Tom Berenz

Tom Berenz’s paintings reside in an ambiguous realm between reality, memory, and imagination. They strike us first as vibrating abstractions, only before revealing themselves instead as being abstracted. Abstracted from where and what is the question that keeps us engaged. They slowly reveal subtle references to solid objects we recognize from our universe. In his recent body of work, “The Sitter,” the object is defined, but unclear from immediate observation. But eventually the impression of the seated and fractured subject resolves. Not in a moment of clear and decisive recognition, but as an accumulation of instances and prolonged connection with the work. The compositions develop fitfully, like memory itself, calling into question the nature of perception, observation, and recollected thoughts themselves. This purposeful denial of resolution brings into question the relationship between the artist as objective producer and the viewer as reliable consumer of the subject matter. This destabilization is further reinforced almost paradoxically by Berenz’s clarity of rendering, which emphasizes solidity and volume, but just as quickly pulverizes and distorts it. As firm and resolute as these narrative elements seem, they tend to retreat into a thatch of directional painterly passages almost as soon as they are recognized. The whole and the sum of the parts of his paintings are always in a tug-of-war. This keeps his work in a constant state of tension, at once central and balanced, and radiating and chaotic. The appendages of the sitter that snakes through these large-scale paintings appear elegantly arranged even while they seem nervously tangled. This balance finally suggests a compositional and formal deftness that seems purposefully intent to keep us guessing, toggling helplessly between formal arrangements and carefully composed broken narratives. Rather than forcing us to settle on one read or another, they finally leave us with a sense that the story is one about the ambiguity of painting itself–a story about the fantastic dimensional wormholes that art can open up, allowing us to travel back-and-forth between dimensions like time travelers, between types of content like shape-shifters, and between reality and fantasy like we’re in a waking dream.