Continuing through April 1, 2017
When pictures of food were painted on the walls of Egyptian tombs, survivors believed that it would become real and edible for the dead in the afterlife. Ellen Berman’s extraordinary paintings of fruit, vegetables and domestic objects seem as though they, too, could come alive and provide nourishment. She has been focusing on still lifes her entire career and has become a master of the genre. Her up-close paintings of lemons, peaches, plums, blood oranges, pears and other fruit are luscious, glowing portraits. Likewise, the eggs and peppers in Berman’s paintings are more than inanimate objects. Highly illusionistic, richly colored, simple yet complex, they are objects of contemplation that represent the abundance of life.
In “Tangerines” two pieces of fruit are presented against a modulated background with just a hint of a horizon line. Berman captures the essence of the fruit, the Platonic ideal. The draftsmanship is exquisite, as is the way they catch and reflect the warm light, making them appear three-dimensional. Encapsulated in this small painting is all the sensuality of consuming a ripe piece of fruit. Berman directs us to appreciate the small, ordinary things in life — a cup of tea, a good book, a well-ordered kitchen, a verdant garden. In “Green Bowl and White Bowl” the two objects rest gleaming on a creamy surface, patiently waiting to be filled while casting subtle shadows and reflecting the light. One glimpses a bit of a reflected window inside the green bowl.
In the late 17th century the emerging popularity of still-life painting focused attention on handsome domestic objects and lovely interiors, as well as the diversions enjoyed during leisure time. Still-lifes could be discreetly coded with moralistic or spiritual messages regarding a vanitas theme or to ridicule corrupt aristocrats. But Berman’s paintings are more about life. In a statement about the work, she says, “I am interested in the notions of beauty, the extraordinariness of the ordinary, and the transitory nature of and inevitability of loss inherent in everything.” Her depictions of one or two pieces of fruit, a bowl, or a tea cup can be seen as metaphors for life and death, but they can also be enjoyed simply as objects of beauty. When one is contemplating Berman’s domestic portraits, all seems well with the world.