Interview: Ken Berman
Luca Curci talks with Ken Berman during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2019 at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Ken Berman is a Sonoma County, self-taught, Outsider artist with a unique style that personifies the challenges and complexities of living in the modern age. Born in New Jersey, Ken’s journey as an artist began as an undergraduate studying architecture at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. where he was inspired by the raw energy and visual power of the old Bethlehem Steel Mills. As fate would have it, while studying to get his master’s degree, Ken was invited to a book-signing at Robert Rauschenberg’s home/studio in New York City in late 1989. This chance meeting gave Ken the opportunity to speak to Robert about his life as an artist and inspired him to pursue his own artistic vision centered on the theme of living a thoughtful, meaningful and balanced life in a very complicated and technologically sophisticated world. Over the years Ken has won many awards for his work including First Place and Best of Show awards. He has also shown his work at the prestigious Sausalito Art Festival as well as ArtExpo New York and has had the honor of showing his work in several California museums including the Crocker Museum in Sacramento and the Sonoma Valley Museum in Sonoma. In addition to showing his work nationally, he has also shown his work internationally at the Contemporary Venice 2019 show in Venice, Italy sponsored by Itsliquid. Ken’s artwork is in many private collections throughout the world and is also included in the public collections of Keysight Technologies and Kaiser Permanente. Lastly, Ken has also had several articles written about his various art and architecture projects including Better Homes & Gardens, The North Bay Bohemian, The Woven Tale Press, The Press Democrat and the North Bay Business Journal. The latter recently gave him a Maker Award for his work in creating mobile shelters for the homeless. As a multiple patent holder having a design and a utility patent from the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office (one for his mobile shelter and the other for his skateboard bracket called the Deck Dock), Ken rounds out the breadth of his creative endeavors.The overall theme of my art is how to live a thoughtful, meaningful and balanced life in a very complicated and technologically sophisticated world. Architecture, Music and Technology all play their respective roles in each of my paintings and reflect my autobiography in a variety of ways. From the time I was a young child working in my parents music store to my years as an undergraduate and graduate student studying architecture to my move from the east coast to the technologically driven San Francisco Bay Area, I have explored my own inner ‘factory’ of creativity with the goal of living a full life and expressing my understanding of art through everything I do. Metaphorically, my work is about the mechanics of this modern age and the behavior of the people within it. In many ways it is a visual equivalent to Shakespeare’s monologue “All the World’s a Stage” from ‘As You Like It’ in that the men and women of any given time are merely players in the world in which they live. With invisible algorithms and binary codes controlling much of our daily lives, the mechanics of this modern age have re-moved the control that people thought they had in their lives and their destiny. The unknown ‘purposes’ of the images incorporated in my work are meant to confront that paradigm to maintain the balance between man and machine by bringing to the forefront the key concept of being human… abstract thought and purpose.
Luca Curci – What’s your background?
Ken Berman – I have a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and a Master’s of Architecture from New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey. I am also a licensed Architect in the State of California.
LC – What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
KB – Attending a booksigning in late 1989 for the book Kiki’s Paris by Billy Kluver and Julie Martin. The booksigning took place in the home and studio of Robert Rauschenberg in New York City. At the time I did not know who Robert Rauschenberg was and I asked him how he knew he was an artist. His reply was essentially that if you wake up every morning with the passion to create and express yourself then you were an artist.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
KB – Living here in Northern California, in such close proximity to Silicon Valley and San Francisco, I am bombarded with new ideas and ways of thinking about things. From board rooms to factory floors, technology, music, architecture, etc. are all in a continuous state of upheaval, disruption and transition. The good thing about living so close to these “Factories of Ideas” is that I am constantly inspired to work on my own factory of ideas. The fertile ground that is in the DNA of this area has given me much to think about for the last twenty-plus years and has helped me develop a style that constantly reflects what it is like to live in today’s world surrounded by the powerful forces of change.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
KB – Coming from a musical family, I’m naturally drawn to music and in all the ways it surrounds our daily lives. Like an orchestra conductor, I use my materials and techniques like musical instruments to make my compositions. With every stroke and every layer, my paintings transform into complex visual symphonies.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
KB – As the world has evolved and changed it too has pushed me to grow and change many aspects of my work as well. Technology has allowed me the opportunity to express myself in ways that I was not able to do before. For example, I used to primarily use premade stencils in my art. Today I use web based technology and my own laser cutter to make my own unique stencils that express my ideas about what life is like today.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject if there is any?
KB – The theme of my art is how to live a thoughtful, meaningful and balanced life while living in a very complicated and technologically sophisticated world. As a result, my work is about the struggle for balance in our daily lives in a world full of constant change.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? In which way did it inspire you?
KB – Having the opportunity to show my work outside of the United States was the most important part of my participation in the show. My goal was to bring visibility to my work on the worlds’ stage and this show has given me an excellent platform to do just that.
LC – We were attracted by your last artistic production, has the artwork presented been created for the festival or as a part of preexisting works?
KB – My work is autobiographical and part of an ongoing journey. It chronicles my development as a person and an artist and is a visual timeline of my life. As part of a continuum, my work is continuously created, interpreted and reinterpreted so that it is equally relevant in the past, present and future.
LC – What is your idea about Itsliquid Group?
KB – Itsliquid brings to mind a sense of fluidity where the application of ideas are not static but dynamic. This is in contrast to the art dogma of the current ruling art class where outsider ideas are marginalized in favor of art pedigrees. This fluidity allows for the democratization of art which allows new and different ideas to be presented to the world.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us?
KB – The collaboration I would like to see is to create an event where an established artist is placed next to an unknown one. The goal would be to create a platform where a viewer can see great art that isn’t first being filtered by pedigree or censorship so that each work of art and each artist has to stand on their own merits and strengths. The event would be ‘blind’ so that the viewer would not know the gender, color, race, religion, etc. of any participating artist. Clearly the event would need to be curated but this would allow for underrepresented artists of merit with no artistic pedigree to compete directly with established artists.
LC – What do you think about our services?
KB – I’ve had a good experience working with you.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
KB – Yes