William Berra is an American painter of landscapes, figures, and still life. He is represented by galleries throughout the United States and his work is in many public and private collections. Berra has appeared in over 40 solo and group shows. William Berra lives in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe with his wife, Alanna Burke, who is his business partner and a frequent model in his paintings.
William Berra was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1952. As a child he constantly sketched and painted. By adolescence he was copying the Neo-Classic painters and old masters, and he supplemented high school with classes at the York Academy of Art. After attending the Maryland Institute College of Art, he traveled throughout North America, capturing the landscape in studies painted en plein air. In 1976 Berra arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was dazzled by the landscape and the clarity of the high desert light, and stayed to paint it. His work was chosen for the 1978 Biennial Exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Jean Seth, owner of Seth's Canyon Road Art Gallery, saw the exhibition and offered him a show and representation. William Berra's career as a professional artist was born.
Berra spent the 1980s primarily painting Northern New Mexico en plein air. He was influenced by the Macchiaioli painters of 19th century Italy, precursors to the French practitioners of Impressionism, and he experimented with techniques to achieve their effects. One technique was that of painting on a board shellacked with an orange base. The undercoating generally warms the painting, showing through where oil paint is applied sparingly. He also placed "complementary hues side by side for maximum visual vibration."
In the 1990s, Berra began to spend more time painting in the studio, developing material gathered in plein air sketches and photographs. He expanded his horizons and his subject matter, traveling and painting landscapes in Europe, Hawaii, and throughout North America. Italy became a favorite subject. In one project, Berra spent time in Rome seeking out views painted in the mid-19th century by a favorite artist, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and other plein air painters of Grand Tour subjects. The paintings from this project were the subject of a solo exhibition in 2001.
Berra also turned his attention increasingly to figurative work. Starting with oil sketches of his wife painted on location in Europe, he developed a style that presents ambiguous figures in abstract, unresolved landscapes. He began an ongoing series of beach scenes that have become increasingly simplified and abstracted in recent years. His nude series presents a female figure either in intimate domestic settings or on utterly abstracted backgrounds.
William Berra continues to paint landscapes of Europe, both city (Venice, Paris, London, etc.) and country (Tuscany, Provence, Santorini, Mykonos, etc.). He makes annual trips to the Hawaiian Islands, where dramatic scenery and weather inspire atmospheric landscape paintings. Northern New Mexico is also a subject.
Throughout his career, Berra has produced occasional still life paintings using the same approach that he uses in his figurative paintings: he simplifies the motif and presents it on an abstracted background. Many of his works, whatever the subject, use negative space to isolate the subject.
Berra also continues to develop his beach scenes and figurative paintings. He said this about a painting from his Diving Platform series: "I've been painting landscapes, beach scenes and figurative work for decades. Diving Platform, Dusk includes elements from them all: the reflective water, the evening sky, the figures. This painting represents a new phase in my figurative work. Elements that I've long worked with are combined in different ways. The atmosphere of the sunset sky and the way it reflects in the water gives a mood to the figures."
Of Berra's latest work, Nedra Matteucci of Nedra Matteucci Galleries, Santa Fe, says "His paintings have new depth, from surprising figurative work to landscapes that contrast both the familiar and uncommon. His current varied technique and style in oil, with some on gold-colored metal leaf, create exciting paintings of people, birds, cattle, and colorful vistas near and far."
In popular culture
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