Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009

Interview: Chris Berti @ Tory Folliard Gallery

By Peggy Sue
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Chris Berti, an Illinois artist represented over the past 20 years by Milwaukee's Tory Folliard Gallery, received his MFA in Ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Soon after his graduation when he inherited a set of stone carving tools from his grandfather, who worked as a stonemason and bricklayer in New York City, the artist changed creative directions. This legacy became his inspiration when attempting to sculpt stone in his own artwork. But after originally using limestone for his medium,  Berti changed directions again about 15 years ago and began carving reclaimed brick. This incorporated the hard and monolithic attributes of stone merged with the porcelain like qualities of clay derived from antiquity. Chatting at the opening of his new exhibition titled "Chris Berti: New Sculpture" on September 11 in Folliard's Gallery, Berti discusses his continued inspiration for these sculptures emerging from recycled materials.

Q: Why did you begin to use brick in your sculptures?

A: The brick uses qualities from my ceramics background, from the antiquity used in Greek, Roman, and Etruscan cultures. When you use brick from the last 100 years, the turn of the 20th century, they use unprocessed clay. The richness of the old brick is similar to antiquity, and combines the monolithic quality of stone and the ceramic quality of pots, which is more intimate.

Q: You also incorporate fragments of the brick in your artwork, can you speak to this?

A: Traditionally when you go to a museum, there are broken works [displayed]. Take the Nike of Samothrace, she has no arms or head. It's broken but its still art. We deem it art because it [the Nike] is so beautifully carved. The form remains, and it is indeed beautiful. So in my sculptures, when using the brick, I keep the integrity of the original shape in both the form and materials, because this is beautiful.

Q: When you begin to carve the brick, how do you work?

A: I first draw the form out on the brick, but then the sculpture sort of speaks to me as I work. And I try to give these things in nature anthropomorphic attributes, the birds and fish, human gestures. Some of the birds have opened eyes, other closed. Or the eyes on the potatoes are human eyes. Art is making the ordinary extraordinary.

Q: Where do you find your reclaimed brick or recycled materials?

A: I assure you, its all-legal. All my materials are entirely legal even though I scavenge for materials in refuse piles and places where people have dumped in creeks.

Q: And your artistic inspiration came from?
A: Well, my grandfather, the one who gave me the stone carving tools. When he built buildings in New York, he actually wrote words, very subtly, into the sides of the buildings he worked on. You have to look carefully but you can see them, he put his words in the construction. But my mom, Mary Vitelli-Berti, is an artist, a painter with great recognition in New York. She uses oils and pastels, similar to Bonnard. She was a big inspiration.
(Berti's exhibition continues until October 10 at Tory Folliard Gallery in the Historic Third Ward)

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