In the Studio: Mia Bergeron
Mia Bergeron has made major strides as painter over the last decade, and this Chattanooga, Tennessee artist appears poised to turn yet another pivotal corner in the coming year. Playing and experimenting with representation, abstraction, and various types of media, while simultaneously freeing her schedule to focus on important commissions, Bergeron is learning the fine art of taking charge of her career and creating on her own terms. With the high level of talent, curiosity, and colorful imagination this artist continues to bring to the canvas, it will be exciting to see the course she charts for herself in the years ahead. It was a joy to catch up with Bergeron this February and find out some of the thoughts behind her latest works of art, as well as her plans for 2018 and beyond.
AM: It's exciting to see how you have been experimenting with new media (acrylic), tools (palette knife), and styles (abstract). Does this new year feel like a fresh start for you?
MB: Yes! I've had some pretty significant shifts happening at the end of 2017 and so far in 2018. I've been given a bit of financial freedom with some larger commissions, and because of this, I feel invigorated to approach painting from different angles. I've also enrolled in several workshops this year with painters I admire to try to push myself creatively outside of my own limits.
AM: Please describe the process and thinking behind the still life painting that is currently on the easel.
MB: I took a break from painting for the holidays, and whenever I come back, it's important for me to go slowly and put one foot in front of the other. Instead of trying to set up a still life more formally, or with a lot of heavy content, I worked with what was right in front of me to lead me back to a daily painting routine. This still life was a bunch of paper clippings and tools I use in the studio mixed with plates and bowls I had abandoned in a more formal still life. I liked the abstraction of the paper and the colors. There's even the remnants of a plastic six-pack water-bottle holder that I had cut up. My brain has a tendency to go way ahead of my hand when I haven't been in a routine, so painting something, anything really, is a good way for me to get grounded again. This was that exercise. I also like that it's kind of a quiet, normal, somewhat mundane scene - it's the honest stuff that's in my studio, the stuff I live with every day.
AM: Did the abstract painting Search Party initially begin as an underpainting and then you decided to leave it abstract? This painting isn't haphazard drips and drabs, it's clear you were intentional about the placement of colors and shapes - it's vety well-designed. Do you find that abstract painting is in some ways more difficult than representational painting?
MB: I think of representational painting and abstract painting as ultimately being the same thing. Both are difficult! This was another experiment with materials and process. I used acrylics as the base layer for the painting. I like that they dry so quickly. I also seem to have less "rules" about acrylics, since I haven't used them as much. This painting started as a sketch of flames, a theme I am working with at the moment. The great thing about painting something several times is that you start to understand what is inherent to that subject specifically. Because I've painted a lot of flames, I sort of know how they look and what they can do. I don't need to use reference photos anymore, I can play with them out of my head. This is very freeing for me, and in this painting, I wanted to look at flames abstractly, mostly as a grouping. Trying to organize them in an interesting and cohesive way was a challenge, and by the end I had abandoned the thought of making them look like flames, and decided that the abstraction was more interesting.
AM: What draws you to the frequently explored subjects of flames and fire?
MB: Flames as a subject started for me in 2016 in a painting called Les Feux Follets. I had started this large painting with a figure behind a bunch of lit candelabras on a table, and a birthday cake in front of her. I had worked on it quite a bit, but I just wasn't happy with the implied narrative: a girl looking at you from behind a birthday cake felt too cliché and trite. In a somewhat cannibalistic moment, I wiped out pretty much everything in the painting, except for this one flame that I really liked. I put the reference photo away, and decided to just paint flames, since the narrative I was after seemed to lay in the flames more than in any figure I was trying to impose. I really followed my gut on that painting, even though it was scary to obliterate weeks worth of time. From there, I found flames to be really haunting and interesting - there are so many ways to paint a subject and, for me, flames haven't gotten old or tedious yet, so I just keep studying them.
AM: Over the last year or so, children have made an appearance in a few of your paintings. It seems to coincide with a season in your work of more playfulness, experimentation, and freedom. Are the children symbolic in any way?
MB: The children in my work come from two different places. Symbolically, yes, there is a whimsy and a curiosity that children have that I'm hoping to reflect a bit in my work. Logistically, I'm at an age when all of my friends, and in turn many of my models, are having children. Because I don't want children myself, I see kids as a unique challenge - painting them sweetly doesn't interest me, but as subjects, they can be wonderful at portraying contrast. The juxtaposition of something innocent and vulnerable such as a child in a setting that is harsh or even mysterious is really interesting to me.
AM: Were your artistic talents and tendencies nurtured from a young age? Are your parents and other family members artistic as well?
MB: I am very lucky to have grown up in a family of artists. My parents are graphic designers by profession. My maternal grandmother is a painter, as was my great grandmother. I think if I had decided to be a doctor my parents would have been disappointed! Drawing was something I grew up doing, both as a way to make friends and also to have something to do privately. I've pretty much always drawn things from life as well - I wasn't the kid who drew imaginary superheroes. I could spend hours drawing a tree in our back yard. It never occurred to me that I would do anything other than something creative.
AM: I know that in your 20s you pursued atelier training in Florence. The more you move along in your journey and career, do you see that initial traditional training as having served you well in later years?
MB: In some ways, I both loved and hated my time in Italy. I can now see in hindsight that atelier training is absolutely unnecessary. I think for many people, the regimented rules in an atelier can hinder them, and so many artists never move away from their training later on. That said, the eight-hour days of painting from life every day for three years was absolutely necessary for me. Painting from life that much taught me to paint. And for that, I will forever be grateful to my training. But I'm not sure you have to go all the way to Italy to be a painter. Painting is discipline. And I think wherever you find that discipline and time to just paint as much as possible, that's all the training you need. I don't think there's much of a way around that - painting well takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work.
AM: Where do you go to "fill up" when you need inspiration? What other art forms or aspects of life motivate you?
MB: Museums are one of the best places for me to recharge my creative battery. My sister lives in New York, so I go often and spend time in the museums and galleries. There's really nothing like seeing art in person. There is a depth and tangibility there that you just don't get on social media. That said, I also love following artists on Instagram, and get a lot of inspiration from my peers. My biggest source of inspiration, however, is just life. If I'm quiet and pay attention, and I don't impose myself too much on my surroundings, I find that life is constantly giving me little clues to its beauty and complexity. The challenge for me is being quiet enough to hear and see it.
AM: What was your highlight moment of 2017? What plans or projects are you looking forward to in 2018?
MB: My highlight for 2017 was getting married! There's nothing that will top that. I married my best friend, and the support and love that come from that relationship carry me through all the other parts of my life. I'm really looking forward to 2018 - I have a large commission I'm working on for a wine maker in Napa Valley, I'm working with Hilton for some paintings in a hotel in London, and I'm giving myself a lot of time and room to make paintings at my own speed. My goal is to avoid feeling overwhelmed or rushed. I'm also taking classes with Nicolás Uribe and Alex Kanevsky this year, which is very exciting for me.
All photos this article courtesy the artist