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

Fire crews investigating oil sheen on Ellis Creek

Fire crews are working to contain the oil from spreading

Family suspends search for missing Alberta couple, plane near Revelstoke

Due to bad weather, families of missing Albertan couple say they will resume in the spring

A proactive approach to the housing crisis

City staff are recommending Penticton help prepare affordable housing proposals

Summerland’s Justin Kripps completes first double-medal weekend of career

High-powered Canadian bobsledders celebrate four-man silver at World Cup in Igls

Frank Venables Theatre recipient of Canada Cultural Spaces Grant

The Franks Venables Theatre in Oliver has some new gear, thanks to… Continue reading

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Canadian grocers make $3M per year from penny-rounding: UBC study

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin

Sagmoen neighbours recall alleged hammer attack

Woman was screaming outside Maple Ridge townhouse in 2013

B.C. anti-hate campaigner finds Google search on his efforts redirects to porn

Text from online news article about Cran Campbell being used to link to suspect websites

2 couples tie the knot in Australia’s 1st same-sex weddings

West Australian couple Anne Sedgwick, Lyn Hawkins have been together for 40 years

‘The Last Jedi’ opens with $220M, 2nd best weekend all-time

As anticipated, the movie fell shy of the opening weekend for J.J. Abrams’ 2015 franchise reboot

B.C. concert promoter bans Nazi symbols at shows

A man was witnessed making a Nazi salute during a heavy metal show at Pub 340

EDITORIAL: Putting #MeToo to work in your workplace

Workers from top to bottom need to stand together against the bully of sexual harassment

Most Read