Article taken from "Wisconsin People and Ideas" - Winter 2016, Volume 62
Contributor: Rafael Francisco Salas
I met Tom Berenz back in 2008 when we were teaching together at Ripon College. Both Wisconsin-based painters with backgrounds in traditional methods, we often met to discuss our views on painting and art. Since then we have exhibited together and from time to time encounter each other’s work in shows around the state.
I recently had a conversation with Berenz in anticipation of his upcoming exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery in March of 2016. Reflections on his work and life reveal Berenz to be a Midwestern pragmatist who strives for authenticity in his paintings. His workmanlike approach to his craft reveals a penchant for honesty as he succeeds and struggles in the artistic process.
Art is often seen to connect with—or to be consciously divorced from—an artist’s biography. The contemporary work of Tom Berenz seems to fall somewhere in between.
For two generations, Berenz’s close-knit family owned an auto body shop in the Fox Cities. Encouraged by his parents to pursue an early interest in drawing, Berenz brought his creative sensibility to the nearby University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh where he began studying Art Education.
An internship decorating the interiors of McDonald’s restaurants turned out to be an influential introduction to form and color, contributing to his ability to see painting as a practical pursuit as much as a magical process of inspiration. As his study of art intensified, professors and mentors such as Li Hu and Jeff Lipschutz instilled in Berenz a desire to take on painting as a rigorous pursuit.
Berenz entered the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison after receiving an MA in painting from Northern Illinois University. Interestingly, he was also accepted into the Masters program at Hunter College in Manhattan, one of the most prestigious art schools in the country. Never bohemian by nature, Berenz felt removed from the lifestyle of this elite art school. A family kid from Fond du Lac with roots deeply bound to Wisconsin soil, he decided to maintain his practice here.
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