Pottery artist displays vision through paintings

A section of a painting titled "Refuge Cove" by artist Julie Berg-Linville will be included in her exhibit “Perimeter,” which opens on Friday at the Main Street Gallery. Photo by Julie Berg-Linville

 Artist Julie Berg-Linville will open her Main Street Gallery exhibit, “Perimeter” on Friday evening, showcasing her oil paintings of Ketchikan’s water, land and skies.

 Berg-Linville is known for her Wren Pottery business, and the exhibit will give people the chance to share Berg-Linville’s artistic vision through another medium. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in ceramics and painting in college, but has focused on creating pottery since then.

 “I really love it, she said of creating pottery pieces. “I just love throwing clay on the wheel. It’s therapeutic, it’s something like — with pottery, it’s not just art that becomes precious on the wall, that’s looked at, it’s a communication between the artist and the maker and the person who uses it or buys it. You hold it. It’s made with my hands, and it’s placed into someone else’s hands and they drink their coffee or their cocoa or they eat their food off of it.

“I really like functional ceramics because of that. It brings art into everyday rituals, kind of giving it a little more of reverence to our food and our drinks,” she said.

 Berg-Linville said she is happy with where her pottery business is right now, and was intrigued by the idea of once again sharing her experiences through painting.

 “I thought really hard about what I wanted to do,” she said in a recent interview at a local coffee shop. “Because, I was a little intimidated to get back into it, so I kind of wanted to bite off something I knew I could chew.”

 Recalling a harsh review from a college professor who’d chided her for painting a subject Berg-Linville was interested in, but had no real experience with, Berg-Linville said she was determined to “paint what I knew, and what really meant something to me.”

 Integral to Berg-Linville’s Ketchikan experience is the view from her downtown home.

 “Daily, it’s just this gorgeous view of Pennock and the clouds. I’m just really affected by the sky here all the time. Every day, it’s different,” she said.

 Berg-Linville grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, before moving to Montana at the age of 19.

She and her husband lived in Ketchikan with their young children from 2005 to 2008. They moved back to Montana, and returned to Ketchikan in 2016.

Her husband is a fisherman, Berg-Linville said, so the family returned when it became unbearable for them to spend the fishing seasons so far apart.

 The feelings and perceptions of living in Ketchikan, surrounded by water, inspired Berg-Linville’s choice of the title “Perimeter” for her exhibit, she said.

 “I started to really think about the narrative of living on an island, that’s for me, so far from home,” said  Berg-Linville.

 She shared how living in Ketchikan had affected her and inspired her artwork.

 “The weather is so powerful and it’s so beautiful and it’s visceral — all of this wilderness around us,” she said.

 That the circumscribed shoreline also prevents residents from coming and going without extra effort, she explained, was part of her feeling the perimeter of the area, she said.

 “It’s about this feeling of being on an island and having this line that divides and looking kind of past that,” she said of the inspiration behind her paintings in the gallery show.

 “Looking beyond — it’s this yearning to go see more. What’s out there? Even sometimes to take the ferry over to Gravina and drive around,” she said.

 All of the exhibit’s works give people a view from the shoreline out.

 “I do love the beaches here,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. It really does feel exotic. For me, a girl from Minnesota, to live on the ocean — I didn’t see the ocean until I was a teenager. It just seems kind of ‘other’ to me still.”

 Part of her motivation to explore and share her perceptions of living within the perimeters of a remote island was that, “I guess I wanted to know if other people feel like I do sometimes,” she said.

 Of her complex feelings shared through the paintings, she said, “it’s grittier, it’s more homes, but it’s also celebrating. The paintings show a beautiful place.

 “I also want my show to be about more than pretty pictures,” she said, explaining that they are about “the sky, and the sea and the land and also what it means to live on an island.”

 She added, “Everyone has their own story about living here. It is an experience, you know, it’s definitely very different than the way most Americans live and we all have our own reasons. Some people come up here to escape, some people are fourth generations, others are here for the Coast Guard. Everyone has their own experience of living in this really unique place.”

Right after she submitted her exhibit proposal, Berg-Linville said her concept of the awareness of living within that perimeter, and the vulnerability that it inspires, was enhanced by the announcements of severe budget cuts to the ferry system.

Berg-Linville said that the process of creating the paintings for her show was dynamic.

“I had them planned in my head, and they’re very different that what I had planned,” she said.

At first, she’d envisioned creating more abstract, graduated color field images that would be more symbolic of the skies and seas, she said.

“But, then the more I started to explore and go outside and really look, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of everything that I had to do it a little more literal,” she said. “I felt like I was doing it a disservice if I wasn’t a little more literal on the landscapes.”

Of the 13 paintings she created for the show, Berg-Linville said most were re-painted a few times before she was satisfied.

“Getting the color compliments and the expression of the brushwork — relearning oils” all were challenges she had to overcome, she said.

Berg-Linville said it had been about 15 years since she’d painted, and it was a complicated journey to explore her ideas again through that craft.

“I’d been spending so much time in my creative mind with the pottery, I felt confident that I could do it. I knew I could paint. I knew I could. It was just a lot of relearning,” she said. “It was humbling. It was exhausting. Painting is almost like a puzzle. You have to put in all of these concepts of the composition and the colors and what kind of strokes are you going to do and all of these things need to come into play.”

Then, she arrived at a point where she realized, “I love this,” she said.

Then, she hit a serious obstacle when, while preparing for her show, her mother became ill, then passed away. That also gave her some deep moments to again ponder the myriad meanings of “perimeter,” she said.

 As she got back to working on her paintings, she said she began to study the French impressionists for inspiration.

“Those artists were like, absolute rebels of their time,” she explained. “They took painting from the classic salon style, where no brush strokes could be seen and everything was about Venus and mythological, religious figures and they started painting real life with expressive, loose, rough brushstrokes, outside and painting prostitutes and people just living their lives, and the dirty absinthe bars and they took painting from this bourgeois thing into this real life, and they did it from their own gumption.

 “Learning the impressionists again was like, a real game changer.”

Berg-Linville said she is excited to continue painting now.

“It’s just so cool,” she said, grinning.

 “Painting was just like cracking my heart and my brain wide open again, and it was really neat,” she said.

Berg-Linville summarized her experience of creating her series of works for her “Perimeter” exhibit.

“It kind of started with this feeling of confrontation between me and the border and being unable to, like, go because there’s water. It was almost like a butting up, or a confrontation of this feeling I had and by painting the landscape and the sky — and the skies just blow me away here — I started to kind of see,” she said.

“When my paintings were first coming out, it was very separate; sky, water, land and then they started, over the process, to kind of blend and become one. I felt like I made a sense of peace about my place and feeling more of a sense of place by just looking hard — I mean, really looking — because that’s what you do as an artist, you just look hard at a thing until you feel like you can understand it enough to process it through your own self onto something for other people to experience.”

 Berg-Linville’s “Perimeter” exhibit will open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday at the Main Street Gallery, located at 330 Main Street, during the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council’s ARTober Art Walk event.

 Berg-Linville also will be giving a presentation and leading a workshop from noon to1 p.m. at the Main Street Gallery on Oct. 6.

 She said that in her presentation she briefly will share her experience of coming up with the concept of her exhibit and the process of creating her pieces. After that, she said she will lead attendees in brainstorming with the aim of putting creativity into action.

 She said she’ll have people take pen to paper to “explain to themselves what they would like to do with their creativity and how to make it happen and bring it into action.”

 That push to action is critical, Berg-Linville said, because “so many creative, artistic people, we just sit on our ideas and we let them go because no one’s going to make our art but us.”