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Christine Berry: Resurgence in abstraction is led by women

August 2, 2016 // by Denise M. Reagan

Christine Berry and Martha Campbell launched their gallery to bring attention to the works of a selection of postwar and contemporary artists and revealing how these artists have advanced ideas and lessons in powerful and new directions. Berry Campbell provided five paintings by Jill Nathanson for MOCA Jacksonville's Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction. Berry traveled to Jacksonville to see the exhibition, and we asked her a few questions.

Jill Nathanson Discusses Fluid Measure a
Jill Nathanson talks with MOCA Jacksonville members in front of her painting Fluid Measure. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? 

I grew up in a small town in Western New York State outside of Rochester called Geneseo. My father was a professor of speech communications and public relations at the State University there. I received my undergraduate degree in art history from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and received my master's degree in art history and museum studies at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.

I can thank my parents for introducing me to art through museum visits and books. Both of my parents were teachers, so it wasn't that I grew up with art in my home, but it was part of my overall education. When I arrived at college, I planned on studying business. As I was registering for classes, I saw “Art History 101” and thought that could be a fun elective. The first day of class, I sat in a cool dark auditorium; as the professor dimmed down the lights, a Vermeer painting appeared on the screen. At that very moment, I didn't know what one did with an art history degree, but I was going to do whatever it was!

In graduate school, I interned at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which eventually turned in to a job. From there, I went on to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Later, I moved into the commercial art world.

Christine Berry Discusses Jill Nathanson Lightweight b
Christine Berry discusses Jill Nathanson's Lightweight at the members' preview for Confronting the Canvas. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

How did you first become acquainted with Jill Nathanson and her work?

When we started the gallery and were adding artists to our roster, a prominent art historian and critic suggested we visit Jill's studio. At first, we were doing a favor but then went to Jill's studio and were blown away by her work--and liked her, too! Soon thereafter, she was included in a group exhibition, and we saw how good her paintings looked on gallery walls. We knew we wanted to work with her and invited her to join the gallery.

Tell us about Jill's first solo show at the gallery.

Like museums, our gallery exhibition schedule is confirmed a minimum of one year in advance. Jill had time to create paintings and pick the best of the best in preparation for her solo show. She made paintings in various sizes--big and small--for our gallery walls. In my view as a gallerist, Jill's works encompass something for everyone, and we nearly sold out the show. She also received critical acclaim, as the show was reviewed by Piri Halasz in the New York Observer.

Why is Jill's work relevant today?

Jill takes the age-old tradition of painting and makes it modern. Her technical abilities in working and pouring paint are unrivaled. She has finessed her process over the years, and her signature style is unique. Needless to say, her color relationships are delicate and complicated all at once. She is working the tradition of great color artists like Paul Jenkins, Darby Bannard, Larry Poons, and Helen Frankenthaler

Jill Nathanson Christine Berry Confronting the Canvas Members Preview c
Jill Nathanson and Christine Berry attend the members' preview for Confronting the Canvas in June 2016. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

What's your role to further Jill's career? 

Our job at Berry Campbell is to support Jill in any way that keeps her focused on making the best work possible, whether that is financially or emotionally. We continue to introduce her paintings to new audiences through sales, social media, advertising, gallery, art fair exhibitions, and of course, museum shows.

How does Jill's work align with Confronting the Canvas?

First of all, congratulations to Jaime DeSimone for curating a show that is one of the best I've seen in a long time. She's gathered together an array of artists working in various media and styles but makes it work coherently in the catalog and on the Museum walls. Jill fills the gap by showing a “softer,” more meditative side of abstraction with the pouring and layering of paint. Her paintings have a thickness to them but are also light in feel. She has perhaps the lightest feel in the show.

What are your impressions of the other artists' work in Confronting the Canvas?

This is an amazing group of painters! From the energetic brushwork of Fran O'Neill to the sprays of Keltie Ferris, each artist holds her own and brings something different to the table.

Jill Nathanson Stroke Breathe d
Jill Nathanson's Stroke/Breathe is one of her five paintings in Confronting the Canvas. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

Do you think there is a need for an all-women exhibition like Confronting the Canvas?

We represent many women artists at Berry Campbell. Artists such as Perle Fine and Charlotte Park were exceptional Abstract Expressionist painters, but for whatever reason, didn't quite get their due in their lifetimes. Both are powerful painters and hold up to their contemporaries and friends from the period. It is important to bring to light those who are overshadowed for whatever reason. Confronting the Canvas at MOCA Jacksonville is highlighting six major painters living and working today in the contemporary art world.  I think the curator's inspiration was an understanding that this is a special moment in the history of abstract painting. There's a huge resurgence of interest in abstraction within the art world, and much of the best of it is by women. This exhibition beautifully encapsulates the excitement of this moment.

How would you rate the Confronting the Canvas exhibition?

Blown away! This show is worth traveling to see. I think it is one of the best exhibitions going on in this country right now.

How will Confronting the Canvas affect Jill's career?

We are always working on legacy building for our artists, and a museum show like this helps push that forward. This is a well-deserved honor and opportunity for Jill Nathanson. This show is particularly well-timed, as Jill is hitting a major stride. 

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