Curator and writer Ken Miller meets Andrea Bergart for the second installment of our new series 'Wall-to-Wall' - a series dedicated to artists working in public spaces.
A couple of years ago, Andrea Bergart wandered United Transit Mix and offered to paint their cement mixer trucks. Remarkably, the owners said yes. The result has been a series of brightly vibrant moving murals that have become elusive fixtures of the New York landscape.
Bergart’s influences are varied – including African textiles (from her time spent living and creating murals there) and everyday objects such as money, paperclips and tennis balls – and she has placed her brightly colorful works on outdoor walls, textiles, clothing, installations and even standard gallery-format canvas paintings. We tried to pin her down….
How did you end up painting those cement mixers? Was that your idea or the company’s?
It was my idea. I came up with the idea after watching the New York City graffiti documentary “Style Wars” and taking a trip to West Africa where people paint on everything: walls, busses, trucks, houses, signs. Painting on cement trucks seemed like an exciting extension of this way of thinking about images in public spaces.
I was attracted to cement trucks because they’re interesting shapes that rotate as they move and their physical mass gives them a palpable presence. It was fun to imagine energetic, colorful and playful painting on such powerful machinery. On a practical level, they have a nice unbroken surface area to paint.
I often bike by cement truck suppliers in Bushwick and one company in particular seemed to allow graffiti artists to work on their walls. One day, I approached the owners and asked if they would be open to the idea. Since then, I have painted 4 of their trucks.
What is your process for each piece? Do you do studies and color tests or do the paintings happen more organically?
Paintings in my studio happen pretty organically. The public works are more planned. I use drawings and Photoshop studies to help me prepare. I also have a toy cement truck that I made into a dry erase surface, which helps me conceptualize scale and rotation. I have the general strategy figured out, but I allow myself room for responding intuitively as the image develops onsite.
How is your art influenced by African art? Are you drawing inspiration from the colors and images or is it more about your personal experience from having spent time in Africa?
I’m attracted to the stylized flat motifs, bright colors, and bold designs found in African batiks, printed and woven fabrics and beads. While walking through crowded African markets, I responded viscerally to the clashing of patterned dresses worn by people doing their daily shopping.
Textiles and beads function on multiple levels in Africa. They are worn for fashion, for ceremonial purposes and religious occasions. I like to think that the cement trucks that I paint enter the city in a similar multifaceted manner. While in Africa, I was struck by how the vivid colors found in garments and beads stood out within the dusty landscape. So much of New York City is gray, cold and filled with garbage, and it’s exciting to see an image filled with celebratory colors rolling by.
Do you think there is a fundamental philosophical difference between public art and ‘personal’ art that you exhibit in a gallery?
Often, public art responds to the environment, while art exhibited within galleries is removed from external forces and isolated. I don’t believe there is a fundamental difference between public art and art displayed in more traditional settings, but the two settings are conducive to different experiences.
If you have the choice between a gallery show and an outdoor commission, which do you prefer?
Well, if you ask me now… I just finished my fourth cement truck mural directly after two back-to-back mural installations. I’m looking forward to some more quiet time in my studio working on paintings and drawings. That will have to wait a couple more months since I have two public art commissions coming up.
Where or what would you most like to paint next?
A sailboat sail or an airplane.