By Katarina Hybenova
“Brooklyn is so brown when compared to Manhattan,” says Andrea Bergart when leaning on the fence at a pier. Manhattan looks like a toy city; you could just reach and touch the plastic buildings. Brooklyn, on the other hand, looks like its humble brother. The wind is fierce; our hair is flying around; the seagulls shriek as they are flying around. There are strange places in New York, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal is certainly one of them.
Andrea lives in Ridgewood, but as an artist in residency at Chashama uses a subsidized studio in an enormous fortress of Brooklyn Army Terminal at Sunset Park. The building is partially occupied by Chashama artists; partially is empty; and according to rumors, it partially serves as a storage for governmental super-secret documents…
Andrea loves it there. She has been in her studio since last May, and she can’t wait for the summer. She says the closeness to the water makes her feel connected to nature. It is a bit ironic because the building itself is a huge concrete giant, and the neighboring vacated industrial buildings couldn’t be any less natural. But there is something serene and beautiful about the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
Andrea is a painter who has a great eye for colors and pattern. She has spent a lot of time in Western Africa painting murals and learning about textiles there. Her paintings are fresh and energetic; her vivid colors won’t let you idle. She uses a lot of imagery and techniques she remembers from her childhood – a pattern from an old coloring book; zebra and leopard patterns; she makes pearl bead necklaces and scratches patterns into acrylic paint over crayon drawings…. She is one of the artists in Mushroom Universe at Bushwick Gallery, and I had a couple of questions….
How do you select the materials you’re using? From pearl beads to friendship bracelets….
A lot of it is a return to my suburban upbringing – all the things I used to play with. I was always beading, braiding or weaving. Throughout my whole childhood, I was occupied with some kind of a craft. It seems natural to continue that. Additionally, I have always been making jewelry along the painting and drawing, so it seems natural to have my patterns translate across the media. Also weaving or beading designs help me generate the imagery…
Can you describe your drawings? How do you make these?
I love this stuff! I have been thinking about doing this for months. And there is an element of surprise to them! I just create different patterns or movements with crayons, without thinking. AI make several drawings at the same time, cover them with black or blue paint and then quickly forget which pattern is hidden beneath. When I start drawing into them with an exacto knife or a pushpin I realize which drawing I am working with. The surprise reminds me a little bit of printmaking…
How did you end up in Ghana?
I first ended up in Ghana studying bead making for a semester in college. After graduate school, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study patterns found in textiles, bead making, sign painting. It was an incredible year traveling throughout most of West Africa. I often travelled with bead traders on ancient bead trading routes taking me from Ghana to Timbuktu to Nigeria… I completed acouple of murals with Ghanaian painters and designed textiles with a major textile company that producestextiles for all of West Africa. That experience was incredible! Just generating patterns for a specific audience was great. Thinking: “This is for Nigeria, this is for Togo…” Every country had a little bit of a different design…. The company would reference traditional weaving but also try to make it contemporary… That was really great.
Last December, I went to do another mural in the neighborhood of North Keneshie which is located in Accra.
How did they accept you there as a foreign female making a mural?
Men control all the street painting. You would never see woman paint on the street. Also it’s a profession that is completely married with advertising, it is all utilitarian. So to see a mural painted by a painter not commercially invested is so strange to them… They were stopping by and asking: “What is this? Who paid you to do this?” I collaborated with a couple of sign painters there, and referenced imagery from local garments, children’s murals, and personal textile designs. Everyone loved it and wanted to help.
Now in May, I am going to South Africa to visit the Ndebele who have a long tradition of women painting their homes with geometric patterns. Their designs are amazing!