In Fresh As Fruit Gallery’s latest exhibition, “Smiling Left, Right, and All Over,” artist Eric Anthony Berdis uses clashing patterns, sequins, smiley faces, and flamboyant materials in their work to symbolize aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience, represent the vibrancy of queer culture, and highlight expression in the face of social injustice.
The Fresh As Fruit Gallery shows are run by studio art professors Katie Baczeski and Madison Creech along with Madison Creech’s partner, Matthew Creech. Each show brings an entirely new perspective, story, and art style, and per usual this collection did not disappoint. With wall pieces like sequin-adorned quilts and flourishing caped humanistic forms, the pieces communicated playful luxury to the viewer. Each detail came with special significance and played off of every other part in a colorful chaotic harmony.
While Berdis was not able to make it to the show in person, they were available over Zoom and projected onto a nearby wall for attendees to ask questions about the show, the work, and Berdis’s process. When asked what it was like to be seeing their work in the show, Berdis described being excited to see their two different bodies of work repurposed to join together, next to each other, and in that formation: “Seeing this work have another life is my favorite aspect”.
They particularly wanted to play with and draw attention to the idea of past lives and ghosts in their pieces. As a child, Berdis was deterred from dressing according to a flamboyant queer aesthetic, but now makes that untapped expression visual using maximalism, clashing patterns, and layers upon layers of fabric and material, saying, “I didn’t want to be seen as queer or gay and [now] in my work I attack that with reckless abandon.” The standing pieces that stem from this concept create a ghost of this untapped past expression that can now exist and come to fruition in the world of their art.
Berdis never had access to knowledge about queer history in school and in high school, so now that that information is so widely available on platforms like Instagram, they work to become more and more educated on the topic. In this vein, Berdis used quilting elements to reference the AIDS Memorial Quilts made in honor of those affected by AIDS and the AIDS crisis. A scarecrow hidden within a fold of one of the standing pieces symbolized Matthew Shepard, who was a young gay man attacked and left by the side of a field to die. He was so hurt that he was confused for a scarecrow, and his attack spurred safe space training to prevent ones like it in the future. and Berdis wanted to be able to honor this dark history seemingly oxymoronically through their usual rambunctious art style, saying that he was “thinking about [Matthew Shepard] as a queer icon to insert into the work was a way to pay homage to him as well as not have it be a one-to-one portrait”.
Other parts of the works had multiple lives as well, as exemplified by many names of men dotted around the works but specifically on pieces of fabric on a set of quilted pieces. During a residency in Pittsburgh in 2017, Berdis and a group of queer friends and girl friends started writing yearbook names and boys’ names that they had had different levels of interpersonal relationships with, from crushes to kisses to relationships. These experiences with queer friendship and using the fabric to “process love or a relationship that maybe felt frivolous,” created even more depth, story, and past life within Berdis’s artwork.
The many lives of the past, present, and future were all well-represented in a show that was bright and inviting, and there is no doubt that attendees are amping up for the next show as Fresh As Fruit prepares for it. To see more of Eric Anthony Berdis’s work and learn more, you can visit ericanthonyberdis.com.