I am Bert Ernie and I am a multi-disciplinary artist. I paint mostly. Two styles. Photorealism. Total abstraction. I am not interested in propping up my work with ‘art-speak’ – in discussing my paintings, I only briefly explain the individual artwork, and try to make it understandable to everybody.
I am self-taught, having taken up painting at the age of twenty-seven. I am now fifty-three years old and believe I am a master of my craft. I have completed over forty photorealist paintings and a little over fifty totally abstract works of art. I have tried for most of those years to get a foot in the door in the ‘art-world’, to make a living doing what I love the most. And I have failed. Out of the almost one hundred paintings, I have sold just one. I have given quite a few paintings to those that would take them.
I still paint and have basically realised that my dream of being a successful artist is an absurd notion. They have never wanted someone like me, an outsider, someone who won’t play by their silly rules. And just in the last few months, I have only just understood why. I am too democratic, too easy for the mainstream to understand. I am almost an anti-artist. I loathe a vast swathe of-the-art world.
Imagine spending twenty-five years trying to be a successful artist, specifically a painter. You strive to improve your technical skills, improve your compositions and make the art ever more interesting and accessible to what you hope will be an audience of more than one. And you fail, over and over. Imagine taking the advice of gallery owners and fellow artists who tell you that in order to succeed in the art world – you first have to get noticed. In order to do that, they tell you that the way forward is to keep working diligently and enter art prizes and small group shows and get out there on social media. You take their advice – and you fail, over and over.
That’s what I have done for the last twenty-five years. And I am bitter and angry. I have finally realised that it is all a big fucking lie. The art world is the most corrupt and ridiculous industry on the planet. The system has nothing to do with great art. It is about making money for the wealthy. As it stands in the twenty-first century, the art world is the most vile it has ever been. Even looking back to the seventeenth-century, the art world was a powerful tool for wealth creation. The arbiters of taste (art critics) were picking the fashionable artists to champion and criticising those that no longer served their interests. Witness the falling out of favour Rembrandt, who died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave.
The system works like this – a pyramid of people, artists, gallery owners, curators and art critics, most of which are scrambling and competing to climb to the top. And in doing so, they make it all about money, fame and power -and very little about the art. The art – they all talk about the art. Mostly, what they write and talk about in relation to art is absolutely pure nonsensical shit. And almost nobody in their elite little world dares to call it out. They are too afraid to rock the boat, lest they are banished from the art world in disgrace.
So here I stand, pushing my wheelbarrow, still believing I am worthy of praise and respect. Only from now on it is as an anti-artist. As an anti-artist, I want to paint something that is cool for my twelve-year-old-self, something that is not like the rest of-the-art world. The photorealist style has always fallen afoul of many of-the-art world’s art critics and my work will move ever more become an instrument of creating easily understandable and relatable work which is about the most anti-art themes imaginable. My abstract style may appear to the non-art person to be of the art-world – made by some elitist painter who has no interest in providing something worth looking at. I beg to differ. My abstract painting is totally free and dynamic, colorful and joyful, and with my brief description of said artwork, understandable and enjoyable.
I have loved the act of creating a painting since I was a small child. My understanding of the goal of a painter was the recreation of the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. And as a child, I was never shown how to do this in any meaningful way. So during my early school years, I painted away at school. I would get the typical praise ‘that’s beautiful,’ and it would get stuck on the door of the fridge. I did, however, enjoy the process of painting, and the challenge of trying to paint something in a realistic manner.
At the age of 27, I was stuck in a rut of a dead-end job. When I would come home from work, I would find myself itching to create art, so I started painting again. I still hadn’t any training whatsoever and started with a few abstracted-realist works. Since a young child I had been in awe of the 17th-century Dutch painters and wanted to paint as realistically as possible, so I taught myself how to paint in a dedicated photorealistic style. I enjoyed the process of painting, and my confidence and skill grew.
After completing a few photorealistic paintings on canvas board, I eventually switched to painting on MDF board. Which introduced a problem of the board bowing inwards due to uneven tension from the paint being on one side only. So I was advised to paint the reverse side of my photorealistic work to pull the board flat again. When I painted, I would use several ice cube trays of acrylic paint for my palette of colors. So once I finished the photorealist painting, I would then use these to paint the reverse side. At first, I would just brush them out, layer by layer. But little bit by little bit I would start to experiment with the idea of creating an altogether new work of art on the reverse on my photorealistic work. I did a few of these before deciding to paint the two distinct styles separate from one another.
I completed about 40 photorealist paintings and 30 totally abstract paintings in the following twenty-two years (with a few breaks). I tried everything to be a successful artist and failed – I entered in numerous art prizes and shows, and I approached art galleries regarding representation. I never achieved anything beyond selling one commissioned photorealist painting.
In April 2016, my brother Luke committed suicide. With an enormous amount of grief in my heart, I found it impossible to paint with any real conviction – either photorealistically or in the abstract style. So once again, I gave up all forms of creating art for some time.
In May 2017, a very dear friend committed suicide. I was shattered yet again with grief. Rebecca Parker was someone who believed in me as an artist, and she left this world in tragic circumstances. I felt incredibly alone at this point. I was in a very depressed place despite being surrounded by a very beautiful rural environment – Yarra Glen in the midst of the Yarra Valley.
One beautiful spring day in 2017, I had an awakening – I realized I should return to making art but with a new approach. The goal was to create the most beautiful abstract paintings I could as a way of celebrating life, instead of wallowing in depression. I knew I had a talent for making visually appealing work with both of the styles (photorealism and abstraction) – but with the abstract work, I believed I should focus on the real beauty of the painted surface. So I started painting again. I painted ‘Field of flowers Yarra Glen 1’. I haven’t stopped painting since.