Award winning artist, Norman Berman will be exhibiting his paintings at the Shirley and Barton Weisman Delray Community Center in Delray Beach, Florida. The exhibit will run from June 1, 2015 until July 10, 2015. There will be an Opening Reception on Sunday afternoon, June 7th. Admission is free and open to the public. The works displayed span the years from the 1980’s to the present. The title of the exhibit, “MY ART, MY FAITH” emerged as Norman, in making selections for this show realized that his Judaic upbringing became a somewhat consistent theme in his abstract works. The Rickie Report shares the details and a conversation with Mr. Berman about his artistry.
WEISMAN DELRAY COMMUNITY CENTER
“MY FAITH, MY ART”
Sunday, June 7, 2015
3 – 5 pm
This Event is free and open to the public
Exhibit runs from June 1 – July 10, 2015
Hours: Mon. –Thurs. 9 am – 5 pm
Fri. 8:30 am- 4:30 pm
7901 West Atlantic Avenue Delray Beach, FL
Although Norman Berman is primarily an abstract artist he has also created a series of representational works which he calls “My Tallis (Prayer Shawl) Series. These images were initially conceived as imagery for his personal Jewish New Year cards in his abstract paintings with such titles as “The Sabbath Bride”, “Our Father, Our King”, “Job” and “By The Rivers of Babylon” are some examples of the coalescing of his “art and his faith”.
Award winning and nationally known artist Norman Berman presents a survey of his works. Berman’s subject matter ranges from Judaic themes to abstracts. He’s been creating artwork professionally for over 55 years. He tells The Rickie Report, “For me, creating art is a challenge. As I look at a work surface, I begin my conversation with it. The surface says to me, ’Create something, I dare you!’ Therefore, my adventure begins!” As one listens to Norman Berman share some of his life-stories, you must pay attention to details. Looking at his artwork that should be no surprise. It is these tidbits that make the whole.
TRR: What were your early artistic influences?
The only artwork on our walls at home was my Bar Mitzvah portrait ( an oil on canvas that was painted by a friend of father). My introduction to art was at age four, when I accompanied my father, a shipping clerk in a men’s’ wear company, to work. The women in the office gave me a piece of paper, a red pencil, a black pencil and plopped me in a chair with the instructions to ‘draw something’. I drew the American flag to keep myself occupied. Over the years, I started to copy and draw comic book characters (Disney, Superman, and Batman, etc.). My father would take these drawings and hang them in his workplace and change them around – it was my first public gallery!
As the United States entered WWII, I was fascinated by US military aircraft, so I wrote to all of the aircraft companies for pictures. They would send me these gorgeous lithographic prints! My favorite was the P38, a double fuselage plane and very impressive to look at. Around the same time, there was a kid in our neighborhood who was already in high school and must have been an art major. I would show him my airplane drawings and he showed me how to create perspective images: not linear perspective images going to a vanishing point, but looking down at buildings as if you were in an airplane.
When I was 10 years old, I broke my elbow. It was probably the beginning of my escapades with brittle bone disease, but we didn’t know about that until much much later. While at Israel Zion Hospital (now Maimonides), I used to draw the nurses in profile, with their little caps. In elementary school, my art was always hanging in the classroom and the halls.
As a Junior High School student, one of my teachers recommended that I attend the High School of Music & Art. Living in Brooklyn, it was an hour and a half subway ride in the morning and evening rush hours which my parents weren’t happy about. We happened to live close to the neighborhood high school, Abraham Lincoln High School. As a result, I ended up going to Lincoln which had a fabulous art department! That’s where I got my real training, in my approach to art. In 10th grade, Herbert W. Yates got me interested in the importance of art history.
I started saving articles from “Life Magazine” that related to art and artists. My father would pick up a copy at the newsstand every Saturday. I finally convinced him that it would be more convenient and less expensive to get a subscription! After reading the entire magazine, I categorized the pictures with my own filing system into red envelopes. My mother, who was also a voracious reader, would buy other magazines like ‘McCall’s’ and ‘Ladies Home Journal’. Those magazines happen to have some of the top-notched illustrators of the time.
TRR: Norman shares his “beshert” (Yiddish for “meant to be”) moment. He takes us back to 1950.
Leon Friend was the Chairman of the Art Department and I was sitting in his Graphic Arts class – last row, second seat. Leon says,’ DO YOU KNOW WHO SAT IN YOUR SEAT? ‘ I said, ‘No.’ Friend said, ‘Alex Steinweiss’. This was like mentioning God! Alex Steinweiss was an early graduate from Lincoln, who after graduating from Parsons School of Design, worked for Columbia Records. Steinweiss convinced his employers to change their marketing strategy to sell their long playing records. Instead of wrapping the records in brown paper, they should create a book with the record inside. Each book would have artwork on its cover. Alex Steinweiss was responsible for the entire industry of record albums cover designs!
During my senior year, I prepared a portfolio and sent it out to the School Art League. It is now May, 1952. Mr. Friend comes into class and asks who we think should be the happiest person in the room today. And then he says, ‘Norman, it’s you! You just won the scholarship to Parsons School of Design! ‘I’m thinking that I’m following in the steps of Alex Steinweiss! I literally “fell out of my chair”! In those days, we didn’t have cell phones. I couldn’t even go down to the office to call my mother! When I finally got home and shared my good news, my mother thought it was very nice. Then we waited until my father came home to tell him. I had already been accepted to tuition-free Brooklyn College. What to do… His father, a product of the Great Depression, didn’t want Norman to accept the scholarship. (What if it wasn’t renewed after a year – they couldn’t afford tuition; what about the cost of supplies; they also wanted to send his brother to college in just more three years).
TRR: Norman returned to school and tell Mr. Friend the news. This dedicated teacher stayed until 7 pm the next evening to meet with Norman’s father in an attempt to convince him, even offering an extra $100. from the “Art Squad” to help defray costs. The answer was the same. Norman’s father understood the need to be pragmatic. Norman would go to college, become a teacher and get a job.
That summer I didn’t have a job. I walked the streets telling myself that I was going to Brooklyn College. I psyched myself up about meeting new people and having new experiences. I had four good years at BC.
TRR: Norman graduated from Brooklyn College and went back to his alma mater, Abraham Lincoln High School to student teach.
In September, 1960, Norman was set up by his brother’s fiancée on a blind date with a girl named Ethel. The rest is history! They have 2 children and 4 grandchildren. Ethel and Norman were married for almost 52 years. She was his strength, his staunchest supporter, his severest critic and the love of his life. As Norman points out, if he had gone to Parsons, he would not have ended up being introduced to his “beshert”, Ethel. His first date was on Ethel’s birthday. They were married for 52 years… She passed away in July of 2013.
After graduating with my BA and MA from Brooklyn College, I taught Junior High and moved on to High School. I concentrated on teaching painting as part of the curriculum, along with art history and color theory. From my own experiences, I encouraged my students to learn and research their subjects. Research is an essential part of any good piece of artwork! My favorite part of the curriculum was teaching painting. I was privileged to have a number of students from the “Art Talent Classes”. These were students who took art classes five days a week and showed promise. I continued teaching and eventually became a supervisor (Assistant Principal) . I taught in a few different schools and in 1983 was awarded the ‘Art Educator Award’ from the New York City Art Teacher’s Association/UFT and the Art Chairman’s Association in recognition of my outstanding service and commitment to art education. I also held the rank of Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art at Queensborough College where I taught painting, drawing, two-dimensional design, advertising design and art history. I finally retired in January, 1991.
TRR: Tell us more about your own artwork. On your website, you differentiate between two different types of art. One is the “Prayer Shawl Series” and then “the rest”.
There is an interrelationship. Some of my larger paintings incorporate Hebrew words from Jewish prayers. The ‘Lecha Dodi’ piece that was on the Armory Art Center invitation, is from the prayer service which welcomes the Sabbath, as a bride. Another powerful piece of bright yellow hues titled ‘AveenuMalkeinu’ (Our Father, Our King”, comes from the High Holy Day liturgy. I created the ‘Prayer Shawl (‘Tallis’) Series’, one for each year’s Jewish New Year’s card for my family. These watercolors are representational in style.
During my studies at Brooklyn College, three or four faculty members really influenced me: Jimmy Ernst (son of Max), Carl Robert Holty( a disciple of Mondrian), and Harry Holtzman. Stylistically, Jimmy showed me how calligraphy and linear work can influence a piece of artwork; how to allow just enough, without overpowering the piece. Holty was a great “colorist” He taught me to take Mondrian’s rectangles and squares and change their edges from white to various tints and shades of color, allowing work to “float” in one plane over the other. He helped me capture my creative imagination through color relationships. Holty subscribed to Hans Hoffman’s theory of “Push and Pull”. Holtzman, who never taught studio, explained the theory of modern art, abstract theory and how to analyze what the creative process was all about. He was one of the people who managed to help Mondrian get into the U.S. The faculty of Brooklyn College in the 50′s and 60′s were influential artists, bringing new ideas and changes to the art world. They were the top names in the Abstract Expressionist Movement. Having Mark Rothko as a teacher certainly influenced me. I subscribe to the Abstract Art Movement’s credo “The act of painting is more important than the product. As Mark Rothko says, “My paintings are made to engulf you.” There is a definitive biography of Rothko and I like one of his quotes which is “ART IS AN ADVENTURE INTO AN UNKNOWN WORLD, WHICH CAN BE EXPLORED ONLY BY THOSE WILLING TO TAKE RISKS.” Each time I start a new work, I am moving into an unknown world and taking new risks. That is what keeps me going!
At the same time as I was teaching, I was also creating and showing my own work. I believe strongly that to be able to teach art, you must be involved in the creative process yourself! You have to live through the agony of that blank canvas and the ecstasy of a finished piece of art.
TRR: Does your art tell a story?
Good question! Usually, my art does not tell a story because I normally don’t create narrative pieces of work. My piece, ‘Lake of Snow Moon’ is unusual in that aspect, for me. The initial little study for it (which I rarely do) was based on the weeds and reeds that I see every day from my kitchen window. When I decided to enlarge it to a full size watercolor the weeds and reeds became snow-covered pine trees. The title “The Lake of the Snow Moon” comes from the fact that the nickname for the full moon in February/March is called the “Snow Moon”. This painting was the second place ribbon recipient at the 2014 Art of Association Show at the Lighthouse Museum. The toughest part of being an abstract painter is when people ask me , ‘well, what is that supposed to be?’ If my response is that I cannot tell them and they have to determine that for themselves, it sounds dismissive. I don’t want to be that way. The spectator has to be willing to engage and think and wonder ‘what does that look like?’ ‘what does it tell me’? I cannot do that for them. I like the subtlety of color relationships and that shows in a majority of my work. Even after graduation from Brooklyn College, I would go to Carl Holty’s studio and show him my work and talk about these theories. Then I started to show my work in galleries in Greenwich Village, eventually moving to galleries uptown.
TRR: What is your favorite part of being an artist?
When the piece is ready to sign! Once I do that, I never go back to rework the painting. I also like to see my work in a venue other than the walls in my house. The works look totally different in a gallery. I’ve exhibited widely in the New York Metropolitan area and my work appears in numerous private collections across the country. The Queensborough Community College Gallery has my work in its permanent collection. My work has been displayed in libraries, synagogues and churches in Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York as well as the Polish Consulate in Manhattan, the GE Gallery in Schenectady, NY and the SONY Gallery in New York City.
TRR: What tips would you give beginning artists?
Don’t be afraid to do what you want to do! Your images will grow and your style will develop. That is OK. For me, selling my work is a secondary thought. I love what I do. But, at the same time, don’t be afraid to market yourself. I know this is difficult because one is fearful thinking about it. Most artists aren’t trained to sell their work.
TRR: Can you take us through the process of a painting?
When we relocated to Florida, I moved away from working with oils. Now I use watercolor. I start out with a blank sheet of paper and add floating colors next. After that, I bring in wide calligraphic lines, getting thinner and thinner to create an intricate ‘lace-like’ network. The final effort is to come up with a title. I rarely work from sketches or small studies. I put up a piece of illustration board, watercolor paper or canvas). I don’t buy this notion that art is for self-enjoyment. (That is for the hobbyist who is “making pictures”). Art is a challenge and hard work. I have to let my mind and brain create images through my hand that I find pleasing, interesting and challenging. The one thing about the 1950′s and 1960′s about theories expounding at Brooklyn College was that the act of painting was more important than the product. If you finish the product and you like it, sign and you’re done. Fine. If you finish a product that you don’t like, it is also fine to rip it up and throw it away. In fact, in Mark Rothko’s class, he would have you create a piece of art, then tear it up and reconstruct it!
When I am finished with a painting, I sign it and that’s it! That’s not a “beshert” moment. It is an “Aha” moment. When you look at your piece and know that it is enough, you are done. If you’re not sure, stop painting and turn the piece facing the wall. Turn it around and look at it in another 6 weeks. Look at it with fresh eyes. My best and most instant critic was Ethel…
TRR: How do you recharge your creativity?
I like read about “art” whether in fiction or non-fiction. When I reread two of my favorite books, “My Name is Asher Lev” and “The Gift of Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok, the words deeply move me. While I was not as prolific as the fictional Asher Lev, I had many of the same experiences as he did, growing up in Brooklyn and although locales were “fictionalized” I knew exactly where they were. I also enjoy Daniel Silva who’s protagonist is Gabriel Alon, an Israeli Mossad agent as well as a world famous art restorer. I read books about artists. Their concepts and approaches to creativity help me, as you put it, to recharge my own creativity. As an adjunct to my paintings I am a “serious amateur photographer. I am the president of my community photo club. My approach to photograph is similar to my approach to my paintings. I look for the abstract elements in the subjects that I photograph. That is a way that I am constantly aware of the visual world around which eventually can be incorporated into my works.
TRR: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I do have a physical limitation, which prevents me from working on large canvases, which I used to do in oils and in acrylics. I was diagnosed with ‘brittle bone disease’ (osteogenesisimperfecta). Because of my disability, I limit myself to working on full sheet or a double elephant size Arches’ Bright White 300 lb. Cold Press paper or 140 lb. Arches Bright White paper. In reading a research paper about OI, it stated that those with the disease tend to be very optimistic people, with strong motivations. We get up. We do. We are positive. I hope more people find out about the OI Foundation.wwwOIF.org My granddaughter, Mira, uses art as an outlet because she cannot run around like other kids, due to this brittle bone issue.
TRR: In 2012, Norman served as Coordinator for the Artists of Palm Beach County’s exhibit at the Armory Art Center. He had no idea how complex this administrative job would become. He comments, “Being an educator gives you a multiplicity of skills”. He is a member on the Board of Directors of the Artists of Palm Beach County (APBC).
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