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Marieke Bernard-Berkel, Q&A

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Studio shot

Modern Forms caught up with French-German artist Marieke Bernard-Berkel on the eve of Preludes, her first solo show, at Sherbet Green, a new, pop-up project space in Haggerston, London

A French-German artist, Bernard-Berkel lives and works between London and Paris. She received her MA Fine Art from Beaux Arts Paris in 2013. Recent group shows include: Présentations, Radicants, Paris (2022), Cloud Point, Paradise Row, London (2022) and PUBLIC Gallery (2022).

Preludes is on at Sherbet Green, 30 September – 5 November 2022 – 430 Hackney Road London, E2 6QL.

Nick Hackworth: Your recent paintings seem to comprise an imaginative and painterly exploration of what one may firmly presume will be the growing genre of “toxic landscapes”…  Can you tell us about the imagery and subject matter of your recent works? What is it you are painting? 

Marieke Bernard-Berkel: My work process starts with working with an image or the details of an image of a landscape that I would have found, most of the time, in a book. I start with painting the found idyllic scene that I then try to vanish, exaggerate and destroy as the painting goes. I always see the end result as a figurative landscape but realize that they normally end up being more abstract than I think.

NH: What influences have fed into the imagery and subject matter?

M B-B: Of the ones I’m aware of I would say that my influences are a mix of Impressionism, Expressionism, Super NES video games for their sets and color palettes, sci-fi and horror movie backdrops, musicals from the MGM golden age era and artists as Munch, Constable, Bonnard, Dubuffet, The group of Seven, the english sci-fi painter Tim White, Allison Schulnik, Genieve Figgis… to name a just a few! I’ve also recently been shown the landscape paintings of the Indian Rabindranath Tagore and saw the Milton Avery exhibition at the RA, and are finding both bodies of work very inspiring to me at the moment. I should also give some credit to my palette on which I squeeze my oil. The most exciting things happen there – the way the colors mix depending on how dry and juicy they are is the most interesting thing happening in my studio to be honest.

Studio shot

NH: I am struck by some of the formal & material characteristics of the works. I especially like the play between the loose, bravura would be the traditional descriptive term, quality of your mark-making and brushwork and passages of dense, sometimes built-up texture in your works… Can you tell us about how these two elements work within your practice?

M B-B: I work by layers and each layer has a different energy depending on my mood, the music I’m listening to and the work I’ve seen and surrounded myself with. I love getting a bit meticulous in my work and knowing a bit more what I’m doing but my challenge with each painting is to get to a point of no control, which I am paradoxically still, somehow guiding. That’s when the most interesting things happen in the work and also where the biggest frustrations arise. It can be quite chaotic but when something exciting happens, all the struggles and anxiety of the unknown has been worth it.

NH: The importance of texture extends to the supports you use. Palm tree, skull, beer, 2022, the work acquired by Modern Forms, is painted on plexiglass and you can see the effect that has on the paint and the aesthetic quality of the painting. Can you tell us about the choices you make in regards to the supports you use?

M B-B: I like a flat and hard surface on which all the texture is yet to be built. I‘ve tried different kinds of support like aluminium and plexiglas, but now I’m mainly painting on wood. I like the smell and colour of it and find it friendlier than the other support sI‘ve used in the past. I also prefer its timelessness.

NH: You have a successful career as a set designer. Can you tell us about how you started on that path? Is there a relationship between your commercial work and your painting?

M B-B: I came to London in 2013 after I graduated from the Beaux Arts de Paris so I could experience a more diverse, and to my taste at least, more daring art scene than the one in Paris at that time, but I also already had the ambition to work in Set Design. I used to describe my paintings as looking like elements of the set of a horror film that Minnelli would have directed or of a set from a musical directed by Carpenter… So I guess the link between set design and my paintings is quite strong. It’s all about creating an atmosphere. The only difference with my painting is that I don’t have to go through any department to approve of my choice of composition, lights and colours, the freedom is complete, which brings another kind of challenge. 

Self-portrait

NH: At the time of writing you are showing in a group show at Radicants in Paris and about to open your first solo show at Sherbert Green in London. The pace of your exhibitions is picking up, which makes me wonder about what the relationship between making and showing work is like for you?

M B-B: For about seven years after I graduated, I didn’t want to risk having the art scene influence the development of my painting so I let go of the ambition of selling or even just showing my work. I think the biggest threat to your work is being stuck in wanting to please, which social media like instagram is bringing to another level. I knew I wanted to get somewhere and that my intuition had to be preserved. I still have a lot to explore but I am not afraid anymore of my work not being sexy enough and I’m actually pretty excited. I have a proposition to make in painting and its success matters but I’m not desperate about it, and that for me is a personal success in itself.

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