I visited Wesley Berg as he was working on drawings for a show at the Dayton Visual Arts Center that opens January 15. His studio is in one of the Front Street buildings, which are filled with artists and a lot of small businesses. To get to Wesley’s studio you pass this business that makes cornhole games.
Wesley’s studio is one large room. It has great light. More importantly, it has high walls. For this show Wesley is making several large pieces.
I asked Wesley to tell me something about his process.
“I source the images online that are the inspiration for my work. I get a lot from bear hunting magazines. A lot of the animals in my art are dead animals, so these works are kind of a tribute to them. There’s a kind of sadness in these trophy photos. I change the images around – often deleting the background or maybe the hunters. Then I make a small mockup, to scale, on the computer so I know how the image will lay out on these six panels.
“I could make the images more exact if I projected the image on the paper, but I don’t want that. I want them realistic, but not perfect. I like what happens when I translate the image that I’m looking at on the computer to paper.”
“I wanted to make big pieces and started using these divided images for practical reasons. If I used one large piece of paper it would be almost impossible to ship anywhere. Then I found I liked the way the divided image looked. If this were one large piece of paper it wouldn’t have the same presence.
“As it is, it takes me hours to pack up these pieces. Charcoal is tricky. I’m using everything I learned when I worked as an art handler in several New York galleries.”
“Whenever I take photos of these works I tend to pose with the drawing, and I see others doing the same when the image is on display. There’s something about being close to the animal – taking the place of the hunter who originally posed with this bear.”
Wesley grew up in Dayton but he’s traveled a lot before returning to teach at the University of Dayton. He got his MFA at the University of Florida, worked at several galleries in New York, and has been an artist-in-residence in Vermont and New Mexico and also in Iceland, Sweden and Finland. I asked if the places he has lived influenced his work.
“There is a definite Scandinavian influence in my work. In Scandinavia there is something of a somber quality in the way people think about nature. And the Scandinavian design has sort of a crisp, simple quality to it. I think both of those influences are here. At least I’m trying for that – a rugged natural look that also has something of a sleek design.
Before leaving Wesley’s studio I took one portrait of the artist, and then photographed several of his smaller works, all ink drawings.
I returned to Wesley’s studio several weeks later, when he said he was nearly finished with another large work that will be in the January show. My two daughters came with me. They own drawings by Wesley and wanted to see some of his new work.
My daughters and I loved this new piece. Wesley said he’d like to make one more drawing – this one even bigger. But first he needed to make sure there was enough available wall space at the Dayton Visual Art Center.