When my daughter was born, a friend stated that she'll likely not recall anything of this century. Most of her life will unfold in the beginning of the next millennium. The twentieth century and its modernist precepts: a reaction to academic tradition, the relentless quest for "the new," and the embrace of a steady reductiveness, will be seen as a historical footnote by my daughter and her generation. However, the tenets of modernism having become part of our culture, will continue to inform and influence our postmodern age. She and her peers will be left to review this century, and I wonder how she'll assess my work.
Much of my career has been one of defying many of the modernist dictums by incorporating classical painting techniques, utilizing traditional narrative formats and focusing on the subject of the human figure. According to many contemporary critics, my work should be extinct. However, one paradox of living in the postmodernist age is that by defying the decrees of modernism, one's work becomes as marginal as the modernists' was when they challenged the academy, while the modernists are no longer modern. But if being "new" is no longer the key, then the rules of evaluation must also change.
In my work, I'm influenced by the whole history of art, not simply the last hundred years. I paint with one of the oldest mediums known, egg tempera. I'm intrigued with Renaissance ideas of beauty and order, drawn to the clear, monumental narrative works of the early Renaissance. History demonstrates how the human condition remains constant, a struggle between ideal and reality, the spiritual and the physical. I love to depict the figure engaged in improbable but not totally impossible tasks. At times, my work deals with irony and satire, metaphorical comments on our human foibles and follies. However, I'm not afraid to focus on a beautiful subject, art for the sake of admiration.
I strive for mastery of skill, not as an end, but as a sure means of communication. The human figure - one of the most charged subjects in art - interests me most right now. I prefer work that suggests a narrative because life is a journey. Time plays an important role in my work, highlighting its fleeting quality, or the timelessness of a subject. The settings I choose are metaphorical or symbolic, rather than representing a specific time and place. I paint and sculpt both from life, and my imagination, because art should infuse poetry into the literal.
None of us knows what will be created in the next century, or what fashion may dictate. My aim is to produce compelling, well crafted works that acknowledge the history of art and man. These are the gifts art has handed down to us, and what I want to share with my daughter.
Michael Bergt / 2007