Painting is a Dance

An interview with Clara Berta, by April Dell

Ahead of my online exhibition, I talked to Berlin-based art writer April Dell about my 'Blue Configurations' series that will be featured in my online viewing room from February 14 to March 14, 2022. We chatted about my process, what inspires me, and what is unique about this brand new series of works on paper.

Read the exhibition press release for more info. The exhibition is in collaboration with Ronewa Art Projects, check them out.


Here's our interview - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 


 April Dell: Your latest series of works is created on paper, a new direction for you. What do you like about the material? What did you discover while working on paper? 


Clara Berta: When I began making art back in 2000, I started by studying printmaking. I painted on plexiglass and used a press to print onto paper, so that was a different relationship to paper than the one I developed making these new works. Beginning this series, I had to experiment with the material to learn how it behaves. Paint on paper flows very differently from my usual canvases. I selected beautiful, high-quality papers from Japan and India that have a wonderfully smooth texture and a heavy weight that felt new in my hands, which I found very exciting.


I created this series of sixteen works over three months. I experimented until everything flowed easily and naturally. My work is always about letting go of control and finding a sense of balance. Harnessing my breath helped a lot. I learned to incorporate focused breathing into my painting process. Overall, it was a slow process, but slowing down is important to me. It allowed me to practice patience and a “less is more” approach to the work. 


Blue Configurations 1, 2021, acrylic paint on Khadi 640gsm paper with deckled edges, 76.2 x 55.9 cm


AD: Your forms contain a kinetic energy - they appear frozen mid-motion. How are movement and the body a part of your work?


CB: I started swimming recently and was struck by how my body moving through the water reminded me of the forms in my paintings. The energy in my work comes from the connection between the movement of my body, the flow of the paint, and the movement captured in the shapes.


I created some of these works on a table and others on the floor. I need to be able to move around the work freely. I’ve always loved dance, so for me, painting is like a dance: the movement, the breathing, and the energy. I feel painting and dance are very intertwined.


AD: Your process is very intuitive and in the moment. How do you prepare to begin a new piece and decide when it’s finished?


CB: First of all, I dress very comfortably, which prepares me for moving freely. I start with meditation, breathing, and sometimes a chant to relax my mind and body. I work slowly, stopping to listen to my intuition. My instincts will tell me I’m done, or I prepare for another pour. It's finished when I sense the balance. When you’re in the zone, you just feel it. At the end of the work, I release a long breath and let go.


I created one of the first ‘Blue Configurations’ pieces with a close mentor present. It was a surprisingly powerful experience. I had never worked with someone watching me create before. It felt like I was doing a performance, but a very personal one.


Blue Configuration 1 & Blue Configuration 16, 2021, installation view. Installation design: Swita Uancharoenkul.


AD: Blue is a color you return to again and again in your work. What is special about this color?


CB: I find blue very intense, stimulating, and emotional; I find it healing. This is very important for me. When I'm going through challenges in my life, my work speaks to me and lifts me up. Blue is powerful in this way. 


There is also the strong connection blue has to water. I love the ocean; I find it very meditative and invigorating. The fluidity of water is essential for my process and the sense of flow in my work. This organic quality connects my work to nature. 


There are different shades of blue in this series. This was part of the experimentation, seeing what emotions and shapes come out. The series is a family of works, with nuances between the blues and the gestures in each work, which stand out when they’re arranged together.


Blue Configurations 1, 2021, artwork detail, acrylic paint on Khadi 640gsm paper with deckled edges, 76.2 x 55.9 cm


AD: Your compositions often contain negative space, particularly in the ‘Blue Configurations’ series. What do you like about the relationship between paint and negative space?


A gallery owner I work with recently said that I’m “the master of negative space.” Breathing room is important. The shapes float; they're light and free and uninhibited. Just as I need space when I work, the forms need space - space to dance on the paper. 


There is a yin-and-yang element to the balance that negative space creates. I find this series to be very Zen in a way. 


AD: The title ‘configurations’ can mean different things: a series of shapes, the different positions of your body as you paint, or the imagery that emerges in the viewer’s mind. Tell me about this title.


CB: Yes, exactly. These configurations have come from an inner source but they can also be your interpretation of what you see. I find many of the shapes are like bodies; they’re very sensual and they connect with one another.


When the circular forms started emerging, I felt a great sense of unity with the work. The shapes are very personal in that they portray a deeper connection to my spirituality. Yet I chose an ambiguous title for this series to keep it open to the viewer.


Blue Configurations 1, 2021, artwork detail, acrylic paint on Khadi 640gsm paper with deckled edges, 76.2 x 55.9 cm


AD: What do you hope your viewers experience when they encounter your work?


CB: Most importantly, I want them to feel something. There’s so much chaos and stress in our daily lives, we need help to slow down and have a peaceful moment. I think of my work as a meditation. It helps you get grounded and centered.


This series is very light and playful. I hope viewers sense the joy that my art brings me and take something from it for themselves. Sharing this joy is a big part of why I create art.

February 4, 2022
of 12