Following is text of a commemorative talk given February 7, 2010 at the funeral of the artist by John Whelan, close friend of William Berry.
William Berry: Master Draftsman, Author, Teacher, Mentor, Friend
While I did not actually meet Bill until the fall of 1982, for several years before that I felt - in a very real sense - that I already knew him.
In 1978, while planning a new course in figure drawing, I reviewed a number of potential textbooks - a task I approached with little enthusiasm, as my experience of such books was, almost without exception, very negative. But then, I came across Drawing the Human Form
. Yes, it was a superbly organized and illustrated manual of drawing technique, but it was far more than that. Elegantly yet accessibly written, it was fundamentally different from all the others. It alone evidenced a thorough understanding of the perceptual, conceptual, and historical bases of drawing method.
I cannot stress enough how significant a contribution Bill's book has made to drawing pedagogy. No less a giant than Sir Ernst Gombrich, former director of the Warburg Institute and the acknowledged art historical authority on visual perception, at an international conference, gave a lecture entitled "Watching Artists at Work," in which he singled out Bill's book for its excellence. Since its publication in 1977, Drawing the Human Form
remains, far and away, the finest textbook in the field.
One is immediately struck by the fact that Bill chose not to include examples of his own drawings in his book. (Ironically, they would have been among the very best.) But this was typical of Bill's modesty.
Like his writing, Bill's art exhibits its authority without shouting - in quieter, highly nuanced ways. But it is an authority more impressive for this.
In subject and media, Bill's art exhibits a breadth, depth, and technical sophistication extremely uncommon in our increasingly fragmented era. Whether with pencil, pastel, pen, or camera - be it in revealing the personality of a friend, rendering the graceful counterpoise of a model's torso, capturing a unique perspective of the outside world, or creating a magical world on a tabletop - Bill relentlessly probed, analyzed, and then represented his subjects to us in ways that are - depending on his creative intent - spare or elaborate, subtle or bold, but always, always, intelligent and provocative. In my opinion, no one better understood and manifested Degas' admonition that "an artist must not draw what he sees, but what he must make others see."
In an essay on Leonardo, another great draftsman with special significance for Bill, Lord Kenneth Clark noted, "It is often said that Leonardo drew so well because he knew so much. But couldn't it equally be claimed that he knew so much because he drew so well?" I think it is instructive to keep this thought in mind when looking at Bill's art - as well as in reading his book. For it is this dance of seeing and knowing, percept and concept - so beautifully choreographed by Bill - that renders his art so visually rich, so conceptually profound. It is also what perfused Bill's instructional approach and made him such a great teacher.
At the same time that Bill's art burns with intelligence and technical mastery, it is never pedantic or dry. As he analyzed, he also caressed. So, like the man, Bill's art is redolent with an often quiet, yet profound sensuality. In his portraits, a moving connection is always forged with his sitter, and a palpable joy is always taken in revealing to us the subtle interplay of light, color, and texture - here on a Mediterranean rooftop, there on a human shoulder, there on the peel of an orange.
In the last years, as the Parkinson's disease was exacting its relentless, progressive toll, Bill continued to create - not in spite of, but in response to - even in concert with the challenges of his condition. As such - much like the sculpted figures and late pastels of the near-blind Degas - the final works that Bill created (such as the stunning series of self-portraits, and the elegant leaf compositions) are real art - in the fullest, richest sense.
Now that Bill is gone, nothing can fill the void. However, we can all take comfort in the wonderful artwork he has left us - a precious legacy to perpetually expand our vision, provoke our thoughts, delight our senses, and move our hearts.
February 7, 2010
A professor of art and noted for his colored pencil drawings of the
human figure, William Berry has also been a freelance illustrator from
1960 to 1968 for Newsweek, Esquire and Opera News Magazine in New York.
was born in Jacksonville, Texas, and in 1955, earned a BFA, Summa Cum
Laude, from the University of Texas. In 1957, he received an MFA
from the University of Southern California.
He has been
Assistant Professor of Art from 1968 to 1974 at the University of Texas
at Austin. From 1974 to 1978, he was Associate Professor of Art
and Chairman of Graphic Design at the School of Visual Art at Boston
University. From 1978, he has been in Columbia, Missouri as
Professor of Art and Director of Graduate Studies in Visual Art and
from 1995 to 1999 was Chairman there of the Art Department.
include the American Graphic Society and Colored Pencil Society of
America. Among non-museum collections for his work are the Altos
de Chavon, Dominican Republic; University of North Dakota at Grand
Forks; Parkersburg Art Center in West Virginia; Hallmark Art Collection
in Kansas City, Missouri; and in Columbia, Missouri, the University of
Missouri, Boone County National Bank, and First National Bank.
Artist in Residence:
Colony, Peterborough New Hampshire; Altos De Chavon, Dominican
Republic; Montalovo Center for the Arts, Saratoga, California; Lacoste
School for the Arts, France, Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France;
Rockefeller Foundation, Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy.
In January, 2011, St. Mary's University at Winona, Minnesota, is
hosting a solo exhibition of work by William Berry: "The Eye Behind the
Eye: The Art of William A. Berry".
Who's Who in American Art, 2003-2004
Additional information provided by the artist, and by the artist's wife, Janet Berry after the death of her husband.