The Artist and the Gallerist: In Conversation with Siri Berg and Peter Hionas

09/06/2016 11:23 am ET Updated Mar 12, 2017

I recently had an in-depth and candid conversation with Siri Berg and Peter Hionas on their symbiotic relationship as an artist and a gallerist respectively. Siri Berg is a painter and her work spans over six decades. Peter Hionas is an entrepreneur and the owner and director of Hionas Gallery located in New York’s Lower East Side. Below are excerpts of our conversation.

Siri Berg on Siri Berg

I have been always interested in abstraction. For me, it was more intellectually demanding than realism. You have to think these things out. It is part of you. Color is a language, and very early on, I decided to express myself with color.

Earlier in my career, I needed a story to do it. For example, La Ronde series (1970-1972) is based on Reigen a play written by Arthur Schnitzler. This series is the story expressed in a totally minimal, abstract way. In the Kabballah series (1986-1988), again there is a story, but the colors are very subdued. I know that at the time I needed a story, but each series had a different process. I no longer need a story.

When we now look back at the process, it seems clear and it makes a lot of sense. But when I am working, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me. There is no easy answer. I think the creative process is totally unexplainable. You can only describe your creative process in a very limited way. I can talk about it but there is a limit in explaining how I created the work, what it means, and how I am putting it together. It may reflect my entire life, maybe it is a little bit of what I am doing now, what I did yesterday, ten or twenty years ago. When I paint, I lose today’s world, I am in another world, which is wonderful. This is how I would describe the creative process. Artists would understand that.

Peter Hionas on Siri Berg

I have known Siri for about 20 years and during these years I have been following her work and her process. Her first show at Hionas Gallery was in 2012. I’ve been fascinated by her work. Siri is expressing herself with color. Color is a language and it may take time to develop an understanding of it. Her work is about reduction and this becomes clear when you follow her process but also how her work has developed over time.

What is interesting about Siri is how systematic she has been in cataloguing her work. She has kept detailed records for the last 60 years and this has helped me to see things clearly. Most importantly, these meticulous records will provide audiences with important information and insights about her work. What is also fascinating about Siri is that at this point of her career she is as interested in her work as ever. Her enthusiasm and energy are unbelievable.

I feel very fortunate to work with Siri and have this special connection and trust. She educates me on her work and her process. Over the years, I learned about her language and understood her work on an intellectual level, so that I can share this information with curators, collectors, critics and the public.

Siri Berg on Peter Hionas

We have been talking about my work and how it was developing over the years. But it has been very interesting to see how Peter has developed through the years. When you work with others, I think it is important to discover their talents. Sometimes even they don’t know that they have these talents. I admire Peter for all the things that he sees in my work and does about my work that I couldn’t possibly see or do. It is as if we are splitting the experience. It is such a beautiful thing. Isn’t it wonderful when somebody works with you and discovers what you could do beyond what you are currently doing?

Peter Hionas on Siri Berg’s Upcoming Retrospective

Siri’s upcoming solo exhibition, Siri Berg: Paintings 1967-2016 at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center (November 17, 2016 – February 4, 2017) is an important retrospective. Over the course of sixty years, Siri has relentlessly explored distinct gradations of color and the circle. One of the challenges of this exhibition is to select and bring together works that were developed over several decades. We are trying to borrow paintings from collections in different countries, the Guggenheim (NY), the Birmingham Museum (AL), The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (NY), The Museum of Modern Art (Stockholm, Sweden). Furthermore, in a retrospective like this one, there are different angles you could take in presenting the work. So, another challenge is to communicate Siri’s body of work that was made over a period of six decades, to different audiences. I believe it is important to share her work and her love for art with multiple audiences.

Peter Hionas on Hionas Gallery

The Hionas Gallery started as a passion project. I don’t come from an art background, but my business enabled me to interact with artists and this is how my interest in art developed. I started collecting and I became more and more interested in the artists’ work and creative process. I wanted to provide artists with an opportunity to show their work. I felt that we have a responsibility to encourage artists to move forward. Hionas Gallery was founded in the spring of 2011, opening its initial space in TriBeCa. In January 2013, the Gallery moved to NYC’s Lower East Side.

We don’t know what artists will create next and following their work allows us to learn from it and understand the language of the artist. I felt that there is also a responsibility to capture this knowledge and share it not only with collectors but with the public as well. They can then interpret and reinterpret the work and that is the beauty of it.

I love seeing what artists are working on, how their work develops over time, and what they would like to explore moving forward. They can transport you to another place. This is what I think good art can do.

The transcribed text has been edited for length and clarity.

Lilia Ziamou is a visual artist based in New York

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