Ed Bereal, self portrait When I went to college, my interests were broad. After going to community colleges for 6 years, I chose to transfer to a university instead of a specialized art school because I wanted to continue taking classes in a wide variety of subjects: philosophy, biology, music, art, linguistics, writing, everything I could get my head around. I was a hungry student and I wanted access to all that a full campus could give me. I also wanted to avoid turning into one of those artists who used words like “personage” or who colored their pots with orange polka dots just to differentiate their work from others’ (this was the scene I encountered when interviewing art colleges). I wanted my education to be highly intelligent, and close to the ground. I was also in no hurry. I wanted to go to school forever. Oh look, that’s exactly what I’m doing at the League. I chose to go to Western Washington University. It was close, it was made cheap by financial aid, grants, and scholarships so I didn’t have to rush through, and it had lots of buildings and trees and stuff. Western Washington University As a student, I was disappointed to discover that the university was not set up for the kind of enthusiastically broad study I’d been looking forward to. First of all, they want you to choose one focus, then a minor, and they don’t actually want you to haunt their lecture halls forever. This was a disappointment for me as it cut out most of the range studies I’d been hoping for, but I still managed to hang on for a good 5 years before they figured out my game of dancing around the core requirements for graduation and put an end to my fun. The second limitation was the class schedule. To promote you choosing just one area of study, or maybe just due to their stubborn inability to function reasonably, the class schedules were cultured by department. This made signing up for more than one area of study nearly impossible. For instance, some departments started and ended classes on the hour, while others started and ended on the half hour. This made it impossible to schedule classes without gaps and overlaps. Compounding this problem, studio and lab classes were in large blocks 2-3 days a week, while other classes like writing were in small one-hour daily blocks. Essentially, this obliterated most of my plans to be a well rounded individual. I knew I needed to make things with my hands if I was going to maintain sanity, and that meant studio art was necessary. My primary passions going into college were writing and pottery. I’d just studied pottery under Kosuke Kaneshige, the son and inheritor of Toyo Kaneshige‘s legacy as a national treasure in Japan, and I had deep love for pottery. After studying this traditional art form dating back to the 15th century, the rat hole that was the WWU pottery department was as offensive as a loose turd on a lazy susan, so my love for pottery was put on hold. I looked for another studio class, and that’s how I found Ed Bereal. Photo of Ed Bereal in his shop, taken by Susan Bennerstrom Preferring the humanity of clay to the aristocratic allusions of paint, I had no intention of studying painting, but I believed that a great teacher can be more valuable to an education than a predetermined bias, and I knew as soon as I met him that Ed Bereal was a great teacher. Shortly after my first painting class, I changed my major to painting and moved in. I am profoundly grateful that I did, and Ed Bereal became the most influential teacher in my life. Bereal’s presence was charismatic and impactful. He’s an art preacher, and his sermons have a beat that’ll rock you to your core. He also has a soft personal touch for each of his students, as he encouraged each of us to find their own voice. He said that painting is a 1:1 battle between yourself and the canvas, but at the same time it’s vital that artists be connected with each other and with what’s happening in the world. He wanted us to question the powerful, and challenge the status quo. He talked about how important it is to have a clear intention and integrity to our work – a philosophy that was reiterated in a completely different timbre by his wife, my other brilliant and wonderfully influential painting teacher, Barbara Sternberger. Above everything, Bereal wanted our paintings to be more than technique, he wanted our paintings to be our voice. These teachings are embedded deep into the philosophies of the Seattle Artist League. Ed Bereal in his studio In class, Ed Bereal talked about his influential years, studying art in Los Angeles during the 60s, completely oblivious to the world around him. I don’t remember what he was painting – perhaps a figure or a still life – only to open the door to his studio and be greeted by a rifle pointed directly at his black mortality, a white cop attached to the other end. Chaos and violence was explosive in the streets. Bereal was painting in the Watts riots, his studio was right in the middle of it. He decided then that it was vital for him to open his eyes and paint the reality of what was happening around him. His work became highly charged and political – still uncomfortable, provoking, and relevant today after 50 years of painting. WANTED: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace. Photo by David Scherrer Ed Bereal, my beloved teacher, is having a retrospective at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham now through January. I haven’t been up to see the show yet, and I was planning on writing about him after I did, except today I saw that Bereal has been featured in The New York Times. Well hot dang. There he is. I’m thrilled and proud for him. I couldn’t wait to post this. WANTED: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace. Photo by Jenny Riffle for The New York Times “The oeuvre of Mr. Bereal, a self-described political cartoonist, is painterly, sophisticated and explosive. Over the decades, it has only become more confrontational, grotesque and darkly satirical, exploring themes of gun violence, racism, police brutality, corporate greed, complicity, the military industrial complex and, most recently, climate change.” – Alex V. Cipolle, The New York Times Ed Bereal, The Birth of the Middle Class I’ll be up to see the show before January and I’ll post more about Bereal’s work and lessons. In the meantime, I hope you’ll read the full New York Times article. I’ll warn you, it hurts a bit.