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Landscape painter finds outdoor inspiration, but executes canvases indoors

Baie St. Paul Creek by Leni BerlinerPHOTO OF “BAIE ST. PAUL CREEK by Leni BerlinerLocal artist Leni Berliner did some painting as a high school student many years ago, and like most student artists, she laid down her brushes after graduation.  But with the new millennium came what she called "a very difficult time" in her personal and professional life, the burden of which her mother sought to alleviate with a gift.

“My mother gave me the gift of drawing and painting classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in D.C.," Berliner said.

The classes reawakened a passion for painting and led her to rediscover and cultivate that talent.

Seventeen years later, Berliner is now a full-time artist who works primarily in acrylics, most often used for painting landscapes which she exhibits in both local and New York City galleries. Her next show, entitled “Going for a Walk,” will take place at the Waverly Street Gallery in Bethesda, starting Jan. 7.

“My style is figurative, which people can recognize,” Berliner said, adding that her painting is influenced by the work of Milton Avery.

“It’s simplified and impressionistic, rather than abstract," she said.

Although an emphasis on landscapes goes against contemporary trends, it is what Berliner loves. But while she looks to the outdoors for inspiration, her painting is not done plein air, as she produces her canvases indoors, basing them on scene sketches and drawings that delineate gesture and contour while referencing photographs taken onsite, resulting in a style she said is often compared to Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

“I try to absorb the feeling, mood, and energy of a place,” she said.

For example, viewers can sense such energy in one of her paintings to appear in the Bethesda exhibit: “Baie St. Paul Creek,” which is of an area she visited in Quebec. White streaks represent the current in a stream and puffs of wind.

Scenes much closer to home have also inspired Berliner’s work. Her “Mountain Laurel,” for example, brings to life a floral scene in Friendship Heights. 

Berliner said she finds inspiration in water and trees, often from visits to National Parks. 

“I share my experiences of walking, clearing my head, and ‘looking’ in nature, and let the viewer’s imagination take over,” she explained. “Viewers say they feel like they are in the place I’ve depicted and that the work is both lyrical, dynamic, and peaceful.”

A favorite comment on her work that came from one viewer is: “You capture the fine line between active and dynamic.”

In past times, the artist explained, people often saw nature as “threatening.” The more modern concept began, perhaps, with the 19th-century Romantic poets, who went outside to find beauty and calm.

The curator of Berliner’s Waverly Street exhibit is Pat Silbert, a resident artist of the gallery.

“I’m very pleased to curate Leni’s show,” said Pat Silbert. “I like her work.”

Silbert also describes Berliner’s exhibit as “suitable for this time of year, when people are coming off the holiday rush and are ready to leave the holidays behind. The show will appeal to a broad number of people. It has a very contemplative and peaceful quality.”

Waverly Street Gallery is one of the oldest and one of the premier art galleries in the Washington, D.C., area, she added. “We feature contemporary visual artists working in a wide range of media – including painting, printmaking, sculpting, ceramics, glass art, photography, and jewelry-making.”

The gallery's monthly exhibitions showcase original artwork in many genres, including representational, impressionistic, and abstract art.

What makes Waverly unusual if not unique, said Silbert, is that “there are precious few contemporary-art galleries around, even in New York City and certainly in D.C.”

“Going for a Walk” runs from January 7-February 3 (it comes down that day) at the gallery, 4600 East-West Highway, Bethesda. For information, visit www.waverlystreetgallery.com or call (301) 951-9441.  The exhibit is free.

Gallery hours are Wednesday-Sunday 12-6. 

An opening reception takes place on Friday, January 12, from 6-9 p.m. 

Berliner will present an “Artful Sunday at Waverly Artist Talk) on January 28, 2-4 p.m.

Leni Berliner’s web site is: www.dancingtreearts.com.

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