Five Questions for Tina Berning on “The Passengers”

The artist talks with NYAB about her evocative illustration work, her second NYC solo show, and her sold out new book “100 Girls on Cheap Paper.”

poster for Tina Berning

Tina Berning "The Passengers"

at gallery hanahou
in the Soho area
This event has ended - (2009-09-11 - 2009-10-09)

In Reviews by Teri Duerr 2009-09-21 print

Tina Berning's ''The Passengers'' at gallery hanahou. Image courtesy of gallery hanahou.

Artist Tina Berning was recently in New York for the opening of her second NYC solo show, “The Passengers,” at gallery hanahou now through October 10, 2009. “Tina’s paintings and drawings are simply amazing and must be seen in person,” said gallery hanahou’s Anna Hrachovec. “The Passengers” is the latest manifestation of Berning’s evocative drawings, which grew out of the artist’s Munich show “The Listeners” held at Gallery Andreas Binder earlier this year. It also follows on the heels of Berning’s sold out new book “100 Girls on Cheap Paper.”

Could you please tell us a little bit about your newest show?

“The Passengers” formulates images of the human body, its inadequacy, and its fundamental relation to self-determination. I use my paintings and drawings as carriers to extricate subjects from the contemporary alienated incapacitation. Codes and matrices blanket faces, streaks of color lie like shadows over the delicate silhouettes. Interventions that follow my study open the plainness of schemes into the ambiguity of expression. I am making subtle corrections to the standard, uniform face and figure, enabling a look of physical expressiveness to return. Even when they appear fragile and vulnerable, the faces and images of the people take on a form that is more resistive.

We heard that the first printing of your book “100 Girls on Cheap Paper” has already sold out. Congratulations. Some of the elements in your rendering techniques of the women in “100 Girls” and the works in “The Passengers” are similar, but the subjects are different. How do these two relate (or not) to one another and the larger themes of your work?

“100 Girls on Cheap Paper” is a very personal approach to womanhood, beauty, and female hubris. However it obviously shows something common that touches many people. It is the quality of drawing in general that omission leaves space for imagination. I start to tell a story and the viewer can complete it. The response to “100 Girls on Cheap Paper” encouraged me to do exhibitions again.

My main object of interest in drawing is the figure. I’ve tried it all: landscape, cats and dogs, still life, but I always stuck with [the human] figure. The human body, its perception, its inadequacy, and its fundamental relation to self-determination. “100 Girls on Cheap Paper” is about women and their effigy in conflict with the individual subject. In my previous shows, as well as in “The Passengers,” I added another perspective to this position: the observer. You find solitary individuals taken out of their medial context, observed by individuals, drowned in crowds shown in the group pictures. It is an interplay of exhibitionism and voyeurism. Whereas in “100 Girls” you saw 100 individuals, the new work is about a correspondence between the images. I Imagine the inhabitants of “The Passengers” whispering with each other at night, when they are unobserved at gallery hanahou.

From where do you draw your inspiration or influences?

For my research I flip through everything I can find: magazines, photo books from the flea market, old postcards, whatever. Suddenly I start getting obsessed with something; in this case an old group picture from the beginning of photography. The people are captured motionless, sometime, somewhere, and all of a sudden, they stare back at you reanimated from a long time ago. A lot of my influences are taken from books I find at the flea market, like “Women in Paris” from 1956, or my latest treasure, a french book about Russian lubok, popular prints from the late 19th century.

Some of your pieces include a single word: “repulsion,” “revolution,” “think.” At what point in the process does this aspect enter into your illustration?

In my work I play a lot with associations. While I am drawing I am listening to music, and suddenly, a word turns up that is exactly what I am drawing in that moment, or that gives the image a new turn when I add it. The words are traces of my perception while drawing. Some words reveal an entry [point] to the subject of the drawings, some are signs of a further layer of meaning that can also be solved subjectively. Only the viewers are in a position to do this.

Tina Berning, ''The Passengers Vine Street'' (2009). 32 x 24 cm, China Ink and Gouache. Image courtesy gallery hanahou.Tina Berning, ''The Passengers III'' (2009). 32 x 23.5 cm, China Ink on paper. Image courtesy of gallery hanahou.

Your work has a strong fashion and glamour feel to it. Are these elements a big part of your own life?

As my main object of drawing is figure, clothes are always a part of my drawings, as the apparel of a figure. I love fashion, not for the brands (I am somebody who spends hours, erasing logos from sunglasses with fine sandpaper…), but for the system itself, the cultural indication, and the aesthetic possibilities. I am interested in the interplay of volume and lines, the architecture of wrapping, and the expression of disguise. From my illustration work I am used to following fashion. Consequently, the cultural aspect to me is more exciting than the flashlight glamour feeling of it. I love natural-born glamour, something that can’t be bought. If I had time, I would promptly do my own fashion collection like I did it when I was still studying.

It is great to see New York fashion in the streets when walking around. Berlin, where I live, has a very funny approach to fashion. It is like how a lot of things work in Germany: Take part, but never, ever admit you do so. It’s a kind of culture of understatement that does not always work, and often scatters the joy of it. But the nice effect is, that you are never underdressed in Berlin.

Tina Berning’s website
CWC International’s “An Interview with Tina Berning”

Gallery goers at the opening reception of ''The Passengers.'' Image courtesy gallery hanahou.

Teri Duerr

Teri Duerr. Teri lives in Brooklyn where she co-runs Horse+Dragon NYC, a boutique agency that puts creative talents to work on publicity, editing, design, and events/exhibitions for artists, writers and nonprofit friends. She has spent much of the last year launching publicity campaigns for films at Tribeca, Sundance, SXSW, MoMA, and for television broadcast. In addition to being a contributing editor for the highly dubious culture publication Chief Magazine, and a book reviews editor for Mystery Scene, she spent four years as director and editorial mentor for the Minneapolis teen girls’ magazine Chicas in the Mix, followed In 2000 by editor in chief posts at events & culture magazines Tokyo Scene and Kansai Scene in Japan. Her editorial and photo production work has appeared in places like Best Life, The Source, Men’s Health, Organic Style, Vogue Korea, Vogue China, and most recently Tom Tom Magazine and CODE. » See other writings


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