Shirley Bernstein was born in Philadelphia, PA. She earned her BFA at the University of the Arts (formerly Philadelphia College of Art) and earned her MFA from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. She majored in printmaking and minored in painting and drawing.
Shirley describes her work as organic abstractions in response to forms experienced through observation, both visual and emotional, of nature. She spent most of her adult life in New York City. When she moved to the rural northeast corner of Connecticut, she became captivated with the beauty of the land and sky and has been creating oil pastel paintings and prints of all kinds of skies since. Although her focus is primarily looking to the heavens for inspiration, she also enjoys drawing the figure and other natural forms.
She has an extensive exhibition record that includes both her oil pastels and prints and has shown her work both nationally and internationally. Her work is in the collections of Pacific Rim International Print collection, The Newport Museum, Robert Blackburn Collection at the Library of Congress, Slater Museum, Indiana University Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Union Carbide Corp., Neiman Marcus, Arjo Wiggins, Eastern CT State College, Wheaton College Rare Books, Staubiz Design, Dodd Center, Fletcher Memorial Library, Special Collections at UCONN, Fairfield University, McNeese State University, The Newark Library and Syracuse University, as well as private collections in the US, Europe, and the Middle East.
While keeping up with a busy exhibition schedule, Shirley was also a dedicated art teacher and takes pride in her professional affiliations. She received the Teaching Excellence Award at Quinebaug Valley Community College where she retired from in 2013. She has also taught at the University of Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University, Cooper Union, NYC, Indiana University, IN, Kean University, NJ, 11Beaver College, PA, University of the Arts, PA, Fashion Institute, NYC and Knoxville College, TN. She is a founding member of the Printmakers Network of Southern New England and has been in eight print portfolios, as well as a book of poetry and prints with the group. She is also a member of the Society of American Graphic Artists, the Los Angeles Printmakers Society, the Boston Printmakers and the Wood Engraver’s Society.
Shirley was Artist of the Month in March for the Oil Pastel Society of America. She received the 75th Anniversary Award in a traveling exhibition in England from the Wood Engraver’s Society. She was awarded the Zea Mays printmaking prize at the Boston Printmakers 2015 Biennial. Shirley’s work was exhibited in “Horizons” which toured Cork, Ireland, Odense and Denmark. She has shown her work at the 15th Lessedra World Print Annual Mini Print 2016 in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 2018 her entry in “Foot Print” at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, CT was awarded honorable mention. Shirley received the Artist & Craftsman Materials Award in Relief Printmaking at the Society of American Graphic Artists 85th Members Print Exhibition, 2019. Her work became part of the special print collections at The Newark Public Library, The Fletcher Memorial Library, McNeese State University and Syracuse University. In 2020 she was awarded the Graphics Art Award in the CT Academy of Fine Arts 110th Annual Exhibition.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein
My work has always been involved with a search into nature for the unique forms found there. I would describe my work as organic abstractions in response to forms experienced through observation both visually and emotionally.
When I moved from New York City to the rural northeast corner of Connecticut, the vastness and beauty of the land and sky captivated me. My images began dealing with the moving, majestic, aliveness of the sky and the land. They took on a spiritual quality with a meditative stillness as well as reflecting the force and vigorous action in nature. Luminous energy effects on the clouds and reflections on the landscape are explored through a combination of reflected, direct, filtered and backlighting situations. A beautiful landscape can be a dark one introducing the element of mystery, the notion of magic and the supernatural powers of natural forces.
These series of images explore the boundless space of the sky infused with light disappearing into the unique contours various horizons. The horizon is used to divide the picture plane and suggest an impression of the flora and fauna of that site. The gestural color marks express the forms, movement, light and atmosphere. An environment that is easily accessible for the viewer to enter and perceive is created. It is there that the viewer’s feeling and emotions are encouraged to emerge.
Absorbed in understanding the inherent order in nature, I transform it into my personal view of its logical units. The composing of these images deals with complicated figure-ground relationships where intervals of line, color and value become important factors in penetrating the surface of the picture plane. The marks both symbolic and representational draw the viewer into the essence of the forms transformed to give a sense of something greater and impending. There the viewer is invited in to explore the sensual and provocative forms hidden nature.
I work in a variety of print media, but I enjoy the physicality of cutting the woodcut to express the energy I experience within the landscape. These woodcut images are color reduction or subtractive woodcuts. Using only one block, the whites are cut out of the block and then the first color is rolled on the surface and printed. The second color is then printed after the areas are cut away from the same block to reveal the first color. This process is repeated with each color until only the last color portion remains on the block. Because you cannot go back and make corrections, some refer to this type of print as a “suicide print”. I also explore these images using oil pastels for a more spontaneous and direct approach.