New York native Andre Bertolino has been in Savannah for just under two years. In that time, he’s had more exhibitions than he count and has also decided to give up making art altogether. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh?
One of Bertolino’s final exhibitions is “Anthropomorphic Messages,” now on view at Foxy Loxy. The linocuts were all made in Bertolino’s living room with a metal spoon, an alternative printmaking technique that’s less time-intensive.
In addition to printmaking, Bertolino is also an author and has written “Memory Loves Time” and “Exile in Podunkville.” When he gives up making visual art, he plans on sailing around the world.
We caught up with Bertolino last week.
1. How did you end up coming to Savannah?
I was in New Hampshire for 17 years. I wanted somewhere that had an art scene, and from the Internet it looked like there was an art scene.
There are five galleries in the whole state [of New Hampshire] and they’re all corporate galleries. Vermont has a better art scene than New Hampshire with the same population, same sort of people. They just care about art in Vermont.
I like the art scene here, but they need artists here. SCAD kids don’t really participate in the scene. They’re too busy or something.
I was in New York before. I grew up in New York, I used to do business in the city and I did some shows there. In the 90s, it was really cool and gritty, and then Guiliani cleaned it up. Or, he took the money that was slotted for schools and books and turned it into cops and guns, and then dignified downtown. It was not that cool anymore. And then 9/11 happened, and it really wasn’t cool for a long time. I moved out of there in October of 2001.
2. Tell me about the body of work you’re presenting for “Anthropomorphic Messages.”
I started doing these prints in ’08, when the economy tanked. Up until then, I was making paintings that were selling for a lot of money, and then suddenly people didn’t have any money. So I thought, well, I can either quit or start making things that are affordable and accessible to everybody. I just bought some linoleum and knives and started carving it, and people started offering me shows.
I was doing a phase of this experimental architecture in oil paint on canvas. It just doesn’t make sense to spend eight hours on a drawing and then a week on a painting to sell it for less than a thousand dollars. So I just decided to stop.
What I do now is faster. I can get a block carved in one day, and then I can print out 20 of them in one day. I use a spoon to print them, I don’t have a press. Normally you’d use a Vanderburg press for a block like this, but they start at a thousand dollars and they’re really heavy and big. All you need is an ordinary kitchen spoon, and you just ink up the block, put the paper down on the block, and rub it with a spoon. I don’t need a studio to do it, I could do it anywhere.
3. What are some themes of your work?
I paint for therapeutic reasons. I make prints for a healthy way to vent. So I’d say probably a theme is trauma, but now I’m quitting because I’m not going to have any more trauma. I don’t need catharsis, so I’m quitting art.
I’ve got to keep up with the show, since the prints are selling at a rate of like one a day. I’m going to hang them up on the wall and then quit.
4. What will you do when you’re not making art?
I’m buying a big boat and I’m going to go around the world. Sometimes I feel like painting and I’m like, eh. I just wrote a short story and published it in a magazine. It’s called “Messing Around in Boats,” and it was fourteen pages and all about Savannah.
I like writing, even though I can’t tell if anybody’s reading it or not. I wrote a book ten years ago and printed out 300 copies, and turns out they all sold. People started copying my style and stuff, so I know people were reading it because I could see the imitators.
5. Does it bother you when people take your ideas?
I’m flattered. I’m from that generation where we just download music and don’t pay for it. Even when people rob my house, I’m flattered. “Aw, you like my stuff?”
I’ve done original stuff. It’s hard, but you just have to build up an original framework that’s unique, or just think in a different way, or just see things from above instead of inside things. We live in this total media environment and copy what we see. Everything you see is just commentary on media. It’s perpetuating this huge illusion.
But a real artist should be able to float above it, see it from above. That’s what the role of the artist really should be: pointing things out, saying, “Something is coming.” There aren’t very many that are above it all.