Sharon Van den Berg was born, and grew up in Indiana, the middle child straddled by an older and a younger sister. Perhaps that family position shaped who she became. She did her undergraduate work at Ball State University in art, a path that seemed to have been laid out for her.
She went on to graduate work in design, learning theory of design, and the use of many techniques such as woodcutting. After her college degree, Sharon became an art teacher, teaching all the way from kindergarten to university students.
All through those years of teaching, Sharon was also producing works of art, and exhibiting them. She had done experimental fabric design, creating large banners—some could be over 100 square feet in size—which would be hung in atriums and galleries. She was given a one person show, and her creations were abstract, colorful, often with an intricate design on top. These richly colored banners became part of several museum, and gallery shows throughout the United States. The banners were made of different types of fabric, such as cotton, on which she painted her designs with liquid dyes, often allowing the bleeding to become part of the motif.
Following up on her love for textiles, Sharon enrolled at the Parsons School of Design in New York City in 1987. Her studies in fashion illustration resulted in work for a fashion company of which she became a part owner. The work was creative, and lucrative, as she found methods of mass producing unique designs on silk fabrics, which were then sold in boutiques, and stores in the US, and Canada. One particular commission was for the Walt Disney Corporation in the creation of unique hand dyed and painted fabric for costumes, including the Lion King of the Wild Kingdom Theme Park in Orlando, Florida.
During all this busy time, Sharon was married and had three children. But when the marriage ended in divorce, she moved to Florida, and taught art in high school, and later at college. She also found time to do post graduate work with the artist Louise Freshman Brown, at the University of Florida. While in Florida, Sharon took up figure drawing, and soon became interested in human figure drawing and painting. Her current works all reflect this interest.
In 2010, Sharon moved to Mexico, after visiting Guatemala, where she was inspired by Maya figure sculpting, and they have influenced her own works. A friend who had been to San Miguel de Allende told her: “Sharon, you belong in San Miguel.” She took up the suggestion, came to visit, and as many have before her—remained here.
Now she lives in the Guadalupe neighborhood where she has her home and studio. Sharon acknowledges the connection to the ancient in her works, and she has also expressed the feeling that her works have the impression of being other worldly. The eyes grab hold of you, not simply in their staring out, but sometimes covered with paint as if making a statement about being concealed, or even perhaps an identity dismissed. Whatever interpretation the viewer gives, there is no denying the strong impact of these abstract portraits of women. Sharon believes in a strong spiritual influence in her paintings, and this might be another factor in the paintings’ attraction.
There is indisputable connection to the Mayan work that first attracted Sharon in Guatemala, and she herself acknowledges this tie. There is a “Mayan feel to them,” she says, and adds that those deep set eyes “appeared to go deep into the skull.” She felt as if those eyes were looking into the soul of the people, and gave those paintings names of Mayan gods.
Lately, Sharon has delved into sculpting, still concentrating on human figures. Her sculptures are truly unique partly because of the material used. She crafts the figure—usually a bust—out of foam which is then covered with honeycomb paper. After that, the structure is overlaid with a cement-like substance called Pavelpol, an environmentally safe material that hardens as it is applied. She also uses other techniques, such as folding a painting to make it into a three dimensional composition. Below is a sample of some of Sharon’s sculptures.
As we concluded our interview, Sharon shared an ekphrastic poem—a poem about a work of art—that she herself had written, about her paintings. It is titled “Don’t Walk by Me,” and it’s meant to be the painting speaking to the viewer. I have excerpted parts of the poem.
Don’t walk by me.
Sit with me,
to your eyes,
Don’t walk by me.
In response to Sharon’s entreaty I would simply say that her work is so powerful and compelling, it doesn’t allow you to walk by, it captivates and holds you in place.
To see Sharon Van den Berg’s works, and to find her contact information, please go to her website: Contact | Sharon Van Den Berg painting work | San Miguel de Allende (vandenbergartist.com)