John Berger, pioneering art critic and author, dies at 90

John Berger, pioneering art critic and author, dies at 90

NEW YORK — John Berger, the British art critic, intellectual and prodigious author whose pioneering 1972 book and the BBC series it spawned, “Ways of Seeing,” redefined the way a generation saw art, died Monday. He was 90.

Simon McBurney, the British actor and a friend of Berger’s, told The Associated Press that Berger died at his home in the Paris suburb of Antony. Berger had been ill for about a year, McBurney said.

The author of criticism, novels, poetry, screenplays and many less classifiable books, Berger had considerable influence as a late 20th-century thinker. He consistently, provocatively challenged traditional interpretations of art and society and the connections between the two.

He examined the role consumerism played in the rise of Picasso in 1965’s “The Success and Failure of Picasso.” He claimed that cubism anticipated the Russian revolution in “The Moment of Cubism, and Other Essays.” When he won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1972 for his novel “G,” Berger spoke against the prize’s roots in Caribbean slave labour and pledged to give half his reward to the Black Panthers, a group he said more accurately reflected his own politics.

That same year, Berger — with a head of wavy brown hair, a beige ’70s shirt and a magnetic authority — captivated the British public with “Ways of Seeing,” a series of four 30-minute films. In it, he mined imagery for larger cultural discoveries. How women were depicted in art, for example, revealed much about a time period’s attitude toward gender.

“It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world,” Berger wrote in “Ways of Seeing,” which became a common curriculum of universities. “We explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”

Born to a middle-class London family on Nov. 5, 1926, Berger never attended university. He was drafted into the British Army in 1944 and was dispatched to Northern Ireland. “I lived among these raw recruits,” he told the Guardian in 2005, “and it was the first time I really met working-class contemporaries. I used to write letters for them, to their parents and occasionally their girlfriends.”

After the army, he joined the Chelsea School of Art. He began as a painter, later taught drawing and eventually began writing criticism for the New Statesman. But his studies later expanded significantly into other realms. He examined the lives of migrant workers in 1975’s “A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe.” In 1980’s “About Looking,” he considered, among other subjects, how animals exist alongside human lives.

“To suppose that animals first entered the human imagination as meat or leather or horn is to project a 19th century attitude backwards across the millennia,” Berger wrote. “Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.”

Berger also wrote several screenplays, among them 1976s’ “John Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000,” a drama set amid the 1968 protests in Paris. The artist John Christie, who collaborated with Berger on films and books, remembered Berger as “the most wonderful collaborator and a man generous with his friendship.” ”He loved bringing people together,” said Christie.

Berger’s considerable output ran right up until last year, when he published a collection of essays, “Confabulations.” A documentary on Berger, produced by Tilda Swinton, was also released in 2016. In “The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger,” Berger and Swinton, a longtime friend of his, converse in the French Alpine village he lived in for much of his life. Swinton calls him “a radical humanist.”

“If I’m a storyteller, it’s because I listen,” Berger says in the film. “For me, a storyteller, he’s like a passer, that’s to say like somebody who gets contraband across a frontier.”

___

Katz reported from London.

Jake Coyle And Gregory Katz, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Dirty book sale

Penticton Public Library hosting its annual book sale

Search at Silver Creek property enters third day

A portion of the property has been cordoned off with black landscaping fabric

Regional district and city hoping to curb bad recycling behaviours

City of Penticton and the RDOS are teaming up to eliminate contaminates

October power disruptions planned

Summerland to upgrade switches at electrical substation

Man in custody linked to Silver Creek property search

Police are not saying how this search is related to Curtis Wayne Sagmoen’s current criminal charges

VIDEO: Sears liquidation sales continue across B.C.

Sales are expected to continue into the New Year

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

B.C. search groups mobilize for missing mushroom picker

Searchers from across the province look for Frances Brown who has been missing since Oct. 14.

Have you heard about Black Press scholarships?

Up to 37 scholarships are awarded each year to students throughout British Columbia

Search for missing B.C. man a race against winter weather

David Jeff of Williams Lake was last seen in Kamloops during the chaotic wildfire evacuations

Bantam Vees tournament good prep for start of the season

Penticton hockey team heads into regular season with just one loss in nine exhibition games

Most Read