Humans of Parkland: Chris Berti

Photo by Emma Gray | “Toad” by Chris Berti, 2017, carved from vintage brick.

Photo by Emma Gray | “Toad” by Chris Berti, 2017, carved from vintage brick.

Photo by Emma Gray | “Chuck” by Chris Berti, 2017, carved from vintage brick.

Photo by Emma Gray | “Chuck” by Chris Berti, 2017, carved from vintage brick.

Emma Gray

Editor

Chris Berti is a professor of art and design at Parkland who teaches sculpture, ceramics, and three-dimensional design.

“I worked part-time many years here,” he said. “In 1994, I became full-time…I enjoy the challenge of teaching the many of the aspects of working three-dimensionally.”

He holds a bachelor’s in fine arts from Alfred University and a master’s in fine arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art specializing in ceramics.

He says his career in art stemmed from experiences he had in high school.

“I had a really good high school teacher. I grew up in Long Island, New York. I was a part of a very large Italian-American family. I had a high school teacher who encouraged me. As it turns out he actually went to the University of Illinois…What are the chances of that?

He encouraged me to go to a school that would support my interest as an artist and my interest in ceramics. I wound up going to…Alfred University in upstate New York, which has probably one of the better ceramics programs in the world, and I had some really good teachers,” he said.

“Each of them had different ways of thinking about art and form…They created an art culture that supported the people that worked within it, and that was really nice. I try to do a little bit of that in my classroom.”

After his time at Alfred University, Berti moved to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan for graduate school.

“Where I went to graduate school…I worked with this guy Jun Kaneko. He was kind of a synthesis between Picasso and Yoda.

[Kaneko] had the best aspects of his background…because he was Japanese. But at that point in time he had been living in the United States for 20 years and I think he also understood American culture as well.

In Japan when people are impressed it seemed they don’t say much, but when they’re not impressed they don’t say much either. So, when they say things it’s usually really important, so you pay very close attention,” he said.

He remembers to this day some of the things that Kaneko said to him.

“I remember he used to say something…‘If you want a critique bring a trash can, if you want a good critique bring a dumpster.’ Or, another one was like, ‘Be like a duck, calm on the surface, paddling like crazy underneath.’ So, was there this mystique he had.”

In his own artistic career, Berti continues to make 3-D art, namely pottery and carving. He would call himself an “intermittent potter.”

“I think the nice thing about that is that it keeps it fun because I don’t do it constantly,” he said.

“I think that a good pot is good sculpture and there’s something really nice about making something that people can use; it’s sort of intimate…You get one experience when it’s sitting on a shelf and another when you pick it up and use it. So, that to me is really exciting.”

When he is not making pottery, he focuses on making sculptures. His sculptures are often carvings. Recently he has made pieces out of bricks, glass fragments, and wood. Some of his sculptures can be seen in Parkland’s Giertz Gallery.

“A lot of the work I make for myself…is carved. When you’re carving something you are sort of looking at something from the inside out…When you’re carving it’s a slow gradual process.”

Having been immersed in ceramics for most of his life, he says it is hard to pick a favorite material or style.

“Ceramics has a really rich history, so it’s a tough thing to pick out [a favorite] because it dates back thousands of years. People were making ceramics not long after the cave paintings on Lascaux,” he said, referencing rock wall art in caves near the town of Montignac, France, which date back roughly 17,000 years. “Because it’s a material of the earth, once you fire it, it becomes very durable and it doesn’t really have any form or shape.”

“And I think that’s the exciting thing about clay—that there’s so much potential in it,” he said. “It’s tactile. There’s nothing else quite like [it]. That is a great reason for someone to take a ceramics or sculpture class here at Parkland.”