For the second time, Tina Berning (born in 1969, Braunschwig, currently lives and works in Berlin) will be showing her work at the Schönfeld Gallery, this time together with an artist of her choosing: Christina Zippel (more on her in this interview). Berning's drawings and watercolour paintings reflect a great sensitivity. Her 'hand' is sometimes hesitant and vulnerable, other times powerful and impulsive. Thanks to her skills, she manages to convincingly capture the role of women in the media, one of the core themes of her artistic work. Berning has committed herself to completing one work from A to Z every day. No matter what. In this interview, she talks about how she works and explains the importance of the Not So Good and Not So Bad boxes.
MK How did you become interested in art? From your parents, on your own or through an experience?
TB I was one of those children about whom everyone would say: she is going to be an artist. And that was fine by me. Growing up in an artistically inclined and supportive family, my choice was not a difficult or a surprising one.
MK People like to categorise art into styles or movements like Abstract Figurative, Abstract Expressionism, Abstract Lyricism, etc. What’s your take on that?
TB I share my life and studio with an abstract painter and artist called Julio Rondo. Within those categories, our work is just the opposite: figurative drawings vs. abstract paintings. They seem to be separate worlds. Yet we deal with much of the same struggles, questions and issues in maintaining each body of work's consistency and our ideas originate through the demanding tasks of daily art practice. A category is one way to approach art, often defined by art theorists rather than artists and often labelled in retrospect. I suppose people need categories to feel assured, to maintain control of what is sometimes hard to understand. Regardless, I can't and won't label my work other than it is figurative drawing. And that is nothing but a description.
MK What do you think is the most important aspect of your work? What do you want to communicate?
TB Capturing an emotional level, finding the inner flame. I start drawing a pair of eyes on a checked piece of scrap paper from an old school book and suddenly a personality looks back at me from a paper designated for a different purpose. (Or not, which leads us to the scrap box. See below…). Obviously, I manage to capture an expression in faces and figures that touches people. Not everyone, of course. But if it were only one, I would be happy. My work is the opposite of being cynical. I explore the inner flame behind the physiognomy. Why does one woman in a drawing look straight into our eyes, but is thinking about something totally different? When does somebody look intelligent, afraid, sincere, certain? In exploring the answers, I remove the figures from the context, leaving nothing to indicate their situation or surroundings. It’s a pure stripped-down pose that reveals an expression, yet open to our personal interpretation. A few fast strokes that the observer must be complete, strokes that circumscribe blank space, space to determine the image for yourself, depending on your own context, history and mood.
A woman came to my studio the other day and wanted to buy a drawing that was no longer available. She went through my boxes and found a drawing, saying: this one is even better because it doesn't hurt so much like the other one. It is way more consolatory. She was standing next to me and I was the author of this drawing, but her relationship to this drawing had nothing to do with me. Her perception was none of my business. This is what I am interested in. I am not defining a feeling or controlling an expression, I am finding flames and passing them on.
MK Can you explain how you work in terms of technique?
TB Over the years, I have established a working method that entails a diary. I try to finish one piece every day, in addition to whatever my plans were for that day. The drawings I do are done quite quickly. I like that the pace of the brush, pencil or crayon is traceable for the beholder. But this immediacy doesn't allow for mistakes. You can't hide it in layers, like in an oil painting. So finishing one piece a day means abandoning 10 others, which end up in my boxes: Not So Good or Not So Bad, if they don't go to Scrap straight away. Later I dig through these boxes and the distance suddenly makes a formerly ‘Not So Bad’ piece a great one - or ‘Scrap’. It's become a ritual of making, revealing, recycling and leaving traces.
The routine of finishing a piece of work a day helps me to commit and especially to decide, which is the hardest part of creating art. It also leaves me with a large body of work I can choose from for exhibitions and fairs, assembling them anew or using them as references for larger pieces. I am addicted to paper, especially found paper bearing traces of different eras, brief notes that for a very short moment were important for somebody or paper that once held music, like the inner vinyl sleeves I love to work on. This found paper is an unpredictable surface, leaving no possibilities to control, but rather to react, embracing coincidence and imperfection.
MK Can you tell us something about your upcoming show at the Schönfeld Gallery?
TB It's my second show at the Schönfeld Gallery and I was asked to name an artist I would like to show with. I immediately thought of Christina Zimpel, a New York-based artist I have never met, but whose work I have been following on Instagram for years. There is a beautiful connection between our work, though within different aesthetics and worlds. Little fires, we call it, reflecting our shared search for the inner flame.