Michael Berryhill: Bright Lights, No Sweat

Tabernacle Trapple (2014), 58 x 50 inches, oil on linen

I dropped by Kansas Gallery to see Beggars Blanket, Michael Berryhill's show of recent paintings, and was greeted by a four foot long glass vitrine containing more than a thousand small paintings and drawings.

At the outset, I must apologize for the limitations of language to express what I saw. Some things are truly better in person.

The drawings housed in the vitrine varied -- some read as intense, almost mechanical drawing while others had an off-hand elegance. There were a few tiny oil sketches on raw canvas that had large-scale painting pop.

The most tantalizing item in the pile was an -- at that time -- closed sketchbook that resembled a small bible or devotional book. Examining the edges of the volume, it seemed to contain another couple hundred of these drawings. The viewer is given freedom to extrapolate. The gallery occasionally reshuffles the works in the vitrine and opens the book to reward repeat visitors.

My experience at Kansas was informed by a prior visit to Berryhill's windowless studio in Red Hook on a sweltering summer day. It may have been hot outside, but Berryhill was showing no signs of discomfort as he worked on a small drawing. This effortlessness was on my mind as I looked at all of the work at his show.

There was effortlessness to contemplate and there was also color and lighting.

Berryhill's large matte finish oil paintings look like semi-dry or lean paint has been dragged on by broken-down brushes across the rough linen, leaving thousands of vacant spots of luminous gesso that add up to airy visual static.

Berryhill's color sensibility sets him apart from other painters, but it's hard to capture the vibrating dissonances in a photo. I fooled around taking photos of one of the paintings on Instagram so I could see what happened to the work if you made it black and white. The difference is trippy because despite Berryhill's broad palette of electric colors, he operates in disparate tonal ranges even within zones of tight color values. That's my guess, anyway. See for yourself and let us know what you think.

To complement of Berryhill's palette, Kansas founder Steven Stewart has specially installed fluorescent tube lighting in the gallery to match Berryhill's studio lighting. When you visit the show, ask him or Claire Fields to flick off a light for you so you can experience how your eye moves through the paintings differently without the fluorescent resonance with the paint to guide it.

For visitors to his studio, Berryhill will switch over to incandescent lighting for a more homey, comfortable feeling. He likes people as much as he likes to paint, and this combination is intrinsic to the vibe of his art.

But after he bids his visitors good bye, launching them back into the world beyond his windowless studio, they'll hear him hitting his power switches, once again igniting the angry insect roar of the tube lighting.

Origin of Pieces (2014)

Deztop (2014), 58 x 50 inches, oil on linen

Coven Oven (2014), 37.25 x 33.25 inches, oil on linen

All images courtesy Kansas Gallery and Michael Berryhill.