December 13, 2013
Subtle and misty transitions: Leon Berkowitz’s ‘Unity’ paintings
Albuquerque Journal North, 12/13/2013
Kate McGraw

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Subtle and misty transitions: Leon Berkowitz’s ‘Unity’ paintings
Albuquerque Journal North, 12/13/2013
Kate McGraw

Although he was a founding member of the Washington Color School, a branch of Color Field Painting, Leon Berkowitz (1911-1987) never fully embraced the association. For one thing, he insisted on sticking with oils after many of his peers had switched to acrylic. He said he preferred the “visually seductive resonance and depth” he could obtain with oil. And though many peers considered themselves proponents of “pure” abstraction, Berkowitz also cited poetry, music and physic as influences in his work instead of simple formalistic concerns.

“Unity,” a show of Berkowitz’s abstract paintings from the 1970s opens today at David Richard Gallery in the Railyard Arts District. The paintings, according to gallery co-owner David Eichholtz, illustrate the naturalistic quality of Berkowitz’s abstractions: “subtle and misty transitions of color evocative of the gradual shifts in the forces of nature and the inspiration for the series.”

A Washington painter
Born in Philadelphia (some sources say in nearby Trenton Township) in 1911, Berkowitz is considered a Washington, D.C., painter, having spent 40 years, most of his adult life, in the nation’s capital.

Berkowitz studied at the University of Pennsylvania, New York’s Art Students League and in Paris, France, Florence, Italy, and Mexico City. During World War II he was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Virginia. In 1945, after completing his military service, he moved to Washington, D.C. Berkowitz and his first wife, the poet Ida Fox Berkowitz, founded Workshop Art Center in Washington, D.C., in 1947. It was a collective that fostered creativity in the arts through classes, lectures and exhibitions. Berkowitz served as its director during its seven-year history. Many important artists were associated with the workshop, including Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring and Thomas Downing, all of whom, along with Paul Reed, would become known as the Washington Color School.

In 1953, the workshop hosted a retrospective exhibition for Willem de Kooning, which established his relationship with Berkowitz. The Workshop Center closed in 1956, and Berkowitz and his wife spent much of the next decade traveling and living abroad, primarily in Spain and Wales. It was during this sabbatical from his life in Washington that his painting took a new direction, and it is this late work for which he is best-known.

Returning to Washington, D.C. following the decade-long European sabbatical, Berkowitz painted and taught art for more than 10 years at American University and Catholic University. In 1969, he joined The Corcoran School of Art, where he was chairman of the painting department. He continued to teach there for almost 20 years, until his death in 1987.

The Unities
According to Eichholtz’s description, “The Unities,” Berkowitz’s series of paintings that began in 1970, “are best characterized as ethereal and diffuse, with elegant and slow transitions from one color to another and pure abstractions that create a sense of harmony and unity.”

The series was inspired by his travels throughout Europe during the late 1950s through early ’60s, where he worked to find himself through and within nature, to search for the unity of nature and himself, Eichholtz said. “Observing the melding of earth and sea with sky, the rising and setting of the sun combined with the rising and waning of the moon, Berkowitz realized that nature was a continuum, a flow of its own forces. Color became his language and the gradual migration from one color to the other without hard boundaries was both mimetic of what he observed in nature and became his composition,” Eichholtz said.

“He was quoted as saying, ‘I wanted to look into color, not at color,’ which he achieved through radiance, by capturing and harnessing the energy of light within color. Thus, his paintings went beyond the material properties of color to something transcendent, more spiritual, like a portal looking into ones soul,” the gallery owner commented.

Berkowitz’s artwork is included in the permanent collections of many museums, including Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Museum of Modern Art, N.Y.; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; and The Phoenix Museum, among others.

David Richard Gallery specializes in post-war abstract art, including abstract expressionism, color field, geometric and hard-edge painting, op art, pop art, minimalism, feminism and conceptualism in a variety of media. Featuring both historic and contemporary artwork, the gallery represents many established artists who were part of important movements and trends that occurred during the 1950s through the 1980s on both the East and West coasts.

The Berkowitz exhibition will hang through Jan. 25.

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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