A Restless Harmony
Horizon lines appear to be in flux, creating a sense not of irresolution, but rather, of possibility. The eye of the viewer roves beyond the hills; a young man gazes beyond his ancient village. Following the telephone wires, we pass cornfields, and then circle back again. Bare, wintry trees stretch across another sky, towering over Nineteenth Century houses. A telescope rests on a mantel in case it should be needed. Tunisian vessels tilt toward each other through the mirror. Coffee steams in bowls. The melon is sliced. Who is coming to sit at that table?
The world of contemporary art is a kaleidoscopic circus of ideas and images. It is easy
to be confused and even alienated by the state of our world as reflected in art exhibitions,
visual echoes online, and in print. In such a world it is a relief and immense
pleasure to encounter the paintings of Helen Berggruen. In her landscapes, interiors, and
still lives, bristling with color and gesture, we are reminded of painting's power to awaken
us to the joy of everyday pleasures. Her work is a paean to the rich heritage of a culture
that survives all attempts of mankind to destroy it. She reflects a thoughtful and
intensely observed life, visible in every painting, harnessing powers of paint and brush
with unambiguous joy.
In looking at a painting such as, Kitchen, Southwest France, we are taken to a place
that is both interior and exterior, filled with the pleasures of a life in the country. Upon
some reflection it becomes a kind of self-portrait of Berggruen herself. Here is a room
rich with experience and love of living. Paintings are hung on a warm wall, wine, bread,
melon, and sunflowers among the elements that invite our attention. This is a painting that
reflects the exuberant touch of the hand at the service of a sensitive mind. Everything
shimmers with personality, inviting us to slow down and spend time in visual dialogue.
There is a sense of timelessness in the process brought to bear in these works. In the
transformation of seeing into a painted vision, Berggruen is participating in the most ancient
and valuable of human activities. It is the uninterrupted train of art-making that runs though history. The authority of this work rests in the honesty and sincerity of the artist's intent. These paintings carry with them the best of what we have accomplished along
the human journey.
In Soybeans and Cornfields, we are thrust into a turbulent and lively space. It descends
from Van Gogh, whose kinship I see in Berggruen's animated vision and ingenuous regard
for natural wonder. To paint with such openhearted passion requires courage and dedication.
The artist's commitment offers solace to the modern eye and summons us to pay attention
to every day, to every room, window, and vista.
In poetry, be it visual or verbal, are available answers to questions that we haven't thought
to ask. It is the gift of the Arts, and of paintings such as these, that acquaint us with both
who we are, and with the world that is all around us. Here the observed and the expressed,
quiver with restless life. It is a life we all can benefit by surrendering to.
~ Chester Arnold