Meet Art Throng artist of the week – Elizabeth Bergeland

Editor´s NoteArtist of The Week Interviews is a series of artist interviews curated by Art Throng-a global contemporary art curatorial think-tank whose mission is to make art in all its expressions available across cross-cultural platforms. In these weekly interviews, we cover noteworthy artists from across the world, in different mediums of artistic expression from illustrations to design, sound to performance, photography to portraits, sculptures to motion. Here is our Sixth artist of this weekly series- Elizabeth Bergeland

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your work process while creating an artwork?

I’ve got a few different processes at play with my work. With my drawings, the process feels a bit like how I imagine a writer’s process to be. I might catch myself in an amusing situation or interaction with someone in passing, make some notes about it on my phone then I’ll go home and draw it. The process feels like simply recording things I see. It’s mostly observational. My paintings are an entirely different beast and can take months and sometimes years to develop both conceptually and compositionally. While my drawings are typically about daily, often mundane but funny daily interactions, my paintings usually address a much larger thought or idea zoomed way out from our day to day interactions. Thoughts and ideas like, “I wonder if I’ll know it when I’m dying? Is happiness something that is worth pursuing? What would we be without it? Or, when does hardship and trauma cross the line from something that can make us stronger into something that will break us? And, is it necessary for our development as people?” You know… just your basic Tuesday afternoon meltdown sort of thoughts that keep us all up at night.:)  A painting for me usually begins with pages and pages of writing, slowly developing the ideas surrounding the piece. Then I’ll take reference images with a model that often ends up redirecting the piece again in surprising ways. Their posture, movement, or eye contact does a lot for the direction of the piece. Then the piece goes from a small sketch in my sketchbook up onto a large, six-foot canvas the piece is almost always redirected again because the scale has such an impact. Standing in front of a piece of art in person is an entirely different experience than seeing it on a little screen. Making art is like giving birth- in the end, the piece has a completely autonomous life of its own, will be loved by some, hated by others, and take on meaning that was never a part of the artist’s original intent. Knowing that this is just how it goes means that there’s a lot of leaning in and letting go in the process of making art. 

2. Is it true that in 2016, you moved from your work in fashion design to pursue a career full time in art? How did you know that was your calling?

Yes! I’ve always known I would be an artist, but when I finished my degree in 2006 I also knew that I wasn’t quite ready to take it all on. Quite frankly, at 22, I did not yet have the emotional maturity, work ethic, ingenuity, nor the discipline an art career would require. Instead, I took a “real job” as a designer (in bridal fashion actually!), married my college sweetheart, started a family and moved across the country (4 times). I arrived ten years later (2016) with three children and the accumulated angst of not having had the time or space to produce art in a serious way, but with sketchbooks filled to the brim with content ready to be realized. I was absolutely ravenously ready to pursue art in a more elevated, fulfilling form. I crammed my kids into one bedroom so I could have the other for a studio, quit my job, and hit the pavement painting. I often describe the feeling of that transition into full-time art-making to be more like a compulsion or a command rather than an intentional decision. As E.B. White perfectly stated, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.”  It was time!

3. You also make children’s book illustrations, what sparked your interest in that?

Developing our first children’s book was actually the concrete sort of project that played a big role in propelling me into full-time art-making. My writing partner (he writes, I draw) and I met on the playground of our kids’ preschool. He was a frustrated writer, and I was a frustrated artist. We bonded over parental exhaustion and the desire to pursue our art in a bigger way. We had always talked about creating a children’s book together, inspired by the interesting and quirky behaviors we observed in our children. A few years later, I sent him several illustrations of a character I had drawn with leaf ears sitting in a swing and said, “Her name is Edie, can you write a story about her?” He sent me back the first few pages and the project was born! As an illustrator, working in close collaboration with a writer like this is magic. It’s great to be able to play such an integral part in the storytelling.

4. Could you tell our readers about your debut children’s book, ‘Being Edie is Hard Today’?

Being Edie is Hard Today is about a challenging day in the life of this quirky little girl named Edie. Throughout the book, Edie imagines herself taking on various animal traits as her way of coping with various situations. ie: When she finds herself in the principal’s office, she imagines that she is a chameleon and that the principal can’t see her. When her mother asks her to brush her teeth she flops on the floor pretending to be a worm (all these behaviors inspired by real-life with kids, of course!). The book also gives the reader a unique look into all that the characters are feeling along the way by using emojis above their heads. We really wanted to give the “inside story” of what people are actually feeling in the moment. This is such an important detail of the book because all too often, our facial expressions do not show all that we’re truly feeling or experiencing in the moment. We wanted to tell Edie’s inside story. She’s holding a lot in all day, and behaving in a way that the adults in her life find to be confusing, frustrating, and even funny at times. The book rounds out at the end with Edie and her mother at bedtime. Edie is finally in a safe space to share everything she’s been going through, and she just has a big cry. We see the character’s facial expressions now, the inside comes out, and Edie sheds some real tears. It’s a social-emotional-learning book about the importance of finding a safe space and a safe person, so you can go ahead and cry! Tears can heal!

5. Which children’s book most inspired you as a child or in recent years?

Tomie dePaola’s work has always inspired me most- both today and as a child. I love his simple storytelling, the way he makes you fall in love with his characters, as well as his clean illustrations and color palette. I loved his autobiographical stories like The Art Lesson, as well as his wonderful folktales like Strega Nona. His work feels like a warm blanket to me.  

6. How was your childhood, were you always curious about illustrations and art in general then?

I grew up in Colorado and spent most of my childhood outdoors. My mother was a musician and quilter and would often involve us in her process. My father was a geologist and had a love of landscape work, dabbling in watercolor painting himself. The arts were very much encouraged in my home. My mother always took us to the community theater, and we were exposed to a lot of music. I would spend many hours drawing and sketching. I took summer art lessons in the park and was pushed and encouraged by my parents to submit my work to various art contests as a child. Though I did draw often, I wouldn’t say that I was that kid who was constantly doodling or sketching everywhere I went. Even then, I spent most of my time observing. I loved people watching- always a fly on the wall. Just watching -always watching. In high school, my parents allowed me to take over the storage space under the stairs in the basement as a studio space, and I spent most weekends painting. I think a lot about how impactful it was to be raised in a home that encouraged the arts. That is a big thing that I feel really strongly about paying forward. I’d like to be that for children who maybe aren’t raised in homes where art is a priority. 

7. An Artificial Intelligence Program Named Jarvis Has Been Appointed Curator of the 2022 Bucharest Biennial. What are your thoughts on a robot being appointed a curator, would that limit the curatorial choices?  

Ooooh- interesting! I’ll be very curious to see how that plays out. Initially, I’d say that it doesn’t actually seem like that big of a departure from a human curator. The robot needs to be programmed by a human, right? A human that will no doubt be filled with their own biases (because we’re ALL filled with subconscious bias), which the robot will learn from. It seems as though the robot will just be filled with the bias of its programmers and other curators that it will be learning from? I will be curious to see the patterns of curation that Jarvis will potentially be able to point out or expose. Very intriguing. This entire thing sounds a bit like art itself will be selecting art. Very Meta! 

8. Would you be interested in interacting with technology in your future work with a collaboration or a new medium? 

Sure! I’m always open to thinking about how my work will shift and morph in the future. I hope and expect to not be painting the same thing, in the same way, using the same materials ten years from now. Currently, I work with traditional mediums only- oil on canvas, watercolor, and pencil on paper, etc… but since technology is such a significant part of our world, and my personal day today, all our work has to be in some ways derivative of technology already. In a very removed way, I’m already always collaborating with technology.:) I love seeing how artists like Avery Singer interact with technology and have really served to shift our ideas around the purpose technology serves in art.

9. You paint with beautiful bright colors, creating life-like renderings how do these works become a coming of age tale? 

Art-making is simply diary-sharing. I’m always sharing where I’m at in the context of where I’ve been- a perpetual coming of age tale! I’ve always said that every piece is a self-portrait of sorts. I paint to process the things I’m thinking about and going through. Painting has been a way for me to grieve, to heal, and to process. I love using bright colors as a way of almost rewiring my memories or thoughts about hard things. The use of bright colors can serve to almost make light of the often difficult or dark things. In my “Whole/Half” series for example, which was a series of paintings depicting fruits and vegetables in two parts- cut in half on the left, and the whole piece of produce painted on the right, was a series about trauma and healing. The left, (cut in half, exposed) representing trauma, and the right representing healing. Each piece was painted with a background that is very quiet, minimalist, and linear but very colorful. In a way, the colors make the subject matter easier for me to address and talk about.  

10. Could you speak a bit about the Philly PACK’s series of rotating exterior murals that you were a part of ?

Philly PACK is a children’s theatre near my home in Philadelphia. I collaborated with their director and production design team to develop an original, large-scale mural on their exterior windows for each of their productions (they put on three shows a year!). This project has been such a unique and challenging series for me. It’s really stretched me outside my comfort zone with both the scale (I’m working on an 18-foot window!) and the medium. Painting on glass presents itself with quite a few difficulties in finding the most successful materials and ways of application. Also, knowing that each one is temporary and will be scraped in a few months really shifts the process toward feeling a lot less precious. It forces me to not overthink it all too much, which I’m VERY prone to doing. 🙂 It’s been a refreshing project for me. 

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