Getting up close and personal with a painting is the special delight of art enthusiasts - feeling a work draw you in, deeper and deeper, and then just as palpably pushing you back, altering perspective and changing with every heart beat. And that's what artist Seamus Berkeley is after.
"Seamus Berkeley: In This Very Moment" is an exhibit of 22 of his landscape paintings, opening with a reception Saturday (April 6) from 5 to 7 p.m. at Magpie Gallery in El Prado. Berkeley will give a brief introduction promptly at 5 p.m.
A well-known artist in Taos since first moving here in 1999, Berkeley also is founder and past president of the Taos Society of Portrait Artists. After about 10 years in Taos, he set up dual residency in Taos and the Bay Area in Northern California, before moving back to his birthplace in Dublin, Ireland, to be with his mother before she died. The "temporariness" of life and death are even more on his mind since she died.
"I question what I am doing in the world," he said. "I've had a pretty profound experience in the last seven years. It gave me pause and led me to think about what I'm doing here on the planet … like, our time here is very short and what are we going to do with it?" He asks if his art can serve as a reminder of what really matters in the long run.
"Can the paintings be reminders of the truth - that we're on this planet and there's nature and the sky and the Earth and all these things that are unfolding; that we can get wrapped up in the minutiae of our daily lives - the computers, politics, etc. Can the art act as this reminder, saying, 'Wait a minute, let's go out and look at the sky, at the mountain, or just be with Mother Nature?' "
Berkeley asks of his viewers to be aware of what is going on inside while viewing his work, "in this very moment," he says, reiterating the title of his show, "what is happening within you when you're looking at a painting?" Viewers who choose to participate and write words or a sentence about what they experience will have their notes also on exhibit during the show's run through April.
A number of the paintings came out of a camping trip to Abiquiú and caused him to wonder whether his work can help a viewer become quiet, to allow nature to speak to us, to allow us to experience the "unfolding of this very cosmic display."
Magpie owner and artist Georgia Gersh admires how articulate Berkeley is.
"Seamus's work is classical, but really accessible," Gersh said about his art. As for the idea of the show asking about "being in the present," where some may think it a bit pretentious, she said that is not at all the case. "Seamus is just one of those artists who really wants to know what the viewer feels when they see a specific piece or the whole body of work."
In a recent statement about this show, Berkeley wrote:
"So this is the experiment: Can these paintings be created with the intention both of remembering the temporal nature of this moment and existence and also serve as a reminder for the viewer with the intent to evoke a moment of awe or pondering?"
Like most visual artists, he similarly finds painting to be a much closer expression of his experience of awe for the beauty he sees everywhere.
"There is just something fascinating about looking out the window from the studio in Taos," he continued in his poetic statement about the show. "There's that mountain, every day. Sometimes green, sometimes white, sometimes covered in clouds, sometimes partially obscured by foliage, sometimes not, sometimes grey, sometimes blue, sometimes red. And all the while, there it is. The mountain. Always there. Permanent ... or so it seems."
The temporariness of the "now" startles the typical mindlessness of habitual living into a deeper appreciation for the amazing transformations popping all around us, he said.
"There is just something ineffable about putting the notion of temporary existence together with that permanent mountain. What is it? Is it the shift in perception created by combining the two? Is it that I'm witnessing the mountain only in this very moment? Is that what adds a certain immediacy to the moment, this specificity of time: this being, in this place in a now that's never to be repeated?"
Berkeley has won several regional and national awards for his artwork. He is a member of the Oil Painters of America, and his work has been featured in Southwest Art, The Taos News (recently as the cover artist for December 2018's Taos Aglow), ArtTalk and Estes Park Trail-Gazette.
He has traveled worldwide to study firsthand the works of master painters. Some of his influences include Charles Cross, Nancy Guzik, Quang Ho, David Leffel, Ron Sherr, Richard Schmid and Teresa Vito.