Chris Berens is a Dutch painter born in 1976 in Oss, the Netherlands, near the historic town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (a.k.a. Den Bosch), the birthplace of Hieronymous Bosch. When he was a boy, his father brought him to many exhibitions of the Dutch Golden Age painters, including Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer, and those images became infused into the internal world he began imagining as a child. He studied illustration at the Academy of Art and Design in Den Bosch, graduating in 1999.
While working as a freelance illustrator, Berens began to teach himself to paint in several dilapidated buildings in the rural area near his childhood home. Attempting to emulate the painting methods of the Old Masters and 19th-century academic artists like Ingres and Bouguereau, he learned by copying their work, and eventually came upon a technique which allowed him to achieve an otherworldly dreamlike impression of the qualities he admired in his predecessors. More recently, Berens relocated to Amsterdam, where he began exhibiting his work in 2004.
In his work Berens does not use traditional media, he uses inks on photo paper rather than oils on canvas, but creates some of the most compellingly executed, enigmatic, and emotionally resonant paintings seen in a long time. His work features a fantastical mélange of exotic creatures and 18th century imagery, floating in buttermilk colored clouds or silvery sea blues. Photo realistic, totem-like animals and distorted childlike people float like dreams through blurry surrealistic European cityscapes or drift on stormy seas on decrepit ships in a soft focus haze, shimmering as if in a fevered dream. It is almost shocking to look at, but in the gentlest of ways.
Beyond the wondrous imagery there is another startling and unusual aspect to Chris’ work, in which the smooth, translucent look of the his medium of choice (ink on thin plastic over wood panel) is contrasted with fact that the paintings are patch-worked together, in pieces ranging from 1 to 3 inches across. Each section has been painted numerous times and layered over each other and each segment flows seamlessly into each other, creating a cohesive image.
This technique creates images with such depth, that along with his soft focus look and technical perfection make most people assume they are seeing digital imagery or manipulated photographs. However it is entirely created and painted by hand with painstaking skill, time, and precision from beginning to end.
After four sold-out shows at Amsterdam’s Jaski Gallery, Berens made the move to infiltrate the American art market in 2008, at Seattle’s well-known pop surrealism gallery, Roq la Rue. That sold-out show was his first exposure to American collectors, and the sudden appearance of an artist exhibiting his technical sophistication and evocative dreamlike motifs caused a sensation in pop surrealism circles.