Max Berry

It has been some time since Sydney painter Max Berry has returned to his birthplace, Katherine in the Northern Territory. But memories of its remote landscape still provide reference for his escapist paintings and sculptural works.

What are the general themes of your work?
At the moment I’m keen on really stripping back my work to its essence, clean and unencumbered, not sterile but selective. Often I feel like there is pressure to create huge and flashy things but I’d like to focus on the minor and the hidden.

I’m exploring the way that individuals navigate our world and the importance of the places that they take shelter. The ‘home’ for instance, suggests shelter and is a recurring motif within my work; it has an evocative relationship to a desolate landscape. Otherwise, mountains and shadows are my general themes.

You seem quite comfortable in your own skin and yet in contrast, your work seems to instill a sense of endless reflection and loneliness. Do you see making work like this as a way to escape everyday realities?
Sure, maybe not wholly escape, more so just take a breather. For me, there is a lot of searching going on, people always want to find the answer or find a way out, and it’s possible my work can provide that.

Sometimes I wake up craving to get to the studio, with no real purpose in mind, just that I know at the end of the day, whether I’ve got something to show for it or not, that’s all there is. Ultimately, if the work produces tranquility then it’s right. If it disturbs me it’s wrong, until either thework or my mind is changed. Everything else takes a backseat.

Do you think city living drives this desire to get to the studio and start painting in order to escape from it all, more than you would if you were living in a quiet space in the countryside?
It’s been a long time since I lived out of a city, maybe too long. I have memories of driving through the interior and sailing off the coast. They often inform my practice. As for living in the quiet and the country,
I’m not sure I could handle the slow pace now. Sometimes I can really feed off the energy you get in a city.

Where we live has definitely played a central role in my work for the last couple of years; it carries with it a lot of baggage. I’ve been looking into ‘tiny homes’ and other small buildings like Japanese tea houses. I think they possess a really peculiar poetry. I’ve attempted to translate these feelings into my work and somehow capture their ability to reduce the spiritual distance between people and things.

You recently published a small book, ‘Which Way Home’, featuring work from the last couple of years. Did you see much of a transformation in your work, or the ideas you were attempting to portray?
I’d like to think there’s a noticeable development. The book includes various works from my first exhibitions in 2010-2012, as well as some other scribbles and drawings. Although I’ve investigated new ideas since then, it’s easy to see a common thread of reflection and meditation.

Max Berry

What are your plans moving forward?
Well I had some success last year in prizes, achieving finalist selection, so I’d like to give some of those another go in 2014. I have another solo exhibition planned for later in the year at China Heights Gallery, where I’ll look to include a few more sculptural works. I feel I’m not yet truly focused on a grand plan for my work, so I’m enjoying taking it one moment to the next and seeing what becomes of it.

I much prefer working with smaller galleries – people in charge of spaces like these aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty, and they’re coming from a similar place so they understand what you’re trying to achieve. I’m in no rush to enter into a commercial environment; I guess it is a comfort thing for now. If I’m relaxed and the gallery is working properly, then I’m more likely to produce quality work.

Max Berry was born in 1987 and currently lives and works in Sydney. There is a strange absence felt through his work expressed through a cast of characters – sometimes human, other times animal, and always slightly fantastical. His practice covers paintings, sculpture, jewellery, murals, paste-ups and his works and books which are produced from his Sydney studio are available direct from his website.

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