It’s not a matter of the world is only Black & White, but sometimes we can see differences and details become clearer if we have to only use two basic colors controlling a painting. Some people would call this primitive art or simple folk art, but the world has changed. Now we see artists whose work has been acquired by very large museums whose exhibitions gather raves from critics and eager audiences. Academics study their style while young artists copy their work.
The work represents an interpretation of life as seen by Bertha, who experienced what she paints. When the word “primitive” is used to describe this art, what is really meant is that the art comes from instinctual and heart.
Primitive is often a term applied to folk art, because untrained country people painted religious and community visions of stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. Many “primitive” pieces of art come from people who express their working-class experiences using items reclaimed from their environment. Today we call this recycled or repurposed art, often derived from garbage or trash used as art materials.
Bertha Harris’s art comes from decades of experience that began with her life on Cooper Hill in Claiborne Parish through the Beene Plantation in Bossier. Even her simple “new art” a stylish view of history that could be in any color. It could be red, orange or blue, but today it is black and white.
Art formerly known as primitive has undergone a change in every part of the country. Artists called folk, self-taught or outsider artists are not anything new. It’s just that Bertha’s art is real, and it comes from experiences few alive today really have seen anywhere except in movies, the work of other artists or history books.
People will debate the relative value of art made from repurposed materials, but the experiences Bertha recounts will live on through her work. The history of techniques and practices Bertha uses in her art also come from a rich history. Historically the art world and collectors have come to appreciate this style, as seen in many collections. Culturally, Bertha’s “vision of history” is a niche that a lot of artists try to copy, but few have the rich experiences to back up their art.
This one key distinction separates Bertha Harris from most other folk artists. Much work of folk artists tends to live in anonymity, however Bertha’s evolving presentations of her history keep this culture alive. Bertha’s work will be available through regional shows and through her website — BerthaHarris.com