Lanny Bergner is to metal mesh what glassblower Dale Chihuly is to glass: a magician. A gas-powered torch allows him to “draw” on sheets of humble stainless mesh, oxidizing it, resulting in oil-slick colors that shimmer in the light. Then, using just scissors and pliers, Bergner transforms the screen into sculptures ranging from structured geometric constructions to otherworldly, organic forms.
Like Chihuly — known for his early Seaforms and complex installations of undulating glass pieces — Bergner is inspired by nature, often working in series as he continues to push the boundaries of his chosen material. With “Primordial Muse: Evolution” now on display at North Idaho College’s Boswell Hall, Bergner was inspired, in part, by 19th century naturalist Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms from the Ocean.
“I would look at the book’s images and select a nature pattern as a starting point,” he says, describing how he created images on the screen with the torch. “I wouldn’t replicate an image from the book, but rather just use it as motivator to begin the drawing process. I try to lose myself in the drawing process and let it go where it wants to go.”
Suspended from the ceiling or mounted on board, some screens are displayed flat, while others become 3D sculpture. “Beneath the Waves” literally pushes the boundary of the mesh to create gentle, pod-like hollow forms that seem to float on the wall. Delicate tendrils, some with orbs of colored glass known as frit, emerge from the ends, lending the effect of anemone or nudibranch (similar to how Chihuly’s glass pieces remind viewers of jellyfish or kelp gardens).
The angled edges in another series, “Beneath the Deep Blue Sea,” become more pronounced in an adjacent series of large, geometric vessels. Vessels 1, 2 and 3, for example, stand like a three-foot-tall abstracted figure, crafted by fastidiously cut and stitched sections of screen. Their austere profile, which also reflects Bergner’s interest in perfume bottles, refers back to earlier works, such as the hanging forms he showed at University of Idaho in 2009.
Bergner’s overall process shifts back and forth between these varied ways of working: geometric versus organic, loose and intuitive versus structured. “Structure, form and process is central to my work,” he says, although he also likes “moving back and forth between the more systematic structured approach and the more uncertain organic one. That way I can explore different sides of my human nature.”
Bergner’s interest in working with mesh is an outgrowth of his inquisitiveness. While an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he’d learned to cast bronze and fabricate metal, including large-scale public works out of steel tubing. Later, while attending graduate school at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, a friend gave him some bronze mesh with which to experiment.
Something magical happened.
“The play of negative and positive space [from undergraduate work] has been an important part of my work for many years and mesh is a great material in that regard,” says Bergner.
Lanny Bergner “Primordial Muse: Evolution” • Through Jan. 24 • North Idaho College Boswell Hall, Corner Gallery • Gallery walk, 10:30 am, Jan. 24 with closing reception 5-7 pm; artist’s presentation, 1 pm Jan. 24 at Todd Molstead Library • 1000 W. Garden Ave, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho • Free • nic.edu.