Laura Berman in her studio (photo by Jim Barcus)

Winner of an Arts Inspiration Grant from ArtsKC, the Accomplished Painter and Printmaker is Known for her Luminous Explorations of Nature

Laura Berman’s monoprints and paintings on paper are luminous explorations of geological strata, topologies, and the atmospheric relationship of the land to the sky, executed with a dazzling yet earthy simplicity. This may sound like a contradiction, and, in many ways, her works fuse paradoxical ideas and imagery, such as depicting solid rocks and landscape as mutable translucencies.

Berman, a professor of printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute, was recently awarded an Inspiration Grant from ArtsKC. It marks the second time she has received that honor.

Born in Barcelona, Spain, Berman grew up in the U.S. and attended high school in North Carolina. Despite her admission that “my love for abstract math rivaled my love for art,” Berman graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from Alfred University and a master of fine arts from Tulane University. However, Berman’s Spanish roots — her father was Catalan Spanish — inform her artistic choices.

“Sensibility, passion and an imaginative approach to life are all qualities Catalans are proud of,” she related, “and I feel I share these (along with my insatiable appetite for olives and fresh baccalau!). My mom walked me through Barcelona for hours each day in a stroller when I was an infant, and my newly opening eyes took in a vibrant parade of colorful culture, Gaudi architecture and Spanish tile work at every turn. I believe the uniquely beautiful and highly crafted urban landscape of Barcelona has a formative and direct influence on my own aesthetic inclinations toward color, pattern, repetition and variation.”

Berman’s work testifies to the aesthetics she absorbed in infancy. Her monoprints, a labor-intensive process that allows for only one print (rather than the multiple prints made from, say, silkscreen), are color-saturated, abstract compositions in which layers and various color families coalesce to suggest landscape, rocks, shards and other natural formations.

“From the earth to the atmosphere” is how Berman describes the things that inspire her, which include her much-loved but “ordinary” rock collection, the Flint Hills, the Grand Canyon, and the innate and mysterious splendor of the natural world.

In conversation about her “rock collection as muse” — she’s been collecting rocks since childhood — Berman says, “rocks are like prints, an impression of the earth.” This humble yet deeply profound idea evokes the vast expanse of geological time.

In fact, Berman’s rock prints and paintings are some of her most compelling, especially those in her new “Balancing Worlds” series, in which she combines printing with watercolor. Each rock is divided into two parts: a multi-textured black and white monoprint, and thin layers of watercolor paint. The works balance physical and metaphysical incongruities: dark yet light, heavy and of the earth, yet strangely light and celestial.

In a September interview, Berman said she planned to use her Inspiration Grant from ArtsKC in support of her solo exhibition, “Once and Then,” which opened Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 30 at Truman State University. “In particular, the grant will help me work with new forms in sculpture and large-scale digital print installations,” she explained. The Truman show opened during the run of her exhibition of monoprints and watercolor paintings, “Setting Space,” at Weinberger Fine Art, which closed Oct. 28.

Berman’s color palette, sometimes warm and earthy, often luminous with an inner light she wrestles out of her translucent layers, unearths stored memories and new experiences. For Berman, the land and the very rocks that form it are never static, but wonderfully changeable, despite their reliable solidity. She embraces these natural contradictions. Maybe we should all wish to see the world through Laura Berman’s cosmic, yet down to earth prescience.

Dana Self

Dana Self is an arts writer who was a contemporary art curator for more than 13 years at museums in Kansas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri, including Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. She has organized roughly 100 exhibitions of emerging and midcareer artists. She is also marketing director for UMKC Conservatory.

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