Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Katrina Berg Provides a Soundtrack for the Signs & Symbols of Spring

Installation view of Katrina Madsen Berg’s The Signs & Symbols of Spring, at Alpine Art. Courtesy of Alpine Art.

Employing greasy oil paints in bright pastel colors, Katrina Berg adds intricate texture to layers of meaning in the large scale pieces of her latest exhibition, The Signs & Symbols of Spring. Appearing thick and jelly-like, or what the artist refers to as “stained glass-like,” Berg’s brushstrokes work to give each piece an extra boost of life as the shiny medium reflects the intricate textures. Each of her subjects, comprising a core crew of birds, botanicals, baked goods and bunnies, are carefully selected based on their individual meanings to convey an overall emotional theme prescribed to each individual work. Unlike your typical spring floral exhibition, the thirteen works in The Signs & Symbols of Spring are inspired by and titled after songs Berg plays in her studio while painting.

Five large-scale rectangular pieces clad in thick gold frames greet the visitor along the rightmost wall. In each, a bouquet of flowers, perched elegantly in a porcelain vase, explodes in different directions. From afar, Berg’s style appears like a fine-line drawing, but up close one appreciates the thick, intricate texture the artist creates with oil paints.  In “Blue Skies,” an audience of various bird species sit gracefully around the arrangement, either perched atop of a small cake laced with icing or engaged by a small bird bath, while a rabbit shares a birdcage located in the top right corner. The seemingly unlikely crew of subjects, contradictory in species and union, pair harmoniously in Berg’s lustrous pastel shades. Inspired by “Blue Skies,” by Nat Susie Arioli, the theme of this work is celebration, emphasized by Berg’s careful selection of subjects. “Bluebirds represent joy — so do hummingbirds, doves, and peacocks,” writes Berg, who carefully describes the meaning of her flora and fauna in each of her wall cards (which also feature a QR code for each song referenced). Rabbits bring good luck, and Berg’s botanicals, — magnolia, chrysanthemums, lisianthus, and eucalyptus — represent joy and balance. Although the song cover attributed to the piece does not necessarily scream for a celebration, the menagerie of birds and associated tea cakes certainly gives the impression of festivity, heightened by the piece’s lively petrolatum-like brushstrokes.

Katrina Madsen Berg, “Blue Skies,” oil, 96×48 in. Image credit: Avery Greig

The emotions conveyed by the exhibition’s pieces deepen as the collection goes on. “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For” centers on gratitude, or “a spark in becoming” according to Berg. Sitting in a circular golden frame, this work begins to further bite at the contradictions within The Signs & Symbols of Spring. It inadvertently begins to highlight the skewed proportions found in the entire exhibition, as mammoth daffodils tower over a petit spoonbill resting at a birdbath. Berg’s works are sneaky and deceiving in this way. The use of such gentle colors and delicate subjects hides the artist’s subtle prerogative to emphasize certain elements over others, and in the case of “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For,” the vastly disproportionate daffodils emphasize rebirth. Other works in the exhibition, including “Angels’ Lullaby” and “I Want to Break Free,” deal with heavier topics such as healing and processing past events or letting go of old beliefs. Although these themes can be significantly heavy topics, Berg does not use them as an opportunity to dump dark colors and painful subjects onto her canvases. Just as in “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For,” Berg subverts these deeper messages with her light, feminine and deeply symbolic creations. If there is one thing the exhibition solidifies, it is that broad and heavy issues do not become diluted when expressed in feminine colors and themes.

Katrina Madsen Berg, “Angels’ Lullaby,” oil, 60×48 in. Image credit: Avery Greig

Right off the bat, the prominence of spring life commands attention in Berg’s pieces. Florals and pastels in the springtime are to be expected, but the multifaceted layering of meanings, mediums, textures and subtle disproportions in The Signs & Symbols of Spring hits at a deeper level. These works urge the viewer to investigate how multidisciplinary works would alter the identity of a space, and if works that are tied to specific music and meanings would demand different care in the spaces in which they are hung. For Alpine Art & Frame, this ushering of spring life and subverted meanings is certainly present.

Installation view of Katrina Madsen Berg’s The Signs & Symbols of Spring, at Alpine Art. Courtesy of Alpine Art.

The Signs & Symbols of Spring
, Alpine Art & Frame, Salt Lake City, through June 30

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