Sin Yo Rita, 1992Peter VandenBerge (American, born Netherlands, 1935)
While Peter VandenBerge became known early on for his anthropomorphic characterizations of vegetables in clay associated with Funk Art, he has also favored a more meditative figuration. In fact, since the 1970s, VandenBerge, an influential, now retired, instructor at California State University, Sacramento, has been sculpting portrait busts by hand, beginning with clay coils. The artist’s smoothing and blending of the clay leaves behind expressive traces of his touch, which he enhances with the sensitive application of glaze and colored stains. His shades, while primary, are often muted in brilliance to better address the stucco-like texture. While VandenBerge’s subjects are diverse, most represent to some degree a personal connection to the artist: a family member, friend, colleague, an artist who inspires him, or a character drawn from a movie, television, or published story.
VandenBerge bestows his portrait busts with a quiet, contemplative countenance. He favors the frontal view, typically placing an elongated head atop a base consisting only of the figure’s shoulders and torso. As seen in the examples illustrated here, VandenBerge generally articulates eyes as mere slits so that these windows to the soul reveal nothing. In their static, unreadable presentation, VandenBerge’s figures gain the regal monumentality associated with ancient Egyptian portraits as well as with the sculptural traditions of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.