Adrian Berg - British Landscape Painter
The first major monograph on the work of Adrian Berg (1929-2011), written by Marco Livingstone and published to accompany a retrospective exhibition of Berg's work at the Frestonian Gallery London, is now available.
This book provides a long overdue appraisal and celebration of an artist who is key to the conversation around the development of British landscape painting, that most celebrated of British traditions. Read on for two introductory extracts from the book...
Adrian Berg (1929–2011) was one of the great British landscape painters of the latter half of the twentieth century. He wholeheartedly committed his life, work and huge talent to painting, in a practice that was as rigorous as it was inventive. He remained intellectually restless throughout his life in the pursuit and development of his own voice in engaging with and reimagining the natural world.
The rigour is evident in the commitment to his various subjects – most notably the self-contained world of Regent’s Park, London, within which he found enough variety of form and colour to make it almost his sole subject for nearly 25 years. His studio and home in the heights of the John Nash crescent at Gloucester Gate provided the setting for one of the more remarkably dedicated and fruitful combinations of artist and ‘garden’ since Monet’s similarly tireless efforts at Giverny.
In the later years of his life Berg turned his eye further afield, with the coastline and great gardens of Sussex becoming repeatedly revisited subjects, as well as the imposing vistas of the Lake District to the north, and the Arcadian landscape of Henry Hoare’s Stourhead to the west. In the early 2000s Berg travelled widely, finding new if fleeting inspirations – from the grounds of the Moorish Alcázar at Seville, to the palm-lined banks of the Ping River at Chiang Mai, and on to the botanic gardens of Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch and Auckland.
A student first of Cambridge, reading English after he had completed his National Service, Berg became, after stints at Chelsea School of Art and St Martin’s, a celebrated and much loved figure within that extraordinary generation of students at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in the early Sixties. His contemporaries and friends there included R.B. Kitaj and David Hockney. Berg was to have a great influence on Hockney both creatively and socially, introducing him to several sources of immediate artistic inspiration (most notably the poetry of C.P. Cavafy), and also providing a crucial role model as an openly gay man in a wider society which would not partly decriminalise homosexuality until 1967.
Immediately upon graduating from the RCA in 1961 Berg met with considerable recognition, and exhibited frequently in both commercial and institutional galleries. He showed new works with, variously, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Waddington Galleries and the Piccadilly Gallery from 1964 to 2002, and his work was included in significant exhibitions alongside his contemporaries as organised by the British School at Rome (1961), the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition (1969, 1974 and 1980), the Serpentine Gallery (1973), the British Council (touring to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum among other venues, 1982) and many more. He was awarded major solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery (1986) and the Barbican Centre (1993) that charted his dynamic and ever-evolving practice, which is incisively examined and celebrated by Marco Livingstone throughout this book’s main essays.
From the very beginning of his life as a professional artist, Berg was, as well, a highly committed and influential teacher – at such London art schools as Central, Camberwell and, eventually, the Royal College of Art, where he proved a sharp-witted member of the faculty alongside his peers, such as lifelong friend Paul Huxley whose recollections of ‘Berg the teacher’ form chapter 8 of this monograph, along with the memories of students such as Tracey Emin, whose admission to the RCA Berg ratified and whose work he championed throughout his life.
In 1992, Berg was given the formal recognition of the Royal Academy by being appointed an Academician. His close association with this venerable yet ever-evolving and expanding institution continued for the rest of his life, as he exhibited yearly at the Summer Exhibition – showing in his last 10–15 years extraordinarily bold and energetic paintings that displayed a highly developed late style.
Berg’s work is held in major museum collections in the UK and internationally, including the Tate, the British Museum, the V&A and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Upon his death in 2011 he was remembered at memorials at both the Royal Academy, where his eulogy was read by his old college mate David Hockney, and at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex, with a solo exhibition in 2012 of his last, vividly realised landscapes. In 2017 a survey of his paintings curated by Artwise, Adrian Berg, A Time and Place, was held at Hall Place & Gardens in the London Borough of Bexley. His work continues to find its audience and inspire through exhibitions at London’s Frestonian Gallery, including the 2018 exhibition A Human Nature, and a retrospective in the spring of 2021, coinciding with the publication of this book.
Rollo Campbell and Matt Incledon
The literature on Adrian Berg until now has consisted entirely of catalogue essays, articles, interviews and reviews, all of moderate length. The text for this book was therefore originally envisaged to take the form of an extended essay on his paintings, covering the whole of the artist’s career. Once I began delving into the artist’s archive, however, it became apparent that something far more ambitious would be possible so as to produce a more complete and rounded account of the human being behind the art, resulting in an unusual structure and a much expanded text.
Quoting extensively from the artist’s correspondence and his unpublished and published writings, and from texts by others that appeared over many decades, these supplementary chapters trace the artist’s childhood and his gradual discovery of his artistic ambitions; his diverse sources of inspiration; his early experiments in writing poetry, a hitherto unknown aspect of his creative life; and his intermittent efforts to articulate in words his motivations and creative process. Further chapters by Samuel Clarke, his assistant during the last 13 years of his life, and by Paul Huxley, his colleague at several London art schools, shed light on the artist’s working methods and on his teaching practice.
The book is consequently intended to be read as two complementary parts, a continuous essay on the paintings complemented by a series of shorter texts which stand on their own as investigations into specific matters that shed light on his thinking, his personality and his creative process.
Find out more, and get your copy of the monograph HERE.
Marco Livingstone with contributions by Paul Huxley RA and Samuel Clarke
Hardback • 248 Pages • Size: 290 × 249 mm
20 B&W illustrations and 200 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781848223943 • Publication: May 06, 2021
Adrian Berg, Stourhead, 25th, 26th & 27th June, 2000, oil on canvas, 188.3 x 395.9 cm, (3 panels). Copyright of the Adrian Berg Estate.
Adrian Berg, Untitled (Regent's Park Dusk), 1982, oil on linen, 177 x 176 cm. Copyright of the Adrian Berg Estate.
Photograph of Adrian Berg, Gloucester Gate, Regent’s Park, Date unknown. Copyright of the Adrian Berg Estate.
All reproduced in the monograph, Adrian Berg, by Marco Livingstone, Lund Humphries 2021.