Meet Artist Charles Bergen

Art and the City

Capitalsaurus Chasing a Falcarius Sculpture only. Photo: Greg Staley

The big, mean, hungry Capitalsaurus is chasing a frightened feathered Falcarius across F Street in a very probable Cretaceous moment. Of course, at that time, 100 million years ago, Capitol Hill was simply a sunny savanna.

Charles Bergen captures it in the street sign that he created for the Alphabet Animal Art Project. He used an aluminum plate and cut the figures out with a water jet. It’s at First and F Street, SE. He chose the dinosaurs after he discovered that their bones were actually discovered in the area…there may be more right there beneath the playground in Garfield Park. 

Charles Bergen is a DC native and Yale-educated architect. A few years ago he began to turn more to his first love, sculpture, and last year he moved into a studio and became a full time artist.

He works in all sorts of materials: wood, metals and anything he can get his hands on. His favorite subject is wildlife, usually with a light touch—he wants you to smile. His series of herons are assembled from golf clubs, sheet metal and bicycle parts. He used a chainsaw to fashion a standing bear out of a sycamore tree from the national mall (it was already dead.) His cast-iron fish are not just realistic; they have dignity, and they make you smile. 

His largest piece so far is the “Coppa Lobsta,” a copper and wood 12-foot lobster that kids really love. Also, he was a finalist in the competition for the Chuck Brown Memorial. He didn’t get the commission, but he is proud that his proposed eight-foot figurative piece was seriously considered. 

Charles Bergan wants to bring a smile to public spaces. But there is also a private dimension to his work—he makes smaller pieces for the sake of art and just because they’re fun.


Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art   

Many years ago, I found myself teaching bad boys—big bad boys. High school-aged. A recent law had been passed with the label “Emotionally Disturbed,” and they were it. These guys had been kicked off of places like Indian reservations and military bases. Some, out of whole states. They were gang members, drug dealers and killers. Some were just plain crazy. Psychotic. I didn’t have a teaching degree, I was hired because I was a combat vet, had a karate belt, and I really needed a job.

Classrooms at this private school near Tucson could suddenly become a combat zone, and serious academics didn’t have much of a chance. So I tried art.  “Outdoor Art.” This wasn’t arts and crafts; these were structured projects that required planning—with design and budget approval from the school owner. The more we got into the projects, the tough-guy resistance eroded and they took ownership. 

Our main idea was this: if it’s public art—benches, statues, murals, walkways with river stone designs—it has a responsibility to the public. They were proud of what they discovered they could do and nobody would dare “disrespect” what they did.  And guess what? They had a new reverence for the buildings…and themselves. 

Public art is a cousin of architecture. Both have a responsibility outside of their own skin. That came up in a conversation with Charles Bergen (see Artist Profile.) As an architect, it is not surprising that he has turned to sculpture, public art, and how he can complement and improve an urban environment, liven up parks, delight children and make us smile. He even makes small pieces for private gardens and homes…could be the ideal holiday gift.

Actually, all art would make an ideal holiday gift. Have a wonderful holiday and a peaceful New Year.


At the Museums

El Greco (1541–1614)
National Gallery of Art
West Bld.
7th and Constitution NW
-- Feb 16

The soaring silver-blues and the gleaming, room-dominating whites are stunning, even after four centuries, but it is the emotion, the mystical force of the figures that reach out and pull you in. There are only eleven paintings in this NGA exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death, but his work, his late paintings in particular, are as new and timeless as anything in the history of art.

“Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea”
National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave, NW
Dec. 5 – Apr 12

This is a monumental show. It’s a complex, fascinating story of how a young girl from “humble circumstances” – poor – became the most famous woman in history. Certainly she is the most frequently depicted in art.  

Sure, being identified as the Mother of Jesus had a lot to do with it, but, because very little is actually known about her (no “selfies” are available) artists have had a virtual open season on how she should look…and in what surroundings. 

Ironically, she sometimes appears very queenly, decked out in the finest with brocade gowns, gold and pearls. But more than a religious icon, Mary also represented womanhood, either nursing a baby, or quietly distraught, suffering the cruel death of her son.

The NMWA has pulled together over 60 paintings, sculptures and textiles from the Vatican museum and other major public and private collections. Some of the most important male artists from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including Botticelli, Dürer, and Michelangelo, and four women masters, Gentileschi, Anguissola, Caccia and Sirani. 

Picturing Mary is as much about the “Idea” of a Mother of God as it is about the woman herself, and the works of art that have depicted her in so many ways.

“Voluptuous Experiences”
715 8th Street, SE
Rec:  Dec 6,  7--10

 Voluptuous Experiences” is a collaborative art show by Christopher Alvear and Ward Orem. Chris is known for his unique use of color and extensive detail in his “surrealistic portrayal of spirituality.” Ward “has a passion for color and geometric themes, focusing on the blending of color and form.” They have worked individually and collaboratively to create this series to “stimulate both the eye and the mind.”

Peter Kephart
Zenith Gallery
1429 Iris St., NW
Dec. 12– Jan. 31
Rec: Fri, Dec 12, 5--8
Rec: Sat. Dec. 13, 2--6 

Peter Kephart uses “firepainting” to create the landscapes of our dreams. The controlled use of fire gives a sense of flowing movement on the surface, which comes from the material used, experience with the process and unexpected effects. There is more color than you might expect – the applied pigments are clear, and often intense, but still complex. Go to either opening and watch a demonstration.

“Pixel Quotes” 
Eno Wine Bar
2810 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
to Dec 30

Rindy O’Brien, Capitol Hill fine arts photographer, pairs familiar written quotes with transformed photographs, collages, and illustrations to create large humorous art prints. “Pixel Quotes” is at the Eno wine Bar, adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown.  It’s fun, check it out.

LOBSTER. Photo: Fatime Martins
Swan. Photo: Greg Staley