Site Review: Ken Berman

Site Review: Ken Berman

Art and Architecture Intersect

By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
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Self portrait with Columbus Circle, 2015. Oil and colored pencil on canvas, 48” x 72”

On California artist Ken Berman’s homepage, his work is referred to as “the nexus of urban art and design.” He describes his designs as combining the energy of the urban environment with the mechanics of our modern age. Berman’s trajectory as an artist is an intriguing one, as he was first trained and licensed as an architect. But it is the very visual power of architectural and technical elements of our contemporary landscape that inspire his fine art works (seen also in WTP Vol. III #6).

Berman was first inspired by the raw energy and power of the old Bethlehem Steel Mills while an undergraduate architecture student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A few years later, while in graduate school, he had the opportunity to talk with Robert Rauschenberg at a book signing at the artist’s studio. That conversation about life as an artist provided the catalyst for Berman to begin his own fine-art career pursuing his artistic vision.

He describes himself as a self-taught “outsider” artist with industrial, architectonic, and mechanical influences. The term “outsider” is used loosely here, in reference to being self-taught. In contrast, he cites Georges Braque as his favorite artist, and classic Cubism, Constructivism, and Dadaism as primary influences. The traditional Cubist two-dimensional flatness created by hard-edge linear divisions of the composition is evident in the painting “First Amendment”:

Ken Berman, First Amendment, 2016. Oil and colored pencil on canvas, 20” x 20”

Berman’s paintings are not simply about machines. Rather, the machine represents a variety of human characteristics such as strength, power, and confidence. Thus each painting becomes a metaphor for the mechanics of our modern age and how that has affected our behaviors. Many of these attributes are reflected in his titles, as in “Going The Distance”:

Ken Berman, Going the Distance, 2016. Oil and colored pencil on canvas, 48” x 48”

The site also features Berman’s branded design work. A full line of extreme sport skateboards—“Bermanboards” are decorated with reproductions of his paintings:

A-Train Skateboard

And the form-follows-function of his architectural design training is evident in a line of contemporary rain harvesters:

“Red Hottie” Rain Harvester

Ken Berman is one of many architects who have chosen to become full-time visual artists, or pursue dual careers. A website cited in our last Art Bookmarks is dedicated to these artists, one of which is Berman. And he finally is clearly not an “outsider” when it comes to professional recognition. He has received many awards at adjudicated exhibitions, exhibited at the prestigious Sausalito Art Festival as well as ArtExpo New York, and several regional California art museums.

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