Jim Bergesen sits down with The Art Barge

Happy New Year! Throughout the winter, we will be updating our website each month with features on The Art Barge and our community. From publicity to profiles, editorials to updates. Keep in touch with us for more Barge news!

For our second profile Jenny Sonenberg, Program Coordinator, sat down with Jim Bergesen, a beloved instructor at The Art Barge, to talk with him about his evolution as an artist and educator. Jim Bergesen teaches studio painting, watercolor, and collage at The Art Barge. Bergesen is a “Photographer and Painter who embraces the possibilities rendered by digital technologies to create an area of synthesis between mediums, in which the representational is abstracted and abstraction made to represent.”

Victor D’Amico stated, The Art Barge is only as important as the people in it….So please enjoy our interview with her below.

Jenny Sonenberg: Where are you based?

Jim Bergesen: I live in Hastings-on-Hudson and I teach at Manhattanville and SUNY Purchase as well as other institutions providing workshops. Prior to that I was in New York City for about twenty years. It was a good move because Hastings is close enough to the city so that I have the flexibility to come in 3-4 days a week during the semester. And my studio is very close and near the Hudson River in the town next to Hastings.

JS: How is your studio? You probably have so much more space now, the studio situation in New York is so limiting.

JB: Well actually I had a great space in New York! Before I went to graduate school I was living in Lower Manhattan and I had a really cool space, in an old office building that hadn’t been in used in thirty years. It was on the 16th Floor and had light on three sides. For four out of the five years I was there I had a gallery where I was showing emerging artists, and having readings. It was called John 29: B16.

JS: Where did the name come from?

JB: Well that was the address, 29 John Street and then B for Bergesen and it was on the sixteenth floor.

JS: What was the mission?

JB: I was representing emerging artists and artists from the Lower Manhattan area. It was primarily painting and photography, we had some small sculptures but there wasn’t much space for sculpture.

JS: Were you making your own artwork while you were running the gallery?

I did a series of architectural abstractions that were all specific to Lower Manhattan. I love walking with no destination, just heading out and exploring the streets. I was also doing a lot of dumpster diving in the area too. At night, workers would be hauling stuff out of the office building that was being renovated. I found lots of old ledgers and books and did some artworks with them. It led to a random exploration of materials, and found objects. The surrealist used to do that; they would go out in Paris and walk about.

JS: New York is a great place to do that! Did you study art in college? Where did you attend school?

JB: I went to Western Michigan University. I had three majors, I majored in French, Economics and European studies and then I thought I better get a job so I minored in finance. Then I attended graduate school at SUNY Purchase where I received my MFA and MA in twentieth century art history.

JS: Wow you were busy. What brought you to the arts?

JB: That is really what I wanted to do but I had a lot of advice from my family to study something else. So I majored in more practical areas of study in college and I took classes on the side at the Art Institute in Michigan.

JS: What were you making when you were working at The Art Institute?

JB: I was working in black and white creating photographic abstractions of architectural images. It influenced some of the work I did later in graduate school when I started working with painting and photography together and I was producing a lot of architectural abstractions. Even the painting that I was doing at The Art Students League had to do with form, shape and space and I am really interested in the space in between the representation to find abstraction and color.

JS: After college did you move to New York or did go directly to SUNY Purchase?

JB: I went to New York and started working international marketing.

JS: How did you like that?

JB: It was intense but I loved the travel. I was working at a bank, which is now Chase bank. I was doing electronic banking and working with other international banks in sales and trading. It was really intense and stressful. I liked the fact that I was doing something that was new and interesting but I also I wanted to do my artwork. That is when I started at the Art Students League and eventually I found that I was more interested in color than numbers.

JS: When did decide to do teaching more full time.

JB: While at the League I was teaching English to foreigners. And I found that instead of being tired after class I was energized. During graduate school I was started teaching Painting and Drawing and I felt that same energy.

JS: Did you have a hard time adjusting to teaching?

JB: It came easily to me. From a young age I was challenged. The first school I went to was a Dutch school and I didn’t speak Dutch so I had to learn a language alongside the regular class load. Then we moved to Belgium where my parents put me in a French school. I didn’t speak French either. Additionally, I was a bit dyslexic and that came with it’s own challenges but got some wonderful support at the International school in Brussels and then later in Switzerland. In High School my art teacher and I were like oil and water. What I wanted to focus on was against his practice so I was received a lot of negative reinforcement on my creative work as well. His communication style was much more authoritarian.

JS: So you must subconsciously resist that in your own instruction.

JB: I do, I might approach it differently but I am not going to hammer them over the head. I don’t think people learn from negative reinforcement even though people teach that way. Those examples from my past have given me sensitivity to people’s differences and I believe that empathy allows me to work around student’s intricacies.

JS: What would you say your approach to teaching is?

JB: I allow room for people to have their own individualized experience. I like to bring confidence to my students. In a watercolor class I taught at The Art Barge I got them to go outside and simply consider which direction the wind was coming from. They had been so concerned about the right way to make art and I wanted to break it apart and slow everything down. People started seeing in a completely different way.

JS: When do you know when an artwork is complete?

JB: When I was studying at the league at a certain point I didn’t know when something was finished. Then I found my own internal clock. I have found a flow when transferring my paintings to the digital realm and then back again. The same is true of my loose abstract paintings. I start with a grid and then integrate free form brush strokes.

JS: That ties in to your architectural imagery.

JB: Yes, it seems to keep coming back. Even though it is loose there is some kind of structure holding it together.

JS: Why do you think you are drawn to that?

JB: I am still exploring why. Maybe I will never know. I guess similarly to my life I like to juggle a lot of things at once. There are a lot of elements and yet something holds it all together. It probably has to do with my own psychology of being loose and in control simultaneously.

JS: But does your process have a structure to it? Do you have a normal starting point?

JB: With painting I usually start with a series of different colors. Color has driven a lot of my work.

JS: What about titles?

JB: Usually they have a color in them or some number. A lot of the titles have color associated to them. Bringing attention to the color is important but it is also not defining what the work is. I also use numbers. For example when I was doing architectural abstractions it might have the number from the address or the building.

JS: Just like your gallery name. Maybe subconsciously your work in international marketing inspired that.

JB: Yea, somehow numbers and colors are connected for me. I think the title should not impinge on the viewer’s interpretation.

JS: How did you get involved in The Art Barge?

JB: I began to think more and more about how people receive and interpret information. I started taking courses for my masters in education. I visited The Art Barge through a program I was taking at the MoMA about five years ago. We did some painting out on the deck and I was enamored by the landscape. I met Chris and we had a nice conversation about art education and use of material. I immediately loved The Barge because it reminded me a lot of The Arts Student League.

JS: Since you split your time between teaching and working in the studio do you find common ground between the two? How do you they coexist?

JB: I am always interested in exploring new materials, new colors. I do not think my work is about teaching but it informs my practice. It is about experiencing new materials, or finding a way of expressing something I want to do. Anytime I am in the studio I learn something new I will bring that into my classroom, sharing ideas and challenges I have had. For my own artwork it’s about getting down to the basics, experimenting and failing in a way. Then I bring my failures and successes back into the classroom.

Phyllis Kriegel sits down with The Art Barge

Happy New Year! Throughout the winter, we will be updating our website each month with features on The Art Barge and our community. From publicity to profiles, editorials to updates. Keep in touch with us for more Barge news!

This month is our first profile. Jenny Sonenberg, Program Coordinator, sat down with Phyllis Kriegel, a valued member of the Art Barge community for many years, to discuss her history at The Art Barge and her evolution as an artist. Although she didn’t begin making art until later in life, her study of art history, avid gallery and museum going, and collection of paintings and prints, prepared the ground for her “new life” making art.

Victor D’Amico stated, The Art Barge is only as important as the people in it….So please enjoy our interview with her below.

JS: What brought you to The Art Barge? 

PK: A history going back to the 50s. A group of art lovers living in Northern New Jersey were feeling culturally deprived and chaffed at having to cross the G.W. Bridge to get first-rate art instruction. We turned to the Peoples Art Center where Victor D’Amico, the Director of Education at Museum of Modern Art, had started an innovative program. We approached MoMA and, nothing if not cheeky, offered to set up a branch in New Jersey. After some backing and filling MOMA said “yes” on condition that we raised $ 25,000 for the project. Undaunted by the amount, we garnered nearly $6,000, not quite MoMA’s target.

After agonized reappraisals, we decided to launch The Art Center of Northern New Jersey on our own. Victor, helpful as usual, offered lots of sage advice. So when you ask what brought me to the Barge, the Victor D’Amico Institute of Art was lodged in my mind. When I started coming out to the East End and staying all summer, my love affair with the Art Barge in Napeague began in earnest. Lucky me, I found instructors who guided, encouraged and when necessary, gave a firm push. The late Ralph Carpentier and the very present Michael Rosch have been important in my art life.

JS: You were originally a writer?

PK: Well, I mainly edited a feminist news magazine for some twenty years. After a long run, changing times forced the publication to go belly up. And I was out of a job. A month in Assisi, studying Italian, savoring art treasures in Umbria and Tuscany led me to my next venture, taking up a paint brush. This, because of a gifted artist/educator of mine who urged me to start making art. She had me tearing up pieces of paper, which evolved into a collage of the Virgin in Simone Martini’s Annunciation, the one in the Uffizi.

JS: What kind of work did you start out making in Italy?

PK: Besides learning about color and space and line, I did portraits – mostly hard edge portraits a la Alex Katz. Serendipitously, I discovered the Russian Constructivists such as Lyud Popova and Steponova, women who sought to capture the world of modern life through geometry and abstraction. Their innovative paintings and clothing designs helped my sense of design.

JS: I ‘ve noticed that narrative plays a strong part in your work.

PK: Umberto Eco said “to survive you must tell stories.” So yes, a passion for narrative gives a certain twist to my painting and prints: literary sources, myths, the Bible, as well as folk and fairy tales, even art historical movements plant idea’s in my head. You could call me a fool for knowledge. I find doing research heady stuff.

JS: Could you give an example.

PK: I was studying Kafka and found in his Blue Notebooks an amusing line, suggesting that Adam’s first domestic pet after the expulsion was the serpent. So I painted the snake, gussie up as a playmate, and depicted Adam wearing the head of a crow (Kafka means crow in Czech).

JS: Did you continue your studio practice in the winter?

PK: Much of my work was conceived in the winter and realized in summer at the Barge. Academic topics frequently sparked ideas for paintings: I came across the ancient image of Baubo (5th Century BCE). According to myth, when Demeter wandered the earth mourning the loss of her daughter Persephone, it was Baubo’s bawdy speech and obscene gesture that made Demeter laugh and so ended her mourning; and the earth bloomed again. My obsession with Baubo and the way she embodied the complex and mysterious nature of woman led to 24 small paintings done as if the Furies were after me. I explored the visual vocabulary of female portraiture – Coptic funerary paintings and poignant images of Eve, Alice Neel’s splendid women and even Picasso’s Gertrude Stein – eager to have Baubo’s spirit live on.

JS: You also did a series on the Bauhaus.

PK: Exploring 20th century design, I found that women were accepted at the vanguard Bauhaus School but not permitted to study architecture. Some were shunted into becoming weavers—considered a female endeavor. Despite limits imposed by patriarchal culture, they thrived. I did their portraits, placing them against their weavings. They were independent, talented women willing to transgress the norms–I loved their spirit.

JS: What about what you were working on this summer, with integrating image transfers into your paintings?

PK: I learned to do transfers so I could have more control over my figures. For example, I transferred the image of a romantically- involved couple from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Rather than placing them in a bucolic world, I designed a setting of light and dark geometric shapes, attempting to make the image “new.”

JS: You have spoken about many individual projects you did at the Art Barge but how do think about your overall time there?

PK: It’s been a remarkable journey, filled with both delight and despair. Sometimes my ambition has overtaken my skill, then comes the struggle to find resolution. Grappling with new techniques and materials or taking chance in unexplored territory can be exhilarating. On occasion, The Art Barge can turn into your personal inferno, a clash between you and the instructor can ignite fear and trembling. Yet the incredible light and the reflecting water can also transform the Art Barge into a magic space. A potent dynamic between students and teacher emerges. The promise of new possibilities keeps me an eager acolyte.

Stay in touch with us throughout the Autumn!

This month we are excited to share with you ‘Art House,’ an article in Modern Magazine, as well as another episode of Seen in NY both featuring The Art Barge and The D’Amico House.

Modern Magazine’s article ‘Art House,’ offers an intimate look into the Victor and Mabel D’Amico Studio and Archives. Author Jenny Florence and photographer Jenny Gorman beautifully depict the D’Amico residence in Lazy Point, Long Island as “an assemblage of modern furnishings and eclectic objects combined as if the residence itself were a readymade…a riotous and creative composition, an art carnival in itself.” The D’Amico House remains preserved to this day by The Victor D’Amico Institute of Art, and is a living reminder of their legacy, artistic practice and educational philosophy. To read the article and see photographs of the D’Amico house visit: http://modernmag.com/art-house/

‘Seen in NY: The D’Amico Studio and Archive’ a EdLab production from Teachers College, Columbia University is a stunning visual documentation of the D’Amico House and The Art Barge. The Art Barge President Christopher Kohan’s narration provides the viewer with a unique perspective of Victor D’Amico’s educational philosophy. With anecdotes from his personal experiences living and working alongside the D’Amico’s, Kohan discusses the importance of their legacy and his work to preserve the D’Amico’s unique vision. “Victor told me early on when I was with him that there are two types of teachers. There is one type of teacher that can tell you only what they know, but there is another type of teacher that will tell you what you need to know and that is more important.” To see the video please visit: https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play/30803/

Thank you Modern Magazine and Seen In NY! The Art Barge and D’Amico house memorialize Victor and Mabel D’Amico’s contribution to art education. We are grateful for your support.

All the best,

The Art Barge Crew