Maria Berrio‘s work reflects the traditions of South American folklore. With visual elements that feel grounded in a mythological world, Berrio produces stunning collages that transport the viewer into a dream state. Female figures are always a fixture in her work – a representation of strength and embodiment of a powerful womanly icon. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Berrio was drawn to creating from a young age, eventually bringing her to New York where she is currently based.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from originally and when did art first enter your life?
I am originally from Bogota, Colombia. As a kid, I always loved to draw; when I grew older, drawing became something that calmed me, allowing me to understand and participate in the world. I moved to New York City to attend art school, which expanded my technical skills and gave me the opportunity to produce art professionally. The ability to work as an artist means everything to me.
Your works are vibrant and detailed. Can you unpack what is going on on your surfaces?
To render the utopias I envision, I source materials from many different places and craft traditions. I use paper produced almost exclusively in countries of the global south: Nepal, India, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, and Brazil. I gravitate toward papers that evoke natural motifs such as the sky and sea. For each collage, I weave all of these diverse materials together into one coherent piece. The work is thus informed by every bit of material layered in it, and by every place the material hails from. This fusion of sites inheres both in the form of my works and their meaning. The result is a visually seductive piece that transports the viewer and leaves her wondering what else could be dreamed into existence.
From where do you draw inspiration?
I take inspiration from South American folklore, mythology, religion, and ecology. I incorporate an eclectic range of symbols and rituals into my scenes to imbue the figures with hope and power during times of upheaval.
My practice is deeply influenced by magical realism; some of my favorite authors are Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Pablo Neruda. In the field of visual arts, I am inspired by the work of Rina Banerjee, Louise Bourgeois, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ebony Patterson, Grayson Perry, and Kiki Smith. The works of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varos deeply resonance with my thinking. Carrington’s depictions of women in dialogue with animals tap into mythology and psychology to render an imaginary world in which all beings live in perfect harmony. Varos, in turn, deals with the interconnectedness of the universe, demonstrating a fluid boundary between person and thing, human and animal.
Are the figures in your works based on real people?
The women who inhabit my paintings embody an ideal femininity. The ghostly pallor of their skin suggests an otherworldliness; they appear to be more spirit than flesh. These are the women I want to be: strong, vulnerable, compassionate, courageous, and in harmony with themselves and nature. They combine aspects of women who are typically thought of as powerful—captains of industry, resolute politicians, fiery activists—with the traits of those who are not usually thought of as such, underlining a common force that all women inhabit. I aim to ennoble womanhood by creating work that uncovers the beauty in every action, big or small.
What’s a day in the studio like for you?
I work everyday from 9 to 5 and sometimes late into the evening. During tight deadlines, I often work on the weekends as well. A day in the studio is often some mixture of fun, challenging, exhausting, weird, surprising, intimidating. I love that I get to create work everyday.
What’s next for you?
I have many amazing things coming up! I will be having a solo show in London in 2020, followed by my first solo museum exhibitions in Shanghai in 2020 and in the United States in 2021.
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
I would suggest Ebony Patterson, an artist I deeply admire and a friend I love dearly.