Curator Angie Rizzo had a chance to talk extensively with artist Ciel Bergman about her upcoming show of acrylic paintings on unstretched Belgian linen many months before Bergman passed away in 2017.
“These works, which were created between 1970 and 1977, haven’t been seen together in a show,” explains Rizzo, who curated the Center for Contemporary Arts’ new exhibit “The Linens” that opens in the Tank Garage on February 9.
“Ciel was so excited about this project,” Rizzo adds. “At the time she worked on these very large paintings, she was going through a real awakening in her life. It was a challenge to work on them, physically and artistically.”
“The Linens” contains 19 paintings out of a series of 48 works that measure 84” in at least one dimension. The earliest paintings in the series are minimalist in nature, reflecting Bergman’s interest in clearing out the old from her life and starting anew.
By 1973 the works began to have recognizable symbols in them. Eventually, Bergman explored ideas related to philosophy, sexuality and physicality.
“Nearly every painting is a conversation with or homage to one of the several major influencers who shaped Bergman as an artist,” says Rizzo. “Her primary influences came from Marcel Duchamp, Rrose Sélavy (Duchamp’s female alter ego) and Georgie O’Keeffe. Two years into the project Bergman traveled to New Mexico and met O’Keeffe.”
Ciel Bergman (1938-2017), formerly known as Cheryl Bowers, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the age of 19, while the Berlin wall was being built, she married and moved to Germany. It was during her time in Germany that she discovered, and became enamored with, the work of Duchamp.
Once back in the U.S., she dedicated herself to studying drawing and painting. She enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute for graduate studies in 1970, the year she started The Linens.
In 1994 Bergman moved to New Mexico after an 18-year tenure as a professor at UC Santa Barbara. She painted in the Abiquiu area for many years before settling in Santa Fe in 2006.
Although The Linens were never shown in their entirety, several individual works won prestigious awards, including the Society for the Encouragement of the Creative Arts, which was awarded by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.