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Expressive texture

We had an interview with Mike Berg about his recently ended exhibition New Kilims from Uşak at Knotisse, and his other exhibition titled 20-1 Colors at ADAS which continues until January 19

Interview: İbrahim Cansızoğlu 

Mike Berg

You are always interested in discovering the material aspects of art. Concerning painting, what kinds of materials are you drawn to and what types of surfaces are you interested in applying different sorts of paints?

The surface quality is important to me whether it’s paper or canvas or metal. I’m always looking for a way to make an expressive texture. I like to experiment. Not knowing what will happen can lead to great results, and if not, it can provoke unexpected possible solutions.

Mike Berg, 20-1 Colors installation photograph

Since I am mostly familiar with your work in sculpture I do not know quite well about your artistic research on color. Your new show at ADAS is titled 20-1 Colors and it presents an experimental approach to creating, displaying, and mixing colors. How did this research start and what kinds of outputs are you sharing with the audience?

Often, in fact almost always I will do something to make a ground color or texture. 20-1 Colors started with the simple idea of making a colored ground to work on. The process to arrive at the surface is too long to describe but the goal was to create a matte surface with a very small border on all sides.

Each day I would mix a new color, usually 2 or 3 a day. We would put them up on the printshop wall to dry. After a while, it occurred to us that they made a strong statement just as simple color squares.

Mike Berg, 20-1 Colors installation photograph

Some works in 20-1 Colors reminded me of Mondrian’s works. How do you respond to Mondrian’s understanding of composition in such works?

Mondrian’s geometry paintings are important to me. His studied variations and refinements I relate to strongly. 20-1 Colors could be seen as a Mondrian in color variation.

In some of the works presented in 20-1 Colors it seems that you employed diverse drawing techniques with varying results. Your drawing practice is particularly interesting if we consider your art in the context of transferability. You transfer lines and patterns between different media like works on paper, painting, and sculpture. How different techniques of drawing and the notion of transferability is related in your practice?  

In the show, there are 41 small gouache paintings on a middle-colored grey/brown French handmade paper. They were started during being sequestered at the beginning of COVID-19. My idea was to make a painting a day, some days a variation of something I had just done before, sometimes something totally different.

Mike Berg, 20-1 Colors installation photograph

You are currently living in New York and İstanbul. New York is especially important for you during your early career. Would you like to compare the impact of these two cities on your artistic practice? 

I arrived in New York in my mid-twenties. I had no money and no big-city experience. But the museums and galleries were thrilling, they were my art education. It wasn’t a straight aesthetic path, but I gravitated toward abstraction, pattern, and geometry. At the same time, I was influenced by calligraphic art, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic script. I could see the connection in artists like Pollock, Frank Kline, Robert Motherwell, and many others.

In İstanbul, I immediately felt a connection to the architecture, design, and pattern everywhere. Selçuk architecture and script and scribble [karalama] ink studies influenced me greatly.

In İstanbul I met many skilled craftspeople who worked on my embroidered paintings, and metal workers who translated my ink drawings into metal sculptures. I met weavers who turned my drawings into flat woven rugs.

Mike Berg, New Kilims from Uşak installation photograph

I know Sol LeWitt is a great inspiration for your art. How would you frame the influence of LeWitt in your experimental approach toward geometry and materiality?

What drew me to Sol LeWitt was the elegance of his conceptual approach to making art, how he could write a script and a list of instructions, then that anyone who followed the instructions could create a work of art. He also created works of art based on chance. I have made many works based on chance selections of many sorts.

Mike Berg, New Kilims from Uşak installation photograph

You have recently shown your new kilims at Knotisse located in Çemberlitaş. Why are you particularly interested in Uşak kilims and how your interest in responding to Islamic design has started? 

We have collected many carpets and kilims, Suzanis, and other textile art pieces over the years that we’ve been in Turkey. I think of my Uşak kilims as a collaboration of my Western abstract origins meeting the traditional talents and inevitable characteristics of color and shape variations found in the weaving process.

Would you like to talk about your upcoming projects for 2024?

Yes, I’ve been asked to produce a large metal sculpture to be presented in May at a new art space called Yunt in İstanbul. In addition to that, my sculpture Kafes will be installed in the courtyard of the same complex.

Over the next few months, I’ll be working with Ruth Lingen at Line Press Limited in New York.


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