have completely changed my studio direction and then have the chance to exhibit the work. 


What shows are you excited about in 2020?

I have a solo show that just opened at Adah Rose Gallery (D.C).  In 2019 I began showing with Adah Rose, and this is my first solo exhibition with the gallery. 


What are you reading right now?

Upstream by Mary Oliver

Winter by Karl Ove Knausgaard

How does your community affect your work?

I've found myself in various communities over the years -- communities of artists, teachers, booksellers, trail runners, activists, travelers, etc.  Every time I've moved somewhere, I've tried to connect with people who want to do something.  I look for others who want to share, have, and create experiences.  It's so important to bring good energy to whatever community I find myself in.  From that, I get inspired and motivated to share more, create more, and experience more of the world around me.  I used to think making art (for me) was going off on my own and being reclusive.  I suppose I've done plenty of that.  But more and more I see how much the people around me affect my work in such unexpected and meaningful ways.  I hope I have some positive impact in return.


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