Ciel Bergman: The Linens

The Center for Contemporary Arts is pleased to present The Linens, an exhibition of paintings by Ciel Bergman in the Tank Garage.
February 9 - April 29, 2018

The Linens are a series of 48 acrylic paintings on unstretched Belgian linen made between the years of 1970 - 77 by Ciel Bergman. The series ranges from a starkly minimal aesthetic that defines the Spiritual Guide Map portion, to bold, graphic colors and vague abstractions to representations that explore ideas of philosophy, sexuality, and physicality. This exhibition features a selection of the series - more than have ever been shown together at one time - and the foundations of a prolific and inspired artist.

Bergman created the paintings in her studio in Berkeley, and in Eugene, OR where she was an assistant professor. The Linens mark a clear departure from the surreal and representational compositions that define her earlier works. In the midst of exploring the evolving mediums of the time - airbrush and acrylic paints - she began a process to ‘empty’. Bergman wrote, “The first efforts to ‘empty’ were made on small sheets of rag paper on a small drawing table… I worked very hard and found it painful and challenging to suppress all signifying imagery. When the work became so empty that I had no idea where I was located in time or space, I felt I could begin the ‘Guide Maps’.”

The ‘Spiritual Guide Maps’ are indeed the most empty and minimalist of the entire series and also correlate with a time in Bergman’s life when she was in some ways, starting anew. These early linens were made with the new material Rhoplex A-33, an acrylic bonding medium which was applied in thick, broad layers, causing the drying process to influence the final painting. Duchamp’s influence on Bergman became very clear to her in this early stage, “I was writing across the fields, locked into a long distance, imaginary discourse with Duchamp whom I had been intellectually hypnotized by and enchanted by for several years.” Two years into the project she travelled to New Mexico and met Georgia O’Keeffe, further influencing her pursuit of ‘emptiness’ and spiritual connection to her artistic practice.

By 1973 the series began to shift away from the starkness of the Spiritual Guide maps as more recognizable symbols began to appear in the compositions. “Rrose Selavy (Female alter ego of Duchamp) continued to be a very large Presence during the creation of the work. Because of the cognitive and philosophical dialogue between us plagued my mind, filling me with questions, doubt, puzzlement, intrigue, the signifiers began to return against my choice.”

The Linens grow and evolve dramatically over the seven years she created them; Nearly every painting a conversation with or homage to one of the several major influencers who shaped Bergman as an artist. The gesture is at once grateful and profound. The Linens take the viewer on a journey through self-discovery and graciousness, intellectualism and beauty, surrender and sheer will.

Ciel Bergman (1938 - 2017, formerly Cheryl Bowers) was known primarily as a West Coast and New Mexico-based painter. She grew up in the Bay Area and had little exposure to art with the exception of visits to the DeYoung in San Francisco, where she gained exposure to the art of East Asia. At the age of 19 she married and moved to Germany at the time of the building of the Berlin wall. While there she visited as many of the major art museums as she could, and in turn, educated herself in the masters of Western Art. It was during this time of educational exploration that she discovered the work and criticism of Marcel Duchamp, who became a mainstay as a creative and intellectual influence throughout Bergman’s career.

Upon her return to the states, she took up private lessons and dedicated herself to the study of drawing and painting. In 1970 she enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute for graduate studies, and simultaneously began The Linens. At age 32 while raising two small children on her own, she was going through an era of self-discovery and establishment as an artist.

Not long after graduating, she was offered a lectureship appointment at UC Berkeley where she met and became friends with the art critic and historian Peter Selz. In 1972, Bergman and Selz took a trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico, where they visited with Georgia O’Keeffe. The five-hour meeting confirmed Bergman’s path as an artist. Bergman never forgot their conversation and cites it as one of most influential moments in her life and career.

Although The Linens were never shown in their entirety, several individual works won prestigious awards such as the Society for the Encouragement of the Creative Arts (S.E.C.A.), Awarded by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Two paintings were exhibited as part of the 1975 Whitney Biennial, and in turn, launched a successful painting career for many years. She joined the faculty of UC Santa Barbara as a tenured Full Professor and remained there for 18 years while continuing to exhibit nationally and internationally.

In 1994 Bergman relocated from Santa Barbara, CA to New Mexico where she followed in the footsteps of her one time mentor, Georgia O’Keeffe by building a studio at the base of Cerro Pedernal near Abiquiu. During these years she retreated and lived a relatively quiet and contemplative life, exhibiting sporadically, but continued to paint prolifically. In 2006 she moved to Santa Fe where she flourished as an integral part of the arts community until her untimely death in January 2017.

The idea for exhibiting The Linens came about in early 2016 and was confirmed that Spring with the Center for Contemporary Arts Curator Angie Rizzo. Up until her death, Bergman and Rizzo worked together to plan the exhibition of a series of paintings that launched her career and created the foundation of her life as an artist.

Image: Poetry Plagued by Comprehension, 1974