12 Questions: Ute Bertog

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1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now?

I feel myself shying away from answering because there are just so many great books which have become a part of me over time. It’s so hard to choose. One book that comes to mind from recent times is ‘What you can see from here’ by Mariana Leky. A friend of mine lend it to me some time ago and I absolutely loved it. It touches on feelings of love and loss and the age-old question of how to be in the world. I read it in its original German and it was wonderful to delve into this utterly charming, whimsical world. It almost reads like a modern yet timeless fairytale. Another book I absolutely loved was Circe by Madeline Miller. Thanks to her I have been reading much more of these old mythical stories. There is so much humanity in them.

As for films or series I do love me a good British series, crime or any other category. I just love their wit and theatrics. But honestly, I listen to more podcasts than I do watch films. On Being is a constant source of inspiration.


2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic?

Earlier this summer I was preparing for my show at Rosalux Gallery in Minneapolis. As we all know, Covid19 has put a stop to it and the show like so many others is postponed for the unforeseeable future. So right now, I am giving myself somewhat of a break. Focus is very hard to come by currently, not only with the pandemic going on but also with all recent killings and unrest starting with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which happened just a few miles from us.

Typically, summer is a much less intense studio time anyway since I just want to soak up as much of the season as possible. Summer is too short here in Minnesota. And really, it’s unbearably hot in my studio anyway since I don’t have AC in there, so I make the best of it. Spending a lot of time in nature, gardening, reading, catching up with family, dreaming of where I will travel when traveling is safe again. I do feel the pull of the studio though.

For Rosalux Gallery we started having these regular online shows every six weeks and it’s been quite refreshing to think outside the box for those. They are themed, which I usually don’t do with my own work, so it gives me another way to approach my work and my process. There have been three shows by now with the forth in the works and they can all be viewed on the gallery’s website (www.rosaluxgallery.com).


3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

 I usually try not to think in terms of failure. I want to see it as just one step of a bigger development, as your question already implies. It’s a good thing to cast a wider net and let time do its thing. But now that I am thinking about it, the favorite ‘failures’ are the ones that happen while painting, because they typically lead me out of an impasse to other and new solutions. I even invite failure in that I push a painting a wee bit too far, so that all I can do is bring it back from the brink. In that moment I don’t second-guess myself anymore since there is nothing to lose. It clarifies and gives me razor-sharp focus.



4. What is your most unusual habit?

I do a lot of detouring to finally get to the stuff I actually want to achieve or work on. It’s nerve wrecking, but I do get a lot of stuff done that way. And I do pick up a lot of other experiences along the way that otherwise I wouldn’t get. It’s just not as straight-forward.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Tough question since I don’t even like being photographed. I always admire portraits by Alberto Giacometti. They are not as ubiquitous in museums, so every single time I see one I am again touched by them. They show such a deep probing interest in humanity. The same is true for Frank Auerbach. It’s definitely not about being portrayed in a favorable way, but I do enjoy that the portraits invite and reward sustained looking from the viewer.


6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office?

This might be my space-heater. My studio can get quite cold, so the heater keeps me functional and the oil paint pliable. I just wish I could bottle the extra heat from summer.


7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

 It’s always different and depends on if I am on a deadline or not. One time taking a break to refresh my eyes is the best thing to do or a trip to the museum or galleries. Instagram too is good for refreshing my mind and eyes, but it can be a dangerous rabbit hole as well. I definitely have to be careful with it. Or I pull out old work of mine and look for answers in there, things I didn’t see before, but now am finally able to read.



8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?

With everybody being so isolated and removed from ordinary life as we’ve known it, artists are a great example that solitude and maybe even boredom are actually a source for good and don’t have to be scary if you allow for its magic to unfold. I had the thought early this summer that currently everybody is living on artist time and it makes me curious what might come out of that. Life had become so fast and overwhelming before the pandemic that now this change in pace and how we relate to one another can be the spark to let interiority and stillness do its thing. We hopefully are a stronger, more resilient society for it.



9. Do you collect anything?

I have been collecting ceramics for a while now. I am lucky to live in a state, where a lot of wonderful potters work and live. The highlight is the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour in the spring. It’s like a treasure hunt. A few years ago, I started taking classes in pottery and have been in love with it ever since. It teaches me so many things about my process and way of thinking. It’s definitely helpful for my painting practice.


10.  What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?

Be excessively kind to yourself and others, especially right now. And listen to your most inner stirrings. Good work will follow.


11.  In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

 The more I have been painting the less I sweat it. I realize more and more that focus and work cannot be forced. The more I try to force it, the less the work cooperates. For example, I sometimes got to the studio, thinking I will finish a certain piece that day. It never worked and instead I totally screwed it up, making it worse in the process. I realized then that instead of finishing a piece, I opened it up again. In the end it’s always a much better painting, since I get to a more unexpected ending. Now I try to stay away from that mindset of finishing something. Instead I always think about how I can begin again.


12. Share an inspiring image:


Ute's work is available on ARTSY as a part of the ongoing online exclusive exhibition: Indeterminate Spaces, Intuitive Places. For more information about the work above visit ARTSY: https://www.artsy.net/show/james-may-gallery-indeterminate-spaces-intuitive-places



James May Gallery 219 State Street Algoma, WI 54201 HOURS: CLOSED for the safety of all. Please continue to support us by visiting our Artsy page or feel free to contact us! mail@jamesmaygallery.com 262-753-3130