Play­ing with Shape & Form

Arabella - - CLAUDE LANGEVIN - writ­ten by Mark Bla­grave

Sculp­tor Grant Berg found his medium while get­ting on with other as­pects of his life. He was work­ing in sales for a coun­try mu­sic ra­dio sta­tion in Grande Prairie Al­berta when he pur­chased chal­lenge of build­ing and land­scap­ing his own house and gar­den. As he tells it, he had ac­quired the tools for cut­ting stone, “play­ing with shape and form” as he built a water­fall, around him. He re­ports that then “a local artist sug­gested I try sculpt­ing and gave me a piece of Ital­ian soap­stone. In that one piece I be­came ex­hil­a­rated; af­ter decades of search­ing for my Look­ing far­ther back, Grant re­calls scout trips where he used hatchet and scout knife to give new form to tree stumps. Even today, he in­sists that: “it starts with a qual­ity knife. I use power tools but the knife is the con­nec­tion to the medium’s roots.”

Group-of-Seven Style with Cree In­flu­ence

Grant's fam­ily back­ground had a strong in­flu­ence on his de­vel­op­ment as an artist. He claims Nor­we­gian, Bri­tish, Scot­tish, and Cree an­ces­try. His grand­mother Berg was a painter, but it was his grand­mother Strat­ton whose spirit per­haps most in­fuses his work. A Cree woman who mar­ried a Scot­tish trap­per, she was, in Grant’s words: “the most beau­ti­ful soul I ever met.” For her, art and life were com­pletely in­ter­twined. He re­calls, as a boy, help­ing her cre­ate wildlife pieces from drift­wood and plas­tic an­i­mals and trees for sale at the famers’ mar­ket. “In a spir­i­tual sense,” he says, “I want my grand­par­ents to con­tinue to be proud…. i like to think that the best of each of them lives in me every day and I want to be bet­ter for them.” His Cree grand­mother made it through what Grant de­scribes as “the storm” of a dif­fi­cult pe­riod for in­dige­nous peo­ples in Canada “with class and grace,” mak­ing his “in­dige­nous ex­pe­ri­ence… one of beauty and of strength” while he ac­knowl­edges that many oth­ers were not nearly so for­tu­nate. One way in which Grant hon­ours his grand­mother is by “creat­ing my Canada in a Group of Seven style on his work Lawren Har­ris and Emily Carr. “Lawren Har­ris’s work is very sculp­tural,” he ob­serves. “I love how he can take a three-di­men­sional scene and con­vert it two-di­men­sion­ally…. what I work for is to bring those forms back into their

nat­u­ral three-di­men­sional form with a large part Lawren Har­ris, mixed with Emily Carr and then the In­dige­nous spirit and un­der­stand­ing to bring these trees alive with po­etic forms.”

Firm Bases

Among his men­tors Grant Berg counts Dou­glas Cou­p­land. The two met when Cou­p­land ex­pressed an in­ter­est in Berg’s work. “He gave me some artists to look up and he told me to fo­cus on the trees…he said, ‘be the tree guy, it will put your kids through col­lege’” Also from Cou­p­land, Grant learned to look for in­spi­ra­tion from the spirit of a place, rather than try­ing to copy its phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion. He sum­ma­rizes it like this: “Study the place, get in there and get a feel for it and then leave it Although Grant has ex­per­i­mented with stain­less steel, fur­ther ad­vice he had from Dou­glas Cou­p­land con­tin­ues to guide him. That is to keep us­ing nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. “Stone many colours and can be shaped so that the use of other ma­te­ri­als of­ten isn’t nec­es­sary.” The or­ganic whole­ness of his pieces ex­tends even to their bases: “My bases are also part of the sculp­ture. I tried the wal­nut or mar­ble square bases but ab­so­lutely hated them, so I de­stroyed

them and found in­cor­po­rat­ing the base into the greater piece was what I loved and com­pletes the piece hon­estly for me.” The base must be to scale and com­ple­ment the colour of the piece. “I want to lead your eye and will trim and shape [the base] to lead in or away from the tree.”

The Grind

Grant prefers to start with a raw piece of tri­an­gu­lar stone. The shape al­lows him to har­ness in his three-di­men­sional work the power of tri­an­gles as they op­er­ate through per­spec­tive lines in two-di­men­sional work. “Nat­u­ral stone,” he says, “also gives me a di­rec­tion to run with. and start cut­ting.” Us­ing an­gle grinders with and shadow is go­ing to play with the cuts.” The sec­ond face of the stone is de­vel­oped to left,” he says, “the fun is re­act­ing to both sides to tie it all to­gether in a rel­e­vant and beau­ti­ful way.” Once the piece is shaped, he takes Ital­ian tak­ing hours to com­plete. A small por­tion of the un­der­stand that it was once a rock,” Grant notes. Work­ing in stone is a noisy and dirty en­ter­prise. Grant re­ports that “I do wear full cov­er­age gog­gle, res­pi­ra­tor, ma­jor hear­ing pro­tec­tion and then layer up,” but, he ad­mits: “the dust does dry me out and no mat­ter how many lay­ers, it still seems to get ev­ery­where.” When he lived out­side of town, he was able to sculpt out of doors with Pre­vi­ous Page, Raven’s Rest, Mon­tana Soap­stone, Antler, found stone, 21-1/2”H x 27”W x 20”D This Page, Bow Falls Spruce, Chlo­rite, Yel­low Wave Py­ro­phylitte, 24”H x 25”W x 12”D

no fears that neigh­bours would be both­ered by the noise of the power tools. Now he is back in Grande Prairie, he has a smaller stu­dio and works in­doors. Pol­ish­ing of pieces is of­ten done in his gallery win­dow. He de­scribes his stu­dio space as “a dis­as­ter area of stone, dust and tools… not a ro­man­tic space at all.” But he also has a home art and ar­chi­tec­ture and works of art on the walls.

Find­ing a gallery that is a good fit, Grant ob­serves, can be a lit­tle like a jazz player try­ing to au­di­tion at a rock bar. His ad­vice for artists both sides. Also get out there and build a name and brand. If you ex­pect some­one else to do that for you, you will be wait­ing for­ever. Get in­volved with the local pub­lic gallery, sub­mit for pub­lic

In re­leas­ing that spirit from the stone, he is truly hon­our­ing his grand­mother’s legacy. ex­hi­bi­tions and build a net­work.” Grant sums up his ideal artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence this way: “I love be­ing ro­manced by a work of art, whether it’s a song or paint­ing, pho­to­graph, sculp­ture, jew­ellery. Does it make my heart race? Do the lines se­duce me? Can I feel the pas­sion and emo­tion that went into it?” He re­ports that “to my knowl­edge, I am the only one do­ing stone sculp­ture of trees, let alone the in­dige­nous spirit in­fused in them.”

To see more of the work of Grant Berg please visit his gallery.

Grant Berg Gallery

Grande Prairie, AB www.grant­ 587.259.6333

left page above, South Dunes Spruce, Chlo­rite, Yel­low Wave Py­ro­phylitte, 12-l/2”h x 12”W x 5”D left page mid­dle, Pre­vail­ing Winds, Chlo­rite, Henna lime­stone, 11-3/4”H x 8”W x 6”D right, Roche Mi­ette – Jasper, Chlo­rite, Yel­low Wave Py­ro­phylitte, 12-l/2”h x 13-1/2”W x 9-1/2”D

left, Calm af­ter the Storm, Ital­ian Mar­ble, 14-1/2”H x 13”W x 8”D right top, There’s a Storm Movin ’In, Brazil­ian Soap­stone, 6”H x 8”W x 6”D

Pre­vi­ous Page, left, Echos, Chlo­rite, Brucite, 12-l/2”h x 7-l/2”w x 8”D right, Bear Creek Spruce, Ser­pen­tine, Red An­hy­drite, 12-3/4”H x 12-1/2”W x 8”D

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