Life History of the Toad
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 27th 5-7pm
I first met Debra during my week long excursion to tour the vineyards of the Banana Belt last summer, named so because it is the primo growing region surrounded by Cayuga and Seneca Lake. In the Finger Lakes not only has the “handprint of God” created a scenic masterpiece, internationally acclaimed wines, but also outstanding artists as well.
Sea Chest —Debra Bermingham 2017
‘A great tempest of discontent drove young Jimmy off the farm and away from Kentucky. He longed to see strange places and to do strange things.’—Kim Engle
To speak about my paintings, I have found kinship in the words of Joseph Conrad writing about his own work — “To compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and color, of sunshine and shadows, to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile — such is the aim, difficult and evanescent.” I have also found kindred echoes in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote “Drama is poetry of conduct, romance the poetry of circumstance.” To pause for a look at the poetry of circumstance—such is my aim.
Shakespearean Tragedy —Debra Bermingham 2017
‘In a drama worthy of Shakespeare, small clouds appear in the summer sky. They form fanciful shapes — small creatures in a swirling tide pool, dragons doing battle. The clouds form a great city — high walls and towers, great domed cathedrals — a city of dreams. In a moment all is gone. The clouds break apart, drift away and disappear.’ – Kim Engle
For many years, I have worked to concentrate experience and memory the quiet north light of my rural studio. Miniature knights with plumes and lances in simple tabletop arrangements relayed “stories” from my adult life. Then new material arrived in the form of boxes filled with family relics — water stained encyclopedias, and college textbooks predating WWII. In a journal entry written in Ballycastle, Ireland, dated December 14, 2000, I wrote: “Last evening we went to ‘K’s’ studio. The work was beautiful—small, intimate, very effect driven. The most compelling were the moldy book covers he had collected and presented—both “as is” and painted versions. This morning I awoke thinking about ‘K’. He and I are different. ‘K’ wants to reproduce the effect of the moldy book covers while I want to relate why the book covers look so compelling — why, in their moldering, cast off beauty, one can find something worth preserving.”
In addition to the old books filling the boxes on the floor of my studio, I also found, hidden away like a secret, a small black change purse. It had once belonged to my Great Great Aunt Mae who had spent her entire life sewing leather in a factory town outside of Boston. When I opened the purse, thinking perhaps I would find an old penny or two, I found instead a carefully folded silk handkerchief with “Paris 1919” embroidered in red. Slowly all the fragments from the boxes on the floor of my studio began to find their way into my work, spliced together in story form with my paintings. Now, the quiet indigo light of my studio expanded to include red and green, parrots and mechanical drawings. Suddenly, my paintings began to tell stories of kings and genies, sorcerers and beggar men, and of a small silk handkerchief — “Paris 1919”.
Debra Bermingham was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1953. She has a BFA from the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington and an MFA from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Since 1978, Bermingham has had several solo exhibitions at galleries and museums. Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions including, New Images from North Mayo, The Ballinglen Arts Foundation Gallery, Ballycastle, Ireland (2001); Painting Abstraction II, New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture, New York, NY (2001); Contemporary American Realist Drawing – The Jalane and Richard Davidson Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL (1999); Re-Presenting Representation III, Arnot Art Museum (1997); Exhibition of Work by Newly Elected Members and Recipients of Honors and Awards, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY (1996); New Viewpoints: Contemporary American Women Realists, Developed by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in cooperation with The United States Information Agency, Seville World Expo, Spain (1992), and others.
Bermingham has been the recipient of various awards including The Ballinglen Arts Foundation Fellowship, Ballycastle, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland (2000); The Constance Saltonsall Foundation for the Arts Grant (1997) and the Louise Nevelson Award in Art from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1996), among others. She has taught at universities in Washington State and New York, most recently as an Assistant Professor at Cornell.
Bermingham’s works are included in public collections including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Smith College Museum of Art.