With their focus on texture, Bernard’s work can feel crude and raw, but his pieces do not arrive by accident. His array of roller brushes, each for its own specific texture and painterly result, attest to Bernard’s expertise in the field of painterly tactility, the material substance and physicality of art. He has learned, for example, the precise moment paint is to be “pulled” or “drawn.” Bernard is cognizant of an aspect of painting most artists never consider, and it is this one, the most immediate, that fuels his work.
“I’m looking for a roller that can lift enough of the color and spread it out… but not, not lift the whole thing,” Bernard says as he examines his canvas. “I’m looking at how dry it is, how dry my edges are. . . I kind of need to let it sit for a bit ’cause I’m looking at this edge right here so I want to keep this form so I’ll just wait for the critical moment so I’ll just see the sheen and tell its ready to be drawn.” The artist is initially provoked by some element in his purview, be it “a mood or the way light was hitting the mountainside,” he says. Once this painterly process begins from such arbitrary sources, it is not quite a freedom of consciousness, but nearly that, with Bernard as a guide on a path with infinite routes to infinite destinations.
Chosen accordingly is the pattern of the base, applied by a rag, or stencil of some type. He then uses a tool of any kind, from a wad of dried synthetic, to a piece of hard canvas, making marks of various hues and letting them dry until the precise moment when the roller can be applied to create a healthy field of microdots. It is impossible for Bernard to see the forthcoming results of this step and even harder to engage with any real notion of the final process and its results. But his process is no guesswork. He must have a sure and steady head and hand at this process, and from all appearances Bernard is in tune with his paint.
“I’ve been up here so long experimenting,” he says of working in his studio, “and have been devoted to the act of painting, I’ve learned a lot doing that.” He’s also learned by “being an artist and amongst friends up here and critiquing and asking ‘Oh, have you seen this artist’s work’ or ‘check them out you’ll be inspired by them,’ kind of deal.” In the end, though, it may be his own self-critiques that are the most important. He describes one of his own ‘happy accidents’: “It just came about, ‘Oh, this painting sucks, I ruined it… swipe… wait a minute, hold on, that looks good!”
With the shapes on his canvas still slightly wet, Bernard takes a sponge saturated with water, wiping just enough of the wet away, at just the right speed, to leave enough color underneath and retain a healthy “halo” of still wet paint, and mix the colors just enough, not too muddy, to create an exciting new color. “Another thing I like is that I have a remnant of my original big shapes,” he says of working from one idea to find another. “I am going to wait till I have everything that I need close to have pulled off and wait for those to dry… and I am going to wait and then kind of give it a rinse and the thickest paint will remove.”
These are the final stages in the painterly process and there is a real tension filling the studio. Many variables that are quite subtle, from timing to motor control, have everything to do with the success of the painting. Seconds can be the difference between stunning line and color and muddy slur.
“Let’s see how well this pulls up,” he says. “It might take a little longer… see this has a thick edge . . .That’s working. See with that sprayer I can get it done quick… if not it will get all gray . . . If I work fast enough . . .There, that is what I am after. . . That is where I want it!” Bernard exclaims enthusiastically.
Not every moment in the studio is success, however. At one point, growing nervous, Bernard declares, “I’m getting a little too much pull… I’m losing the halo. Wait… (Aside) The process is so involved and everything is so close you have to go and go and go. . . Did it work? I haven’t even had a chance to step back and . . .” He steps back to examine his work. “See I love that . . . isn’t it kind of a landscape but its an abstract something to weave energy through . . . I’m glad. I pulled it off!” declares a triumphant Bernard.
Visiting Bernard’s studio and watching one of his intricately textured canvases come to life is thrilling. Like a puppet master, Bernard dances and spins his way through the painting process, commanding his sponges, rollers and rags with an expert control always hovering between beauty and ruin.
Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.