The Spur

Ute Bertog’s Language of Art

Kevin Danielson, News Editor

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After settling in the United States from Germany in 1998, Ute Bertog found herself surrounded by a foreign culture and language. Having studied economics and marketing in Germany, the move liberated Bertog to pursue her interest in art.

“In the beginning I had no pretensions to make a career out of my art making, rather I just wanted to learn and absorb whatever I could,” Bertog said.

Bertog studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and graduated in 2005. Much of her work revolves around the concept of language, which she credits to her transition to the United States.

“I think that I wouldn’t be doing this kind of work if it hadn’t been for my experience of moving here those many years ago,” Bertog said. “I probably would be doing abstract work…but I am not sure that my focus on language would be there.”

Her exhibit “The Secret Life of Words” runs from Jan. 4 through March 4 in the Whipple Gallery.

Bertog’s fascination with language shows up in unique ways in the displayed works. Each undergoes a unique artistic process.

This begins with the gathering of language that can be used in the paintings. They come from written and spoken text from her everyday life, such as newspapers, books, radio, and overheard conversations.

“All things strange and unfamiliar are game and up for grabs, things that are humorous and absurd, things misunderstood or misread, things that seem out of place and out of time,” Bertog said.

The language used is then deconstructed. One word or phrase is continually layered over the other until all legibility is lost, and textures emerge.

“I just love when paintings have this patina, of things hidden and obscured by more recent layers,” Bertog said. “My goal has always been to create opportunities to undermine and confuse the original content of the text that I use in order to get a different ‘read’ or understanding of it.”

The technique of writing and rewriting in the artistic process reminds her a lot of the writing process.

“Yet at the same time it’s contrary to the writing process in that writing has a message in the end, [while] painting is allowed to be more elusive about meaning,” Bertog said.

The words or phrases used inspires the unique titles for her work, such as the intricate “Yes…of course I lost the F,” and the highly textured “Broke cynicism simply wandered in and out again.”

Bertog draws inspiration for her art from other fields, such as writing, music, dance, and theater; and visual artists such as Amy Sillman and Kurt Schwitters. She has an upcoming show at the Rosalux Gallery in Minneapolis this August.

“After all those years here in the U.S. I still feel somewhat like a foreigner and I think I will never lose the feeling. But I cherish it,” Bertog said. “It helps me to continually stretch myself.”

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Ute Bertog’s Language of Art