Light in the Darkness: Remembering Painter Jake Berthot

Early in his career Berthot was one of a few artists who bridged the gap between an earlier generation of  and a younger cohort of . He was greatly impressed by the work of  and was mentored by , and his work shared their Romantic, formalist affinities. “A painting cannot exist without presence or gaze,” he explained shortly before his death. “If I’m concerned with presence, I build a shape with a different intention than if I’m concerned with gaze.” He built  and painted in  grays and earth tones, similar to artists such as  and . Works such as Bone (1973), with its tetraptych, window-like  structure, is both flatly, starkly abstract, and also suggestive of deep space, light, and meditative emotional resonance.
In the 1980s and ’90s he went through a period of brighter abstraction that included gestural imagery and references to earlier modernist art. His 1991 painting Red Point (Form for Brancusi) is an homage to the famed cubist sculptor , with a large red oval in a blue field. Multicolored lines stream from the form, alluding to the kind of  that the elder artist’s  suggest.
In 1996, Berthot moved to upstate New York and gradually the atmospheric depth of his minimal work began to coalesce into recognizable references to the natural world, including intense attention to light, foreshadowed in his earlier work.  works such as Janlori Loop (2008-9) show the kind of development and return to realism that Berthot made in his late career. Although hazy and not distinctly representational, the image can be read as rolling clouds over the countryside’s hills. More explicitly pictorial images, such as Icarus (2008) and Untitled (2010), depict trees and  in a manner indebted to forebears of Resnick and Rothko: , and other  painters. 
Throughout his life, Berthot strived to show the inexpressible—in , in abstraction, in naturalism. His varied explorations are an example for all artists who strive to find a voice capable of speaking truth in many visual languages. He will be missed.