Every Artist is an Archeologist: Artist spotlight on Betsy Birkner

by Liz McKay, Gallery Manager

Editor’s Note: Twice-a-week, leading up to our “111: Small Works Show”, gallery manager Liz McKay will introduce to you one artist being featured in this unique show. If you like this article, come out to opening night of “111: The Small Works Show” on April 21st at Gallery 27.

According to my mother, the first big word I ever uttered was archeologist. I was 3, and my 13 year old cousin Jimmy and I had been digging in the flower beds. He taught me to say the word and filled my head with visions of buried treasure.  Later, while a student at Winthrop University, conversations with my fellow art students revealed that the majority of them had considered studying archeology before choosing art.  Little did we realize then that as artists, we engage in a sort of cultural archeology as we draw inspiration from aspects of the past, present and possible future of our society.

Betsy Birkner art draws heavily on both cultural and societal norms, and how the nuances of these experiences can be expressed visually through the application of forms and textures found in nature.

“Putting my hands into clay connected me to my love of 3-dimensions and the earth. My interest in the figural form led me to create a clay chest armor series, “I should.” The fragility of the clay armor opposes the protective function of the utilitarian object of conflict. We are protected as we integrate issues dictated by family, media and culture, while we find our authentic selves. Molded clay forms are covered with found objects, or handmade or molded objects from favorite items. Surface is important to my work. The application of media–color, chalk, graphite–and removal of layers to see what remains, is like uncovering treasures in the earth. The Baby Tile series was sparked by the armor installations, as keeping children safe should become a national past time.

I love drawing. I have created scientific illustrations of plants, as well as abstract renderings revealing the energy of living matter. The transition from living organism to dried, shriveled leaf or petal also intrigues me. My work is about light and reflectance, auras, color or lack of it, form, figure and movement in a variety of media. I experiment with disparate clay, painting and art techniques.”  ~Betsy Birkner