By Bonnie Gangelhoff
While most folks go to the grocery store to purchase the usual items like milk and bread, Utah-based artist Erin Berrett peruses the aisles and shelves for artistic inspiration. “I can always find 100 things to paint there,” Berrett says. Recently she has focused on the candy aisle. “I’m on candy kick,” she says of her current series of paintings that feature confections like peppermint candies and Tootsie Rolls. It’s not just about the candies themselves; it’s more about their shiny, colorful wrappers. “I love how the cellophane sparkles under my studio lights,” Berrett explains.
In the past, the produce aisle has also offered rich artistic bounty, with beets, lemons, and green beans holding special allure. As this story was going to press, Berrett was capturing such objects on canvas for a two-person show at Art Access Gallery/VSA Utah, which is on view through November 12. In August Berrett participated in the Park City Arts Festival and won Best of Show in the painting category.
Early in her career, while completing her bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Utah, Berrett chose to focus on landscape and plein-air painting. But these days she has settled comfortably into the still-life genre for a variety of reasons. For starters, the Salt Lake City painter says she likes having the ability to control the light, shadow, and composition. The ease of being able to paint whenever she wants regardless of weather conditions also is an attraction. “I can just go downstairs to the studio any time of day or night, turn on the lights, and work,” she says.
Ideas for her tableaux may spring from anywhere Berrett happens to be in her daily routine, from a shoe store window to a cocktail party. For example, one recent day in her studio after she had finished drinking a can of Coca-Cola, she crushed the can. Others might think of it as garbage, but she saw it as subject matter for an intriguing painting. “That painting of a crushed Coke can could lead to a painting of a Diet Coke can, then a Mountain Dew can, and maybe even a stack of donuts,” she says. “One idea often snowballs into another.”
Berrett says once she puts objects on a canvas, they become magical, in a sense. Indeed, it is this magic in everyday objects that she is trying to convey to the viewer. The whole process of painting constantly energizes her, she says—the way texture, color, value, and a thousand brush strokes transform the object into something permanent on canvas is endlessly fascinating.
Reflecting back on her path to the artist’s life, Berrett says she never thought twice about being anything other than a painter. When she was about 7 years old, her parents enrolled her in watercolor classes. In elementary and high school, teachers encouraged and nurtured her talents. During college she continued to study art, including taking a series of eight-day workshops with painter Paul Davis in Helper, UT. She credits Davis with helping her build a good, lasting foundation for her career. “He taught me everything I know about color, value, and the value of a good brush stroke,” Berrett says.
Six years after graduation from college in 1998, she quit her job as a manager of an art gallery in order to paint full time. These days, she spends eight hours or more a day in her studio. Her constant companion is her dog, Pam. Without much other feedback, she says she finds herself talking to Pam and asking what she thinks about her work. When Pam starts answering her, Berrett says, she will know that she’s been working too hard!
Williams Fine Art, Salt Lake City, UT; J. Willott Gallery, Palm Desert, CA; www.ewbpaintings.com.
Two-person show, Art Access Gallery/VSA Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, through November 12.
Featured in November 2010