ARTIST'S STUDIO | Q&A with Bergen Rose

Bergen Rose’s artistic prowess has taken her around the world and back again. Over the last three-plus decades, her work — which runs the gamut of encaustic wax, to fiber art, to more traditional landscape painting with oil and acrylics — has been shown across the U.S. and Europe.

Fresh off a showing at the International Biennale d’Art Textile earlier this year in France, she’s back in Western Washington — a place she’s called home since the mid-90s— with an exhibition at the Fountainhead Gallery (625 W. McGraw St.) through September.

She sat down with the Queen Anne & Magnolia News over the weekend as she dropped off her work at the Fountainhead to discuss her latest works, and where she draws her inspiration.

The show runs Sept. 1 to 24, with the opening reception on Sept. 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Q: How did this show come to be at the Fountainhead?

Bergen Rose: I have been with the Fountainhead on and off for about 18 years, and they opened 20 years ago. I had a show with them on my encaustic work a couple years after they opened. I lived in the neighborhood, and a few years ago moved to Whidbey Island, but still show at the Fountainhead. Wonderful people, nice people.


Q: What keeps you coming back to the Fountainhead?

Rose: I always sell work here, and they’ve always been very fair and good to me. They’re good people. I’ve dealt with other galleries that weren’t so nice. It’s the neighborhood that I used to live in, that I love and still connect with even though I live elsewhere. I like this little small gallery, easy to deal with, nice people.


Q: What do you look for for inspiration when you start a piece?

Rose: I am always absorbed in nature, which is why I live on Whidbey. … Before I start painting, I look outside, and I look at the water, I look at the land, and it puts me in a dreamy space. Without nature — and I have lived in big cities before —  there’s the artificiality that I’m striving for that I can’t seem to get away from the hubbub of the city, or intensity. And nature kind of opens me up and then from there I can look inside and find my content. It finds me. I don’t start out with any plan, it always sounds ridiculous to people but I don’t. I look out the window, and then I check my internal barometer and just start with a brushstroke.


Q: How long did it take you to prepare all of your work for this show?

Rose: I would say a good part of the year, probably 10 months. I was in a couple of other shows, a show in Europe in April, so I had to stop and start again with this, because my exhibits in France are all fiber art, but the paintings come here.


Q: Take me through the mediums that you use to create your work.

Rose: Oil is my preferred medium right now, oil on canvas, oil on linen. I have a couple on wood. But I also work in fiber art, and that’s only because I was sick for so long that I couldn’t stand up and paint, and so I could do some fiber art, and so that’s what the Europeans like so I send it or take it to France.


Q: What do each of those allow you to do that the other does not?

Rose: There’s a certain intensity with my paintings that I only get with my paintings. I kind of go out of my mind, because I don’t have a plan. One brush stroke leads me to the next to the next to the next, and it informs me of what it’s doing as opposed to something like a writer. When I hear writers talk about, they don’t know where the book’s going and finally they find the ending. So there’s an intensity that I get that I may be dripping in sweat or you know, days go by and I haven’t eaten, but with the fiber work there’s a certain sort of meditative experience. Sometimes in the middle of doing a painting I’ll stop and do some fiber work just to calm down or get a sense of peace. It’s also the light, I have to have the summer, spring light to paint, and once it starts getting darker I go back to the fiber. They have different places in my heart.


Q: How many pieces are you typically working on at one time?

Rose: I set out a goal for myself, like for this show, I set out, I wanted to do a variety of small, medium, a few large, so I went and got the canvases. And got 20 total. And watched them as they stopped getting unblanked. On the small ones, they take nearly as much focus as the medium sized one, but I wanted some small ones for this show. This is a small gallery and there’s going to be someone else showing here. When I’m working on the big ones, they take all of my thought, so they’ll take up months and sometimes I’ll alternate between one and the other and the other just to let them dry. It’s kind of a relief to get through the small ones then, get the big ones done first.


Q: How much do you take into account the space that the work is going to be shown in?

Rose: I don’t actually take that much into account. What I have to take into account is my studio size, which isn’t very big. I have enough elbow room for a little bigger than what I’m working on now, but not much. You’re limited by your space, and I’m not going to get another space. For a while, anyway.


Q: For someone that used to live nearby, how does it feel to come back?

Rose: I love Queen Anne. It’s sort of my second home. My friend Janet, I met her here 22 years ago, when I moved up from California. I have many friends here, connections, and I have some nice people who were nice enough to buy my paintings here. I also have a small gallery n Whidbey Island, but this is my main voice. I feel connected with the people even though I need nature more than living in dense population. The cows are my neighbors. The deer are always on my property, I love it. The goats, fabulous.


Q: What would you elevator pitch be for people to come see your show?

Rose: Well I’d like to connect with them in some way. I’m not particularly adept at articulating myself verbally, but I would hope they would come and find some connection with my paintings. I’m an emotional painter. I can’t always say what I’m feeling but if I can paint something that someone can connect with, to me, that’s the important thing. So I would like people to come out for a little connection. They don’t have to talk to me!


Q: How far in advance do you have to plan a showing?

Rose: I think I had a year notice on this show, that I was going to be apart of it. That’s in the back of my mind when I’m working on the other things. And I was in a textile show at the textile museum and gallery. I can organize that if I know far enough in advance, and a year is far enough in advance. That’s what they need and that’s what I need.


Q: What’s next on the horizon for you?

Rose: Well, with my work, I’m hoping that the direction I’m going takes me to a little more abstract state. And these pieces, although they’re figurative with landscape and design, I’ve always been a landscape painter and little by little they’re going more in an abstract direction which is really where I want to go. So I’m hoping that, and I can feel it, I can feel the pulsing taking me to a more abstract level, and I have a good relationship with the Fountainhead and so I’m hoping to continue that, and exhibit with them, and then show it elsewhere outside of this community, I don’t want to create any conflicts here.


Q: What goes through your mind in the days leading up to a show opening?

Rose: Oh, talking to people. I’m always kind of embarrassed that I’m the focus of something. I want the work to speak for itself. I never wanted to be the star, I wanted to be the screenwriter, I like to be the person behind the work. I met Richard Diebenkorn long ago, and he was the mentor of my teacher, and the one thing that really impressed me besides his work, of course, was how humble, how he always wanted to stand in the background of a crowded room, and it impressed me that you didn’t have to be flashy. That you could do your work. You don’t have to be so serious, I’m a jokester, I can kid with the best of them. I work hard, and I want the work to say something to people, but I want to be just sort of the whisper in the background.


Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Rose: I just think everybody should spend a little more time in nature, and be inspired from it. We all can’t be painters, but we’re all something. We all have a creative outlet, it could be what you think is next to nothing, but it is something. One great way to find out is to spend time out in nature while we have it.