Stefan Berg: Still Lives of Architecture
Berg's work focuses on the shifting Toronto landscape where nature and architecture meet; the Gardiner, Don Valley, and the 1970s apartment complexes the Main Square and the Crescent Town Towers. Each painting takes months to complete and is painted from life, therefore the subject shifts multiple times in the course of a painting. The result is work that embodies the themes of urbanization, gentrification, and climate.
The view out of Stefan Berg’s studio window is of an apartment complex built in 1972. The four buildings, each of various heights, form the Main Square. Berg repeatedly returns to this configuration of architecture in his paintings. His interest lies in the practical, tangible, elements of the Main Square apartments: how the brick absorbs sunlight, the way the buildings’ cast shadows on each other, the space between the towers that give way to the sky.
Similar to the prevalence of the view out his studio window, Berg is drawn to subjects that are significant in his life. He paints scenes from his lived experience that are imbued with memory and nostalgia. For this reason, most of his landscapes are of the east end of Toronto where he lives. The subject shifts over the course of a painting, resulting in work that captures the constantly changing nature of the city, seasons, and light. The evidence of time is visible in the surface of the painting: layers of paint and re-working captures the temporality of the subject.
As the viewer scans the surfaces of Berg’s paintings, past days, months and years reveal themselves. In 2010, Berg’s first solo show included paintings of the Main Square and the Gardiner Expressway. Now, nearly ten years later, the Main Square is now in its 16th variation. As a result, the paintings in Still Lives of Architecture depict Toronto landscape today, yesterday, last year, and ten years ago. Each variation is informed by the previous versions, as Berg revisits the subject layering onto the canvas another day’s deliberate observations. These paintings depict a time which is neither the past nor the present, but rather a prolonged time condensed in an instant. The buildings and structures we call architecture lead very still lives, like bricks set in mortar; yet, when seen through Berg’s eyes, in different light and across time, these still lives become something active, something moving.
Stefan Berg received a BFA from OCAD University in 2008. His work has been exhibited in Canada and the United States with positive reviews in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Telegram Journal. He is the recipient of several awards, including the Solomon Painting Award and Eric Freifeld Award, and grants from The Canadian Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, and The Toronto Arts Council, support he gratefully acknowledges.
Stefan Berg has two solo exhibitions in Toronto in 2019: Still Lives of Architecture, March 2 - April 8, at United Contemporary; followed by Three Motifs, April 6 - June 30, at the historical Montgomery Inn Museum. His work will also be included in the Art Gems art auction in Toronto on April 16th, and the Haugesund International Artistic Relief Print Festival in Norway, May 10 - August 4, 2019.
The Main Square to Berg is what bottles were to Morandi. A still life of architecture.