Betz Bernhard Artist Q and A

Studio Visit – Betz Bernhard

Q:

Were your parents artistic?

 

A:

Both my parents were artistic, my mother never considered herself an artist, but she did it in different ways. She was a really good interior designer and she had great taste. But my father actually made art. Sculpture mostly. Before that he did a ton of photography and then he discovered metal sculpture and he built this enormous studio in the basement of our house. He had huge pulleys to raise huge pieces of metal and beams.

Q:

What were some of your first experiences with art?

 

A:

When I was 5 years old my mother sent me to art school. There was a woman in our town who was an illustrator and she lived in a really beautiful old barn with her husband and she had art classes for kids. She was a wonderful teacher and I took art classes once a week all the way through high school. 

Q:

How does art influence your life?

 

A:

I would say that my life influences my art. I’m a maker and I have to keep making things, I can’t imagine what I would do if I couldn’t. It’s not that art influences my life, it’s that life influences my art.

Q:

How did you decide to apply to art school?

 

A:

I didn’t. My parents decided they wanted me to have a liberal arts education. I went to Sarah Lawrence and they had a really terrible arts program. After a year there I transferred to Kansas City Art Institute. I majored in ceramics and I did hand-built ceramics.

I applied to the University of Washington and got into their master’s program. I was still rebellious so when I got into the ceramics program at UW I immediately decided to work in concrete and do mosaics instead. I should’ve been in the sculpture department!

Q:

So what led you to textiles?

 

A:

I was working in clay after school and bought a kiln, and had a studio downtown in Pioneer Square when artists could afford studios down there and worked with clay and concrete and glass for years and then my body just gave up.  I couldn’t muscle around clay and concrete, and so I took some printmaking classes at Pratt Fine Arts Center and I got hooked on that. But I didn’t think I was very good at two-dimensional work. I wanted texture and I wanted to work in a light way but not as a painter. I don’t even remember how I ended up finding kimonos I wish I could remember how it happened. I must have seen them downtown at the stores and that’s when it all hit. I had a sewing machine that broke after I made the first piece for the show at the Brooklyn Arts Center, the machine gave up and then I bought a really good sewing machine. And I thought oh It’s possible to sew, because the thread doesn’t keep breaking the machine. It was really quite wonderful and profound, all you need is a Bernina! (laughter)

Q:

Does your work build any sort of narrative?

 

A:

I think of letterforms as shapes and there’s a tension between the shape and the meaning, you can’t divorce a letterform from language. When you put a letter next to another letter, all of a sudden it becomes a word, and words are very powerful. it’s very seductive to use them in my work.

Q:

Are there any times where you don’t feel as creative? What do you do during those times?

 

A:

I always feel intensely creative, but I don’t always know what to do with it. One thing I’ve found is that when I sew in circles, in some ways it’s similar to Australian aboriginal artists and there’s something very mediative about that. 

There are always interesting accidents that make the work better. I look for moments of chance.

Q:

What’s your latest fixation?

 

A:

Free motion embroidery – I want to find a way to use to draw with thread in a way I wasn’t able to do before. I was restricted but with free motion embroidery, I can draw all over the piece and make very organic shapes. I’m excited to be able to do that.

Q:

What inspires the forms and shapes that you use?

 

A:

Natural forms. A lot of organic forms that inform my work and inspire me. 

I go to [natural] places like the ocean to get my head out of my work, for relief and meditation, but ultimately it always comes back to my work. My work has such a hold on me I can’t not think about it.

Q:

Do you see your work as purely abstract?

 

A:

No, because I love typography. I had this moment where I went through a graphic design program at Seattle Central Community College and it was right on the cusp of graphic design becoming computerized and literally a year after I graduated all these graphics programs came into being and they started teaching graphic design students how to work with these programs but I hadn’t learned that. I was terrible at doing paste-ups because I’m not good at doing anything exact. I actually won a state scholarship through the graphics program and I got to decide which agency I wanted to work at, and it didn’t work out because I wasn’t good at paste-ups. But I did like typography, and so it’s showing up in my artwork now. 

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About Betz Bernhard

 

Originally from New York, her artistic career led her to the Kansas City Art Institute where she earned her BFA, and later to Seattle for her MFA at the University of Washington, where she studied ceramic sculpture. Her ceramics background has influenced elements of her fiber art, incorporating structural elements and balance of form.

Current Exhibition: Open Kimono

 

ZINC contemporary is proud to introduce a new exhibition featuring colorful textile works by Betz Bernhard. Bernhard’s abstract shape-making, pattern play, and retro color palette reflect the vintage trove of silk kimonos and hand-painted fabrics that fill her studio.