Interview: Michael Berryhill
by Claire Ruud
I saw (former Austinite) Michael Berryhill's debut exhibition in Chelsea last week while I was in New York. One evening, we had drinks, talked about the mixed review he got in the New York Times, and started a conversation that we finished later by email.
…might be good (mbg): First things first, because everybody talks about this when they see your paintings: the schizophrenic style. Some passages are quite messy, while others are incredibly controlled. What’s going on?
Michael Berryhill (MB): Sometimes while I’m making things my thinking is clear, and sometimes it's full of unknowns—doubts, really. I feel compelled to include a record of these doubts because they are part of the record of how the thing is made. Maybe the messy is the not-knowing and the control is the knowing. That’s a gross generalization, but something like that.
mbg: I enjoyed seeing your work at Horton & Liu and Elliot Green’s at D’Amelio Terras on the same afternoon. I was struck by the way both of you are playing with surrealist imagery, in particular. What kind of a conversation do you see occurring between your work and Green’s?
MB: Yes, I liked Green's paintings quite a bit, and I can see that we're both keepin’ it surreal. Surrealiously though, I think we're both attempting to create hyper-interpretable imagery that can bare endless viewings and still retain its ultimate mystery. Also, both of us are exploring the results of a painting being looked at, touched, changed and thought about by its maker. Other things would be in the conversation, too, things like memory, projection and misinterpretation.
mbg: Tell me what you mean by misinterpretation.
MB: I don't think of it as a failure if my ideas or my intentionality is not “readable.” This is part of a longer discussion about the fact that I don't think art functions through direct messages, anyway. Misinterpreting or misunderstanding something is the process by which we come to understand many things. Or, at the very least, a misinterpretation is often how we start to think about something. I want my work to be that kind of beginning point, part of that process.
mbg: What else have you seen recently that’s really piqued your interest?
MB: I really like the Vincent Fecteau show at Matthew Marks—strange paper mache sculptures that are in between sculpture and painting. Though I haven't seen it yet, Franklin Evans at Sue Scott Gallery looks interesting. And I'm really looking forward to the Watteau show at the Met—to seeing some of those early Eighteenth Century-style paintings of people playing guitars.
mbg: You play music, too, right? How do you understand the relationship between your painting and your music?
MB: Yes, though I would never call myself a musician. At least, I hope I’m a better painter than I am a guitar player. But I cannot explain how much I enjoyed the feeling of playing in a band. Yeah, the live shows were great, but the practicing—I loved the practicing. Practicing is basically what painting is like: going to the studio over and over, working on the jams. The main difference for me is that I make the stuff up in my paintings, but someone else has to do it for me in music (Steve Garcia of Diagonals—genius.)
mbg: What have you got on your iPod these days?
MB: The most played list on my iTunes says: Welcome (a band I found recently, they sound very late 90's and a little Polvo-ish), Polvo (the new one’s growing on me), The Rebel (they’re favorites of mine, though I like the Country Teasers more, and they’re basically the same band), Fiery Furnaces, Melvins, Sibylle Baier.
mbg: Any other questions you’d like to answer that you wish I’d asked?
MB: Not sure what the question would be, but the answer would go something like this. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that I want to be an artist the rest of my life. I know that practicing art could remain interesting to me for 40 or 50 years, but that means I will be relying on wealthy people and money in general, which is not interesting. I don’t mean that wealthy people aren't interesting or collecting isn't interesting. I mean that money and market values aren't interesting—not nearly as interesting as talking about what's in the work, or talking to other artists and writers about their work. It’s odd.
Claire Ruud is Assoicate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.