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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Art exhibit out of this world

By April Wright
Staff Writer


Friday, November 18, 2005

Through Dec. 18, ArtOrg will host an exhibit of paintings by Minnesota-raised painter John Berkey.

Berkey, who is a member of the Illustrator’s Hall of Fame, is best known as a science fiction artist. Over the past 50 years, he has illustrated hundreds of book covers for assorted writers, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Jules Verne. He has also done illustrations for National Geographic, TV Guide, Time and Life Magazines.

While Berkey is most famous for painting outerspace, he prefers to paint rural scenes, nature and people. He confessed in a Star Tribune interview to having no interest in science fiction books explaining that he got into science fiction illustration simply because he sensed an opportunity for stable work.

Sci-fi art fans are lucky he stuck with it. The exhibit, which opened on Nov. 4, features over 50 brilliant paintings and is his second and largest exhibition of work.

Berkey has not often showed his work on such a public scale. Throughout his career, he has been shy about exhibits, preferring the creative to the commercial aspects of the art world.

The biggest draw in the exhibit is the space paintings section. Berkey’s science fiction paintings, on the whole, feature bold, saturated colors done in oil paints. His impressionistic style creates lines and shapes that blend and fuse together, suggesting an air of romantic mystery for a subject that could otherwise seem very sterile.

With his use of impressionist style, Berkey captures lots of light in his paintings. Combined with his use of rounded, semi-aerodynamic shapes, his images have remarkable depth and weight to them.

Berkey’s style has remained consistent over the years. While many of the paintings in the exhibit were created in 1995 or later, they look very similar to his earlier works. The shapes and smoothly blended lines so characteristic of his style have been present from the beginning.

However, in more recent years, Berkey has grown in his mastery of color and light. His paintings once lacked depth, but now they feel as if they’ve captured real moments.

Art lovers with little interest in science fiction will still find plenty to love about this exhibit, which also includes a large selection of his nature art and portraiture.

Some of Berkey’s paintings of mid-century America invoke the work of Norman Rockwell. Old automobiles, hobby shops and men in Cold War era dress are some of his common topics.

While they are all very realistic paintings, Berkey blends his lines and infuses light into his paintings to give them a feeling of innocence and nostalgia.

Others, such as his paintings of women in the nude, recall early impressionists. Berkey’s paintings of women tend to have rich background colors and lavish settings, as well as bold placement and body postures.

The figures seem very frank, as if challenging the viewer to disapprove of their nudity. But why would you? Berkey’s images are not only aesthetically beautiful, but steeped in understanding of human anatomy.

The John Berkey Observed exhibit does an excellent job of drawing together art and science. Where many may consider art and astrophysics incompatible, Berkey shows that there is ample room in art for being a sci-fi nerd, and plenty of room in the science world for an art geek.





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