Sheldon Berlyn is an abstract expressionist. In other words, he creates nonrepresentational art; his art is not mimetic of nature: you can’t see figures; you can’t see landscapes, albeit their influence is ultimately presented in some form. Berlyn’s interest is to create form and shape and not least to extrapolate an aesthetic response from his beholder.
His work is characterized by the interplay of sweeping graceful arcs and semi-transparent layers of color that travel in horizontal and vertical motion. He accomplishes this by what is referred to as gestural painting, that is to say, expressive paint strokes that deliberately emphasize the movement of his hand or the sweep of his arm.
The aim is to reflect personality and mood much like my or your gestures reflect our personality and mood. But here’s the thing that trips me up: Berlyn cues from the great masters-Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Pontormo, and the later works of Cezanne, Manet, and Monet, among others-as models for his abstractions.
The very act of searching for an interpretation in Berlyn’s work is pleasurable and I’m reminded of Oscar Wilde’s observation that “there are works which wait, and which one does not understand for a long time; the reason is that they bring answers to questions which have not yet been raised.”
Berlyn’s ultimate goal is to create a good painting, an interesting painting, one with variation, one that you can look at once and come back to time and again and see it for the first time. “That is the mission of true art—to make us pause and look at a thing a second time,” posits Oscar Wilde.
Where does Berlyn see the connection? I get it now. What I had come to understand is that by distilling human emotion from the objects of nature, by eliminating the embellishments of gender, class, status, particularities of environment, boundaries, Berlyn disabuses any misperception about what it is to be human. He rises to a symbolic expression that reaches across time, culture, and borders to convey the essential, even spiritual, ideas of experience and of art.
My mood is elevated and light; my intellect crisp and heady. I am somehow aware of the weight of the hours I spent with Sheldon Berlyn and that I am somehow changed. A chord has been struck. Berlyn is a master of his art, a man of excellence, a man of measure who creates because he must create, an artist for art’s sake.