Berman’s abstractions are a means of exploring the world around her. Observations, realised through sketches, notes, and jottings are collated as trigger points, to spark something new and unexpected. She begins by translating these impulses into cut-out shapes or patterns, and this has become an integral foundation in the formation of her visual language. It is a means of jogging the memory and taking her back to a moment in time. It has become an indispensable working rhythm, a way to allow latent thoughts and ideas to surface. Her work is a base for questioning, and a way to interrogate the things she finds herself drawn to.
She selects her chosen surface, begins by adding layers of gesso, then ink, or acrylic, anything that feels relevant. Coats of paint are applied over and over, increasing as the inner voice is excavated; and for all their apparent, perceived geometric clarity, they remain deeply personal. As she tussles with the paint, layers are not just added, but also removed, completed work then bears the scars of this process. There is, she hopes, a deeply relatable resonance. The paintings are testament to a life lived, with love, passion, pain, fears, bravery, and belonging becoming implicit. She often refers to battle scars, and sees all her paintings as journeys, they are survivors, they have come to terms with maturity. Just as our paths are never predetermined, and we experience twists and turns, so do the paintings, they are reinventions caught in the final stage of creative passage. You could say that the marks are akin to a genetic coding, but they could also stand as the pages of a journal.
Her paintings play with the flatness of surface versus the medium, the perfect and imperfect. On first look, the viewer contemplates cohesive colour, and space, but on closer inspection, an underlying naivety comes to the surface, something which has become a crucial signifier of her method. At all times, she recognises her own artistic journey, and embraces fallibility to offer new unanticipated perspectives. This is seen as a Yin and Yang, a negative and positive, precision and accident as complementary energies. This relates deeply to the aforementioned life lived, intensities that shape existence. Her painting fills the gaps between, and these gaps are the reason she paints. Observations find their battlefield, abstractions which are not just about materiality, but also representation. They are both heavy and light, still or active, representing transitional moments or positions. In this way, they find their own identities, and once out in the world, it is up to the paintings to find their path.
In another recent impulse, she has explored the iconography of outdoor entertainment, charting the thrills, spills and faded glamour of the circus, fun-fair, and sea-side pier. Again, these works are linked to memories, of jeopardy, excitement, freedom, and discovery. Resulting works are about being caught in the moment, the adventure of risk-taking. Again, this focus relates deeply to the transitional, and she is inspired by surfaces that are marked by movement and displacement. For example, the painted structures of the travelling show, scuffed in transit, building-up an organic painterly history. Again, these are places of mixed emotions, happiness and belonging, pain and displacement, but also of the insider and outsider. In many respects, the paintings explore acts of showmanship, a brave face, and this in-turn links to contemporary conditions, for example, the way we seek validation through social media.
Melanie Berman: Biography
Melanie Berman (b. Surrey, UK) lives and works in East Sussex. She graduated from the University for the Creative Arts with a BA (Hons) in Painting (2008), and from Berkshire College of Art (1980). She has exhibited widely and has been awarded various commissions including for SMC Design, London. Most recently she has exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy (2020-21), and at the Royal Academy, London (2019). Wells Art Contemporary Exhibition 2021