Lydia van den Berg’s Paintings Filter Innocent Wonder Through Sophisticated Vision

Daydream Street, Paintings, 48 x 32
Although the Bulgarian-born artist Lydia van den Berg, who now lives and works somewhere in the vicinity of Zurich, Switzerland, classifies her painting style as “Magical Poetic Realism,” it would not be inaccurate to add yet another descriptive word to that designation: “Visionary.” For imagination plays a very big part in how van den Berg transforms down to earth landscape and townscape subjects depicting everyday life into almost otherworldly visions, at once fanciful and mysterious.
    Such is the immediate charm and upbeat quality of the mood in van den Berg’s pictures that the untrained eye might initially mistake them for “folk” or “naive” paintings. However, she has arrived at her iconography via a long period of experimentation with a variety of mediums, including oil on canvas, papier mache, watercolors and encaustic, as well as having worked through several different modes of expression.
    Among contemporary artists, her work seems closest in terms of its joyous spirit and its innate sophistication and its brilliant ribbons of color to that of the Austrian avant garde painter and architect Fritz Hendertwasser, who once said that the ultimate aim of his paintings was to “introduce the observer into a new life of peace and happiness.” Indeed, the fanciful dwellings in some of van den Berg’s paintings, with their baroque structures and flowing contours are similar in some ways to the organic structures that Hundertwasser designed in Vienna as an alternative to the sterile, dehumanizing lines of much modern architecture.
    Van den Berg, however, surpasses even that famous Austrian in the imaginative wit of her delightful limited edition Giclee print “Post Boat,” in which intricately patterned fish and insects bear nets of letters to a fantastic combination sail and steamboat afloat on wiggly blue waves. Nor has any other contemporary visionary whose name springs immediately to mind come close to the antic animation that van der Berg achieves in her acrylic on paper “Daydream Street,” with its dizzying array of sinuous roadways running like an amok subway map between multiple rows of oddly shaped houses and stylized trees in a rainbow array of luscious-as-sorbet hues.
    Architecture often takes on an anthropomorphic sensuality in her work, as seen in the acrylic on paper titled simply, “Light,” where overlapping kandy-kolored houses with ornate steeples appear in the process of melting like ice cream sundaes in the heat of  a big orange sun riding high in a sky scattered with sprinkles of morning stars.
    By contrast, in “No Boundaries,” the title painting for her exhibition, pointed steeples, set against a dark nocturnal background, converge from all directions like spears. Then there are “The Secret,” a considerably more abstract composition, comprised of flowing areas of hot colors reminiscent of  “Indian Space” painters of the 1940s, as well as a new, somewhat anomalous series entitled “Reflections,” featuring more linear central forms with a mysterious emblematic presence hovering against deep black backgrounds.
All are equally compelling, given the ability of Lydia van den Berg to generate a seemingly inexhaustible range of imagery that radiates pleasure, making her joy in creation contagious for the viewer. Encountering her paintings, one is reminded of Picasso’s famous statement to the effect that it takes an entire lifetime to learn to paint as freely as a child.                     
                                                                                                                                                         –– Maurice Taplinger 

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