Oakland University Art Gallery/ Catalog Essay by Dick Goody, October 2016
Since the 1980s, the most challenging aspect of contemporary abstract painting has been to make something that we never anticipated seeing before, which does not resemble another’s visual abstract language. Thomas Berding’s uniquely distinct paintings overcome this challenge with brio and inventiveness. The lightness of being in his work, the range of forms, contours, edges, saturations and coloring – and the lightness of the spaces in between his network of slashes, swatches, and other painterly exchanges is so navigable for the eye that the paintings are airy, permeable, and most signi cantly – in enigmatic semiotic terms – written in a language that is all his own.
The thick rulebook from which Berding operates is epistemological, involves diligent archeological excavation, and requires an authoritative, objective approach to the development of the elegant embroidery of his formalistic language. If the approach is objective and studious, the piquancy and experimentation of the invention is subjective. The results of this meticulous, process-based methodology, blended with its novel content, are embodied in the poised virtuosity of his paintings. We perceive an elastic membrane of painterly activity, which resembles the nite metaphors one might need to invent to begin to describe something as inscrutable as visualization of what string theory might look like. The paintings intrigue because their spatial sophistication is a foil for their apparent casual informality. They poke the viewer, they goad, and they ply their trade – and they are not above pulling the odd sardonic leg. Yet they immediately bristle to attention and we are overtaken by their proximity and propriety, as if we could only ever expect to witness their playfulness – far away from the corner of an eye, or embedded in a blink – because full-on, they snap to their margins with all the wisdom of a mandarin enacting an audacious closing move.
The manual is thick and heavy, yet the paintings possess a sense of urbane buoyancy. The Berding backstory is a lifelong enterprise of labor, diligence, and accrued evidence. And on this particular journey, there were years of layered accumulation, seasons of ideas and paint pressed down like carbon forming into anthracite. Over the last 15 years, the artist has developed a taxonomic sensitivity to what constitutes expedient form and signi cance. The Berding Memorandum was never the rulebook; it is the implicitness of all the stratum of form, ideology and meaning encapsulated, woven and made sentient in the gravitas of his paintings.
Oakland University Art Gallery | 208 Wilson Hall | Rochester, MI 48309
The Berding Memorandum
October 15 - November 20, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 15 6PM
Curated by: Dick Goody
“… the paintings do aim to create a new image in the world where one might feel at least in some manner that they are navigating something for the first time.”
Thomas Berding, July 2016
The most challenging aspect of contemporary abstract painting is to make something that we never anticipated seeing before. Thomas Berding’s uniquely distinct paintings overcome this challenge with brio and inventiveness. The lightness of being in his work, the range of forms, contours, edges, saturations and coloring – and the lightness of the spaces in between his network of slashes, swatches, and other painterly exchanges, is so navigable for the eye that the paintings are airy, permeable, and most significantly, written in a language that is all his own. And he has developed a taxonomic sensitivity to what constitutes expedient form and significance. The Berding Memorandum – the ideology and meaning in his work – is made sentient in the gravitas of his paintings.
Thomas Berding was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and received a Bachelor of Arts from Xavier University and a Master of Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design. Berding’s paintings have been recognized with awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and NEA/Mid America Arts Alliance. His work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at the University of Maine Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, and The Painting Center in New York. Over his career, he has exhibited his work at many venues, including the David Klein Gallery, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Rochester Institute of Technology, Indiana University, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Rhode Island School of Design Museum, among many others. Thomas Berding currently lives and works in East Lansing, Michigan, where he is Professor of Studio Art at Michigan State University.