written by Erika Block
These are the kind of questions Siara Berry seeks to address with her work. Berry creates stunning, visually simple sculptures using everyday household items such as brooms, mops, dust pans, and welcome mats. But these powerful works hold meanings that are far from simple, highlighting domestic tensions and challenging the concepts of home, relationships, and domestic life. “I find metaphoric representations of such through the use of quotidian materials and otherwise overlooked household imagery.” The strongest driving force behind Berry’s work are her own experiences, assigning physical objects to represent her memories, which are then manipulated to portray the dysfunction of standard, safe, suburban life. In addition to physical objects, her work is often inspired by construction sites, forgotten neighborhoods, DIY magazines/shows, and housewife culture. Unlike artists who work with a consistent material, Berry prefers to work with a variety of materials, objects and textures. “Each of my pieces is a different metaphor, a different narrative, so using the same materials and processes for each piece wouldn’t accurately represent the meaning of the work.”
Her lengthy artistic process begins with extensive writing and sketching. “In addition to my degree in Sculpture, I also majored in Creative Writing, so writing stories that I can envision my pieces in, stories about the people who may use or interact with these objects, is a great exercise for me and helps dig deeper into the narrative I am trying to convey.” Working for a fabrication company, Berry approaches her sculptures like a fabricator, by budgeting her work, obtaining materials, and sometimes even modeling the piece using CAD software to assist with sizing and estimating. Without a studio of her own, she is fortunate to have the use of her employer’s facility – a large, communal space offering her the ability to spread out, assess, assemble, and deconstruct her work easily. “I like the time it takes and the evolving concentration of every component.”
Siara Berry is excited by the progression of her work, and sees it becoming riskier, more unapologetic. “I want there to be this familiarity and seemingly welcoming impression at first glance – Hey! I know what that is! I have one of those! – and once they get closer, they begin to realize that something is off.” She hopes her work gives viewers a platform to reflect on their own lives, and invites them to contemplate their own relationships with the universal concept of home.
Learn more about Siara Berry and her work:
Derrick Buisch is a painter and full-time instructor in the art department at UW-Madison. His focus is abstract painting inspired by ordinary, everyday symbols and other visual information (road signs, graffiti, tattoos…) painted with vibrant colors in a way that makes them almost glow. These symbols and icons have been cultivated over many years into a working visual vocabulary that he then references in his paintings. These paintings involve the investigation of drawing, structure, and color. His works are often displayed in clusters, allowing each piece to inform the next. “I want my work to have an immediate impact of an optical-visual-jolt of electric pleasure. My hope is that my work can provide a stimulus that allows someone to feel like they are levitating/floating.” His works are intended to be unsettling for the viewer – visually engaging, followed by unnerving. Dramatic cropping and a lack of balance give viewers the feeling they may be tipping or falling. “These paintings are a distilled chaos riddled with small incidences of uneasy hilarity, which creates a rigorous abstraction that is simultaneously evocative and elusive.”
Buisch is inspired by his students and colleagues at the university, as well as countless other artists, especially painters from the 1980’s like Keith Haring, Francesco Clemente, and Jean Michel Basquiat. Growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., his earlier influences were local bands with great graphics, street posters, and album designs. He was later influenced by a small group of artists and musicians he spent time with in early 90’s Baltimore. This cultural influence is particularly evident is his Squares series, which is reminiscent of indie album covers.
In the studio, Buisch attempts to maintain an environment of experimentation, working daily but in short bursts. “Sometimes I think about my studio as a microwave – with projects/paintings on high-heat/fast-cook. I will also work on slow cook paintings…adding paint in layers over the course of several weeks. Using mostly oil paint – I let things sit to dry/cure between layers – so I tend to work on several things in various stages at all times.” Large walls, adequate lighting, air circulation, and the ability to play music without headphones are key components to his optimal working conditions.
“Being an artist/painter is a survival mechanism – a way to navigate through life. Time in the studio, painting, drawing, working in sketchbooks, reading, and gathering information/ideas (research) – is all time building an ongoing project – an open-ended body of works that is reflective/diagrammatic of navigating through the times/culture that we are living inside of. A map, a world view, a joke, an obituary… Mystery is key.”
Learn more about Derrick Buisch and his work by visiting 202c.com.
Megan Woodard Johnson
Megan Woodard Johnson is a full-time mixed media artist in West Bend, Wisconsin. She loves combining materials to create colorful, visually dense abstract paintings. Her work is highly layered, building up a combination of loose, expressive marks with precise, meticulous line-work and fine detail. Her unique and recognizable style of mark making, as well as the intention behind her choice of materials and her use of color, are what separate her work from other abstract artists. The exploration of the experiences that make us who we are, and how we connect with other people, is what fuels Johnson’s creative work. “The most important thing to me is that I never stop appreciating my connections with others, and exploring them through art.”
Her artistic process begins with a layering of vintage, nostalgic collage materials on paper or panel, forming a background based upon personal history and common experiences. Many layers are then built over this base, including paint, drawn marks, and collage elements carefully selected for their color or visual texture. Johnson works on several pieces at once, letting one dry while moving on to the next, in this early phase. As each piece begins to come together, she makes more intentional marks and compositional decisions. “I have been layering materials together to make things since I was a child, and there’s something about combining many different elements that will always be necessary for me to fully explore the ideas that interest me.”
Woodard Johnson feels she is currently making the best, most authentic work of her life. “I love when viewers respond to my work initially due to an appreciation for the color and overall composition, but then begin to form a very personal connection as they recognize bits of their own history in the collage elements.” She intends to continue exploring abstract work, and is excited to challenge herself with larger and more complex pieces.
Learn more about Megan Woodard Johnson and her work:
Erika Block is a professional creative director, award-winning designer, author, art instructor, and mixed media artist. She holds degrees in marketing communications, advertising, and digital media, and brings to the table over two decades of experience in the art, music, publishing, film and fashion industries. Her work has been featured nationally, including People Magazine, The View, Good Morning America, and the Today Show.