TO BARE INK: A conversation with artist Ian Bertram by Allen Feldman

Ian Bertram

Ian Bertram is an artist living and working in New York. He is interested in uncovering the hedonistic and fatalistic nature of man vs. self. By combining precise, meditative mark making, with visceral and sudden actions, he creates mystical, grotesque, and primal portraits of ennui and the strange by way of drawing and painterly techniques.

Ian Bertram feverishly draws the outline of a soon to be portrait in the confines of the Con Artist Collective, a shared workspace that is home to artists in the Lower East Side, New York. His gaze hardly leaves the page until a mistake causes him to grab his eraser. What ensues is a self-inflicted earthquake that shakes the table into a tremor. What is left is a small mountain of dead eraser residue. He looks up from his page. “I can’t do this interview and draw at the same time”, he says as he puts his work away. We get up and sit in the confines of a DIY soundproof box as we contemplate the purpose of art, sing some Haddaway and discuss his upcoming show with stencil artist Mor, opening March 27th at City Bird Gallery.

Allen Feldman: Why make art?

Ian Bertram: I make art for catharsis. Making art is the only positive process I have found for unpacking my experience. While it is a thoroughly selfish endeavor, it is the only way I want to live.

AF: It’s interesting that you say art is a selfish practice. Do you think that there is a sacrifice that artists need to make?

IB: Yes, but for me it is not a sacrifice aimed at helping others. I sacrifice a healthy mindset, as I want to explore the darker desires, intent, and judgement present in myself. But it is just that; Me and I. In a world filled with suffering, I feel it is selfish to not actively help. It is a sin, but we all justify our non-contributions in different ways.

AF: How would you describe yourself as an artist? 

IB: As an artist, I am a compulsive subconscious meditator. I want to pull out of myself the ichor that pickles my mind and examine it as it forms on a surface. I feel both present and elsewhere when I draw and paint.

AF: How would you describe that sort of craftsmanship in your work?

IB: My work is layered with mark making. I use a pen to replicate specific hash marks in order to add volume and lighting to a form. I steal a lot from classical art when it comes to building human figures and environments. In the early stages of my pieces, the craftsmanship is precise. Then as the image reaches a plateau with rendering, I want to damage the precision, to paint over and scratch out the meditative marks in a fever pitch. The dichotomy between the two approaches is analogous to my fluctuation in my sense of self. Measured and sure, passionate and unfettered.

AF: Classical art?

IB: The earliest form of painting I most appreciate is from the Renaissance – structural forms, lighting, etc. At a time when artists were still figuring out how to paint and draw the world. It was experimental, yet direct and elaborate. I can almost feel the strain, attention and sweat of these artists as they tried to capture the exquisite detail of a form.

AF: And how do you feel about art today?

IB: I mean, with any form of art, I want to be impressed above all else. I want to see work that my thought process would never lead me to create.  I want to see the artist’s hand. Especially in New York where you’re completely surrounded by people, yet you are alone. I find it beautiful and angering. To see a piece of art that stops time and makes me wonder how it was created, something so beautiful, it allows me to see that while we are alone, we are not “lone”. It’s love; it’s the only thing worth living for.

AF: Can you talk more about your fascination with structural anatomy? 

IB: I think the human body is beautiful. When I look at a person the first thing I see is their movement. The way their body flows and articulates. I love the patterns and contours and specificity of each form. All different, and all based on the same basic structure. The deposits of fat and muscle, subtle shifts in placement, all work together to construct a person. This thing that walks and talks and has opinions, desperately believing in its individual values. The tragedy of the players as they strut and fret their hour upon the stage. And without ever knowing the inner mind of another, I have the absurd intent to portray them? I want to do their perfection justice. Without the attention to their forms and folds, it would be a disservice to the people I love, hate, and by whom I am utterly fascinated.

Ian Bertram 2

AF: What are you interested in exploring in art? How about in your own work? 

IB: I’m interested in exploring my fears, my neurosis, my dislikes. What I hope to get from art is a reminder that in a world that seems bleak and filled with pain and chaos, for a half second, for a true blink, there is something that is pure. Not necessarily positive, but at its core, there is authenticity that I am trying to uncover.

AF: Dislikes? What are the dislikes?

IB: My ultimate dislike is that we die alone on a tiny blue marble in the middle of space. I mean, it’s beautiful. Death. But it’s also sad. I’ve dealt with a lot of it recently and it’s a challenging topic that I keep struggling with. It drives my work further into the darkness that tempts me.

AF: You’ve drawn comics for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse (to name a few) and recently you drew the cover for X-Men, which is a big deal in the comic book world. What is your continued interest in comic book illustration?

IB: I feel like comics are an accessible medium based in my craftsmanship, above all. They’re a working class art form, where one doesn’t have the time for masturbatory self-exploration. Comics need to be carefully created and well thought out; a lot of time goes into these drawings. There’s an honesty to comics. I draw them everyday. I work seven days a week, drawing. Comics are absolutely a craft to take seriously.

AF: What are your most recent projects?

IB: I’ve been working on a series of portraits that are loosely based on people that I love and have loved. They’re without photo reference, straight from my subconscious. I haven’t planned any of the individual drawing, they’ve just evolved. I’ve painted over them and destroyed them, all in an attempt to understand myself and the people I love.

Ian Bertram 3

City Bird Gallery is proud to present “And Tomorrow”, a collaboration between artist Ian Bertram and stencil artist Mor, opening March 27th. The opening reception will be held that evening from 6pm – 11pm. The exhibition will run from March 27th – April 6th.


You can find more of Ian Bertram’s work on his instagram @ianbertramink

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