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Q-and-A with Megan Kathol Bersett: Abstract painter creates unsettling experiences

painting by Megan Kathol Bersett

Untitled no. 3 is an acrylic painting Megan Kathol Bersett showed as part of her M.F.A. exhibition, Unsettled.

Megan Kathol Bersett, M.F.A. ’13, had a busy spring semester.

In February, the abstract painter showed several of her works at a West Dundee gallery. In April, she hosted her M.F.A. show and was given an entire wall at University Galleries for the 2013 Student Annual in honor of her winning the School of Art’s top student prize, the Marshall Dulaney Pitcher Award. In May, she graduated from Illinois State University, is participating in the Emerging Illinois Artists show at the McLean County Arts Center, and is having her first show in Chicago.

Bersett has benefited from two Friends of the Arts grants. Last year, a grant supported her trip to southeastern Utah, where she created drawings of the desert landscape that were the basis for her watercolor and gouache series Conglomerates. A second grant helped pay for supplies for her M.F.A. show, Unsettled, which was composed of small and large abstract works that mixed collage with acrylic paint and latex paint pours.

Bersett talked about her work and the importance of the grants during an interview conducted in May.

Why did you become an artist?

My mom, we did a lot of crafts and we made a lot of things. So I started as a maker. I remember my dad melting metal and pouring it into our initials on the garage floor as kids. My best friend and I, that’s all we ever did—make stuff together. In high school I started drawing. In college I took my first painting course and I fell in love.

Why did you come to Illinois State?

They accepted me. (She laughed.) I looked at the faculty work and I was pleased with that work. They also give tuition waivers, so it was a way for me to go to grad school without going into major debt.

How does the title Unsettled fit with what you painted?

Megan Kathol Bersett headshot

Megan Kathol Bersett is an abstract painter from Omaha, Nebraska.

I chose the title Unsettled because a lot of my painting practice is based on the implications of an experience of a painting that can’t be pinned down. I am interested in the viewer having an experience of continual visual activity where it’s actually their eyes and their responses that are continually activated, not just the rhythms and movement that I create in the paint but what happens in their perception and their cognitive and emotional responses to it.

It appears that rocks and other geological objects are important to your work. Why do you use them and why do you abstract them?

Megan Kathol Bersett painting from Utah

Conglomerate 2 is part of a series of paintings Megan Kathol Bersett created after taking a trip to southeastern Utah.

As a child I wanted to be a paleontologist, which is the digging up of dinosaur bones and study of ancient creatures. But what I realized later was that it was actually the digging involved in that, the sort of uncovering layers of earth and understanding the past by something that we can’t see. And so then I realized later that once I moved to New Mexico—which is a place ripe with awesome, interesting geological phenomena — and that was what really started this work and ideas of geology. Geology is also interesting for me in the sense that it is constantly moving and shaping the Earth, the environments that we inhabit, and its formulation is a nonlinear process, which I am interested in. And I relate that to human experience, to the overlapping of not only our physical but mental and social spaces and how we sort of navigate through them.

Why are the Friends of the Arts grants important?

Friends of the Arts have been phenomenal in supporting student work in the University. They understand art is not a cheap thing for students to do; it is a very expensive thing. So they have allowed students to go further in their practice and try new things that they haven’t before, get more exploratory, get the quality materials that they need to do the projects they are interested in.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m teaching two classes at ISU in the fall. I’m teaching some summer workshops for McLean County Arts Center. And I plan to continue my studio practice, as usual. I have a new studio in my basement that I’m very excited about. I’ll be moving there in June.

 

Megan Kathol Bersett is the wife of the author of this story, Kevin Bersett, who can be reached at kdberse@ilstu.edu.

 

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