Ewa Berg Sets the Stage

November 1, 2017 by

On paper, a set of players stand just a few paces apart. Their contours tell us they are facing stage left, one frozen mid-motion. While the players seem left out of focus, their surroundings are rather clear. The lead is backlit by a map of the local Binnewater terrain, their fellow character imprisoned within a graph.

Off the paper and on the silkscreen printing tables, artist-in-residence Ewa Berg left several neat stacks of bright white paper and, next to them, extensive collections of source material—maps, ruled paper, Xeroxed plants—and most notably the season’s first fallen black walnuts. Working in the moment, Ewa would pay close attention to how her screen design and ink choice would play across each unique monoprint.

“I can’t think out how everything will look beforehand,” she says, “I can only be very aware of what is happening when I print. How does this color work? What happens when I print this on top of that?”

For Ewa, walking into a new studio means setting for herself a new set of project rules. While on residency in Germany, for example, she challenged herself to complete one small painting daily. During her exchange residency from KKV Grafik studio to WSW, she collected bits of nature and visited nearby shops to find subjects for her prints. Xeroxed and burned onto separate screens, these findings transformed into layers of a Ewa’s scenery.

Halfway through our conversation, Ewa realized she accidentally said “overpainting” instead of “overprinting,” as both avenues in her practice connect through using color to flatten space. Her prints and paintings are populated by silhouetted figures and distinct details often pulled from domestic interiors; Ewa has entire series of outlines for teapots and chairs. The recent twist is the inclusion of office papers and templates mainly gathered from the dollar store and the Rosendale Library. Partly, they are unique to her time spent in America, slightly skewed from the measurements of products found in her home country of Sweden. Otherwise, these products allow her to integrate the rigid grids of business forms as a narrative device.

Between silkscreen and painting stands the natural intersection of collage—the middle ground of Ewa’s practice. Most of her figures live off the prints: her paper cutouts are often a stencil for silkscreens, but some are attached to the work later on. Although using these bare contours makes sense for planar medium of screenprint, it was curious that Ewa also employed this simplification with freehand painting. She explains that in this style, the scenes “can be read without having to read into details like a nose or eyes,” leaving gesture and stance as clues to the story.

There’s a paradigm in painting where shadowy forms, like those which cut through de Chirico’s geometric streetscapes, call for a stark composition. The depth and embellishment of Ewa’s work rejects this, allowing ornamentation to compete with players for the spotlight. Moreover, the saturation of detail from the artist’s hundreds of cutouts and patterns give her the means to suggest plots which play out within a set of predetermined visual parameters, much like the formal elements of drama. Hints which construct the scene are pulled from everyday realism but stylistically, often conceptually, layered. With this logic, a paper grid becomes a physical cage.

Ewa points out, “Our society is really like that, isn’t it? You have to fit a certain way and be exact—well, maybe not at Women’s Studio Workshop.”

While making her Rosendale-based prints, Ewa carried with her a piece of acetate smudged with ink samples. It helped her decide what the next color, energy or mood, would fit best over the stage. Some serve as highlights and shade: translucent and dim. Others, more solid, build the setting and frame or the trap her characters.

In the middle of it all, Ewa challenges viewers with one simple question: who (or what) steals the show?

Ewa Berg is an artist based in Malmö, Sweden. Through painting and silkscreen monoprinting she stages shadowy scenes based on domestic interiors, place-specific patterns, and recurring character silhouettes. Ewa holds her Masters in Art Pedagogy from Konstfack, Stockholm and has studied at Lunds University, Gothenburg University, and the San Francisco Art Institute.