NEW RICHMOND — A mix of materials fill Taylor Berman's basement workshop. Spray cans line a shelf in the far corner, rocks and feathers are crowded in another, arrowheads lie neatly in a glass box, and prints hang from the ceiling.
The room reflects the eclectic nature of Berman’s artwork, encompassing a range of styles.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Berman holds a degree in art education that exposed him to many mediums.
He first fell in love with printmaking. Then he had the opportunity to work on a mural, and fell in love with large scale painting and public artwork. He also enjoys sculptural and flintknapping, as well as working with ceramics as a high school art teacher.
“I guess I don't draw any boundaries on medium,” Berman said. “I really like exploring different ways of self-expression.”
Answers have been edited for length.
Have you found that one art form has led you to another?
Oh totally. That’s just the funniest thing how printmaking gave me a really good foundation in proportional drawing and just understanding layering, and how that can advance painting and then that led into painting. Very fluid, organic progression of different interests and hobbies.
What initially drew you to the creative arts?
I think I have to give credit to my mom. She did a lot of creative activities with me as a kid. Both my parents. I’d say my mom was very creative, my dad was very outdoorsy and active, and I think both of them played a pretty important role in my life as far as just the stuff I do now.
My mom, for sure, was always doing home improvement projects -- actually went back to school when I was younger for interior design. So she’s always had a good eye for aesthetics and just visual art, and I think just through years of crafting as a kid with her and stuff it instilled that hands-on kind of passion.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Nature. I love being outdoors. If you go on my website it’s probably all nature-based work at this point. Definitely through college you’re kind of forced to explore other subject matter and stuff, too.
We spend a lot of time in the summer traveling, backpacking, camping and stuff, canoeing, kayaking all that. So a lot of stuff I’d say is inspired by places we’ve been to -- or I really like focusing on using animals and just different animal relationships to represent things that are also relatable on a human level. In work that has narratives, I usually use animals to kind of portray that at least.
It seems like you’ve done a lot of research into those different cultures that inspire you.
That’s another one going back as far as I can remember. I had an aunt who lived out in San Diego, she lives in New Richmond now, but she had a great friend of Native descent. Every time I saw her, she would bring me some little thing -- a basket or a carved stone -- that she’d gotten at some various powwow or market or whatever. So that kind of too was always like "Oh, that’s different, who made that or how was that made." ...
I’m still weaving, actually this last summer we wove. My daughter’s been getting into that, too. We’ve been weaving cattails for berry baskets and stuff. We’re going to Michigan and picking blueberries or raspberries.
That’s fun, that it’s something you can do with her as well.
Oh totally. She actually, she helped me get most of my flint the last time I went on a trip. She’s a little rock hunter, got a good eye.
How did you cultivate the different forms? I imagine there are skills and processes you need to learn with each of these forms
Each one’s definitely different. For me, the common thread is that they all very much take your full attention. I think that ultimately the underlying thing that got me into art and so attached to it is art’s a meditation for me, whether it’s painting, mural painting, carving a block to print or chipping away at a stone.
You have to be present, you have to be focused on what you’re doing, and thus everything else kind of dissipates a little bit.
What affect do you hope your art has on other people?
It has evolved for me. I think in college I was really focused on, partially for my own learning, I was really researching a lot of religions and different philosophies and stuff, so I was using that as inspiration for work. I think part of me was trying to find the good or the common thread in a lot of it. Specifically for religion, just what’s common instead of using it as a divisive kind of thing. Sometimes it was trying to maybe spread positivity ...
More recently I would say it’s more almost trying to maybe convey kind of a connection or interrelatedness of us with nature. We’re not necessarily separate, despite the last couple hundred years. We see that’s a trend, right, people getting back into the outdoors and seeing that there’s something to be said for mental health and connecting with our environment, connecting with each other, too. ...
I definitely don’t make work that I try to freak people out with or creative a dark message. Some of my stuff could be viewed that way, skulls and different things, but I look at that as, there’s a classic term in art memento mori of this reminder of death, this reminder of your mortality so that you do live life to the fullest. Not so much that you want to dwell on the death, but it’s like hey this isn’t going on forever, live it up a little. I think that’s a key theme as well for me.
What’s your favorite part of creating?
I love using my hands. I really get satisfaction out of just using my hands. So I think there’s something to be said for that just in and of itself.
I think again kind of that singular focus element, and I don’t know that that happens in any given part. It’s just part of the process, just using it as a meditation or a means for just kind of centering oneself.
With public art I love sharing art with no boundaries. You don’t have to pay to get inside, you don’t have to buy it to own it. It’s just there. I’ve had some cool experiences especially working over in the Twin Cities area, just random people walking by the sidewalk and all sorts of conversation. 99% of it has been positive. That’s always fun, too, just having cool interactions at random, people I’ve never met before but art’s connecting us.
Why do you think it’s important to have that community of public art, even here in our smaller communities?
It is transformative. I think there’s something to be said -- regardless of how you feel about art or what’s being painted -- for taking a space that would otherwise just be functional and adding that aesthetic or that beauty component to it. I wouldn’t say doing that at the cost of function, sacrificing function, but to add that -- it’s like, why not?
So I think that’s a special thing is just giving people a sense of pride if it’s your local community, or if it’s traveling somewhere the sense of interacting with something that’s unique and different and out of the norm.
I think I’ve kind of intentionally done my best to try to live my life a little out of the norm. I enjoy doing things that are different.
Do you think you’ll continue to explore new mediums?
Oh, I’m sure it’s not done yet. ... If I get access to a welder one of these days metal is on my mind.