There are periods in life, for each of us, when we lose our sense of direction. It is in these unnavigable moments that we look inward, attempting to find some form of map that can guide us on our journey. In this uncertainty, the everyday can seem unfamiliar and we search for the repetitive patterns of our personal realities to anchor ourselves in these possibly hostile lands.
Judith Berry’s paintings impart that simultaneous sense of belonging, uncanny familiarity and uneasy otherworldliness common in science-fiction geographies. You are left with the feeling that you have both been there before, and yet, are aware of the impossibility of knowing this made up place. Painted as if they are aerial shots of a parcel of land, the work reveals itself to be of a landscape much smaller in scale. For Berry, maintaining this tension in the perspective is an important aspect of the work, one that allows the viewer to imagine and re-imagine the subject to suit their own desire. A sense of déjà vu, and of reading an imaginary space, drips from the canvas.
Berry is often described as a landscape painter, and while her canvasses simulate the terrain common on this planet, the objects that inhabit it are slightly off. Berry’s worlds are not full of trees, rivers, mountains, deserts, lakes or ice fields, but rather shapes that are decidedly more human in form and function – both in scale and means of production.
While clearly abstract in their nature, the artist refuses to produce wholly nonrepresentational imagery in her work, recognizing the human nature to make sense of what is before us by relating it to what we already know. Her desire is that the work conjures a familiarity, however false it may be. Allowing her subjects to both collapse and reform in the image, Berry buries each layer of meaning and intimacy below the next.
Unlike the objects of mechanical production that dominate the frame, the world of Berry’s paintings is full of human touch. Berry uses paint – not a computer – to master the duplicity of image common in her oeuvre. As an artist she is interested in the way that the human hand cannot create a true replica and, with a rare care for the art of painting and a refusal of the medium’s perceived obsolescence, pushes against the attraction towards computer-generated pattern to create something more life-like.
Refusing to act as a guide to anywhere in specific, the beauty of Berry’s paintings is their ability to allow the viewer the time to sit and reflect on the space they individually wish to see – and of course the imaginary ways in which to get there. Neither concrete nor abstract, Berry’s worlds are the result of a desire to master the unknown and unclear in the landscapes around us.