The William T. Kemper Art Gallery in the K-State Student Union will be displaying the work of K-State alum Berit Bihl. Although she has had art shows across the U.S. and around the world, this show is a special occasion because it is the first time her art has been displayed in the Kemper Gallery since her master’s project in 1979.
“It feels great,” Bihl said. “It makes me think of the olden days as a student.”
Bihl’s exhibit will open with a reception tomorrow evening from 5 to 8 p.m. and will be open for the public to view until Aug. 9. The exhibit features her ongoing work with abstraction, bas-relief with fibers. Each piece of art is a three-dimensional display of crocheted fibers on canvas, each taking approximately a month to complete.
Bihl received her BFA in painting from K-State in 1972 and her MA in painting in 1979. She then moved to Texas and received her MFA in sculpting from the University of Houston in 1982.
“That’s why I sort of paint my sculptures and sculpt my paintings,” she said.
Her work with textiles and fibers goes back to her childhood in her native Sweden. Bihl first learned to crochet in third grade and worked with a loom in high school. When preparing for higher education, she expressed a desire to attend the textile school in her hometown of Gothenburg. However, her father pointed out that textile artists often go unrecognized because their name is not on their work, so Bihl set her sights on America.
Bihl always knew she wanted to be an artist, and art runs deep in her family, she said. Her father painted and was a pianist, conductor and composer. Her mother was an actress. Her brother sewed his own clothes and made his own violin.
At K-State, Bihl found herself immersed in the art department, studying under faculty like Oscar Larmer, Edward Sturr, Jack O’Shea and Jerry Diebler, who was the head of painting until his sudden death in 1977.
“The whole art department was wonderful,” Bihl said. “Diebler was exemplary. He taught all sorts of modern techniques.”
She also worked with Terri Schmidt, professor of art, who continues to teach drawing and printmaking techniques to K-State students today.
“Berit was one of the top painters and drawers in the department,” Schmidt said. “She was popular. A lot of faculty looked up to her.”
Bihl and Schmidt have maintained a close friendship over the years. Today, they live together in a house in Manhattan where they share studio space and their mutual love of art. Schmidt was by Bihl’s side on Tuesday as they set up her latest art exhibit in the Kemper Gallery.
“I think the gallery is a wonderful space,” Schmidt said.
She recalled Bihl’s last exhibit in 1979, when the gallery was still known as the Union Gallery. The name and look of the gallery have changed over the years. The floor and ceiling were black, while the walls had rugs on them. She said she prefers the way it looks now.
Schmidt loves Bihl’s current exhibit, because instead of just crocheting, she uses her tools like a paintbrush, taking the work beyond just craft. Schmidt’s favorite piece on display is a bold and colorful piece entitled “Gårdar, Grindar och Gränser,” which means “places, gates and borders” in Swedish.
“It’s like fields from the sky, from an airplane,” Schmidt said.
Titles are important for abstract pieces, Schmidt said, because they give more meaning to the feeling the artist is trying to evoke.
“If people allow themselves to see relationships and not an object, they would get the feeling from the work that is meant to be,” Schmidt said.
Bihl said she loves her current work as an artist because she does not have to worry about doing it for a grade or for anyone else. It is important for an artist, Bihl said, to make art your own and not worry about making it to suit other people. However, influences are important to finding your own voice as an artist. Francis Bacon and Odilon Redon were two of Bihl’s early influences in sculpting, painting and printmaking.
“Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can, and slowly but surely make it your own,” she said.