Athen B. Gallery’s upcoming show “Nobody, Everybody,” explores concepts of identity and escapism through the female-centric worlds of Laura Berger, a Chicago-based painter, illustrator and sculptor, and Sarah Bowser, a paper collage and sculpture artist based in Oakland. The two will be present for the opening on Saturday, March 11th to discuss the evolution of their art.
Berger’s work introduces tribe-like elements that pair groups of women together in purposeful action and intimacy. Their lack of diversity, as well as clothing, helps to drive home ideas of freedom and boundless living, without divisions of social status or race. Examining scenes of inclusion and interconnectedness, she draws out deeper meaning from the characters and focuses on how our existential concerns of finding place and significance play a special role in misshaping our connection to the natural world.
“I think in our modern western world we have this tendency to analyze everything and try to fit everything into neat, understandable boxes,” Berger said. “To me, the couplings are about partnership, working together or mirroring each other, which helps us to feel understood and therefore more comfortable and accepted in our own skin.”
Bowser’s eye shifts to similar notions as she wanders through the very palpable anxieties of being human. By setting up her subjects inside rooms where scenes of domesticity abound, she grapples with feelings of safety and solace that come with retreating from public visibility.
At face value, the cheerful pastel palettes usher in a kind of optimist euphoria, but underneath that is the uncomfortable sense of giving up control. The overarching theme here is anxiety; anxieties of being a woman, anxieties of leaving the house, anxieties about anxiety.
“The domestic scenes are cheerful and calm until you start to pick up on the uncertainty of the objects,” said Bowser. “They disrupt the idyllic scene.”
Both artists naturally choose to represent the female form in their work and intentionally withhold certain details to actually reinforce their distinctiveness. In Berger’s work, women are pictured nude and with little differentiation in hair color and skin tone, while Bowser omits facial features altogether.
Each style helps to also tell a story about the personality and vision behind the artist. For Berger, the scenes tap into our basic shared human experience and “can serve as a base to inform and empower our personal identities, choices, and roles in life.” Bowser’s creations are a reflection of her own limitations and pursuit of self-expression.
“Putting an expression on a face leaves little room for interpretation,” Bowser said. “It also acts as a kind of quasi-protection. I am reserved and have a hard time sharing my feelings directly so hiding uncomfortable emotions in obscure ways is how I subsist.”
+++ Athen B. Gallery is located just off the 12th and 19th Street Bart Stations in Downtown Oakland. To access the collectors’ preview, contact [email protected]. Opening: 7pm-11pm