Wednesday, February 8, 2012

John Berkey: Diversity, Versatility, Range


Gregory Manchess

Most of you may not remember this gorgeous piece by the Hall of Famer, John Berkey. It appeared briefly in Penthouse Magazine in the 80’s and disappeared, but not before setting off klaxon alarms across my brain.

As much as I had admired Berkey’s paintings for National Geographic and other science magazines, calendars of all sorts of historical subjects, and book covers of every genre, I had no idea his deliberate, architectural strokes could approach the sensitivity so evident across this canvas. The preeminent science-fiction painter had just blown every artistic synapse in my head.

Most of my painting heroes have been capable of a broad range of work, applying their skills to whatever subject was necessary to tell the story, or stimulate a creative response. Sometimes one can study an artist for a long time before having one piece scream its intent so purely, so distinctly, that it instantly reveals the inner thoughts behind the artist’s work.

Study John’s paint here. Notice the soft range of values, from the wallpaper to the sheets, punctuated by bright, stabbing strokes indicating the vanity objects. Here, Berkey used his knowledge of architectural lighting to structure the sheets, vanity, window, night stand, and headboard as he had with his unique spaceship shapes. The light in the window is gently manipulated upward, like his backgrounds of nebulas in deep space. The figure, softened and finessed, yet slightly stiff and angular, contrasts the angles used in the other objects.

It is one of the best paintings Berkey ever accomplished. Clearly, a masterwork.

This piece reminded me so very clearly that an artist must have range. For me, it’s not enough to paint in one melody only. I want that broad playing field to allow my interests to thrive. John Berkey captured that thought for me in this one, quiet, delicate moment.

Oddly enough, it was this kind of painting that drove me to focus my portfolio, from a strangely scattered try-anything mishmash into an all oil painted book. From there, once I had captured enough clients to gain the attention that I could handle paint, I stretched my work across a diverse field of subjects and become versatile again.

That versatility has kept my portfolio alive.

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