By KAREN ANNE C. LIQUETE
for The Manila Bulletin - Philippines
LET'S get real. If the only piece of artwork you can draw is a stick
figure with a skirt and people think it's an umbrella, don't you think
it's about time to quit that artistic dream? Elizabeth Berrien
disagrees. A pioneer in the field of wire sculpture for 38 years and a
recipient of many awards, Elizabeth Berrien shares with Youth and
Campus Bulletin how she overcame her artistic block to become the
leading lady of wire art that she is today.
YCB: Of all
the art mediums available for expressing your talents, why wires?
Because of all the art media that I have ever tried, wire has been the
most responsive to me personally - I could never express the feelings I
wanted by drawing or painting. All the things I loved doing as a child
- knitting, weaving, and lace-making, found a way to be combined within
my wire sculptures. The more I practiced, the better I got... until
eventually, wire sculpture truly became my forte.
YCB: What age
did you develop your interest in wire art? You mentioned in your
artist's bio that you were frustrated in your attempts at drawing
because you were lefthanded, how has this affected your interest for
making wire art?
When I first experimented with wire I was 17, a senior in high school.
I believed I had no artistic talent, because I thought "real" artists
could draw naturally and expressively on paper. I, being lefthanded but
drawing with my right hand, could not draw or write freely. By
comparison, wire can be worked with either or both hands. There are no
rules - you just do what feels most natural! I give my life to wire
because of the absolute creative freedom it gives me...
are the pros and cons of working with wire?
Wire is cheap, very important to a young artist or hobbyist on a
budget. It requires no special tools, equipment, or training... so long
as one respects the rule "Don't Poke Your Eye Out", any person can pick
up wire and make something out of it. It's very flexible, so if you
don't like the way a line works out, you can change it till you like it
Wire can be exasperating, too. Sometimes it feels too soft, too hard,
too slippery or too scratchy. You can cut, scratch or poke yourself
with wire, so be careful! If you get hooked on wire and work with it
for hours on end, you can get blisters or callouses on your hands.
YCB: Do you
have a complete finished picture of your subject in your head and then
fashion the wire to conform to that vision? Or do you work
spontaneously and let the "spirit" move you?
I start with a general idea of what I want. If I decide to make a
sitting cat wire sculpture for a gallery, I may "freestyle" from my
knowledge and memory of my own cats. Maybe I'll even have my own cat in
my lap, "helping" by swatting at the wires as I twist them. Sometimes I
feel the sculpture changing as I work - I may end up with a standing
cat, and the tail may be straight or curled a bit.
If it has to be a "just so" sitting cat wire sculpture for a client who
orders something specific (like a portrait of their own cat), I will
set out several photographs to use as references, to make sure that the
animal's anatomy and expression are completely accurate.
important is mentoring to a beginning artist?
Mentoring and encouragement are incredibly valuable. My most memorable
mentor was Kenneth G. Curran, my high school art teacher. He did not
believe in telling students how to do things, step by step. His method
was to encourage us to explore by trial and error, to make discoveries
from our "mistakes." His quiet encouragement gave me the confidence to
explore the possibilities of wire sculpture at a time when the medium
was virtually unknown.
YCB: How have
your creative friendships nurtured your love for your art?
Because I was self taught, for many years I considered myself just a
hobbyist, somehow not a "real" artist. Over time, classically trained
artists befriended me and gave me validation and support as an artist
and wire sculptor. With their encouragement, I entered fine arts
competitions - and won! Once of my closest friends among artists was
Susan Seddon Boulet, a wonderful painter of spirits and nature. When we
worked in a studio together, I would share what I knew about animal
anatomy with Susan, and she would share what she knew about myths and
legends with me. Any time artists share resources, their works are
care of animals and working with wire seem to be two diverse hobbies.
How do you manage to do both and devote enough time for each?
Sometimes, it's not easy balancing the two. Since wire sculpture is my
livelihood and profession, I always have several wire sculptures in
various stages of completion. This month it's wire dog sculptures - a
Great Dane, a Dachshund, a Portuguese Water Dog, two English Setters,
an American Eskimo, and a Miniature Pinscher. Also a Giraffe, Hippo,
Horses, a Swan, Cats, and some birds.
I work on a wire sculpture with all my attention. When I feel my focus
slipping, I put that wire animal down and pick up another, so I can
stay fresh. After a few hours, I need to step away from the wire. This
is a good time to walk outdoors and see how things are with the farm
animals. Do the chickens, ducks, geese and horses have plenty of food
and water? Are the fences in good repair? Does my horse need a hug, or
a scratch behind the ear? After I've spent good time outdoors with the
live animals, I'm excited about making wire animals again.
When I have important deadlines, I spend all my waking hours working
with wire. Since nobody else can do my wirework, my husband, daughter,
friends and neighbors make more time for me by helping out with the
your animals get stuck in your wires?
I'm not sure I understand this question. Do you mean, it looks like I
create my sculptures by wrapping the wires around a real animal? It's a
very flattering concept, but I think wrapping wire around a form would
make a very stiff, predictable and un-innovative kind of wire
sculpture. I prefer free-style - I wrap my wire around the thin air of
an "invisible" animal that I can see in my mind's eye.
would you advise aspiring wire sculptors in the Philippines?
The sky's the limit! Pick up some wire and mess with it - just don't
poke your eye out! Also, my mentor stressed the importance of trying
not to be influenced by any other artist's work. The only wire
sculpture I'd ever seen in 1968 was by Alexander Calder, so of course I
had no wish to mimic his style - in doing so, I would only deprive
myself of my own style.
I would also say: Don't torment yourself trying to be a perfectionist!
I don't... I just try to make each wire work the best I can, for now...
and the next one, perhaps just a little bit better. That way it stays
fun... and if you?re having fun, everything goes faster and easier! And
the more you practice, the better you?ll get...
YCB: Is there
a way that wire sculptors can reach you? Do you give advice?
I invite wire sculptors to visit my website at www.WireLady.com.
It has hundreds of images of wire sculptures, a directory of wire
sculptors from around the world, wire sculpture tutorials and lesson
plans, FAQ?s for wire sculptors, and even a section on how artists can
make a better living from their work.
Wire sculptors can find answers to most of their questions by exploring
the WireLady website. If they have further inquiries, they are welcome
to contact me at wirezoo