PAINTINGS AND ILLUMINATED BOOKS & PAGES
“I have always loved painting, gold-leaf illumination, and calligraphy. I eventually discovered illuminated manuscripts, which combined these disciplines, and I immediately fell in love with them.” —Bernard Maisner
Bernard Maisner graduated from The Cooper Union College of Art in New York in 1977 and soon began exhibiting paintings and illuminated book works in New York City. Artist Chuck Close awarded him “Best in Show” in the popular New York University Small Works exhibit that same year.
In 1979, he showed his work in a group exhibit at the Holly Solomon Gallery in Soho, and a showing of a selection of illuminated book works and pages followed, also in 1979, at the Drawing Center in NYC. Works were shown in “Precious,” an exhibition at the NYU Grey Art Gallery, and illuminated pages were exhibited in the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1985, among many other group shows. One-person exhibitions followed at the Kathryn Markel Gallery, the Stux gallery, and the Cavin-Morris Gallery, also in NYC. In 2000, Saint Louis University’s MOCRA organized a 25-year retrospective exhibition containing 80 pieces of art. Entitled “Entrance to the Scriptorium,” it travelled for five years to several national museums, university galleries and libraries. An exquisite clothbound catalog of the show was produced. (LINK HERE)
Bernard received special permission to study and view original illuminated manuscripts for several months in the reading room at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 1975, and later at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York.
“I wasn’t sure how this would affect my work, but I knew I wanted to make illuminated books and paintings. It was not until several years later that it would come together. Essentially, I took the position that printing presses had never been invented and instead I imagined how the tradition of hand-made illuminated manuscripts would have developed through to the modern day.
“I had no interest in painting castles, copying medieval images or alphabets, or being anything other than modern—as all manuscript artists of their day were during the centuries they were living in. These artists were avant-garde in their own time. I conceptually put myself in this lineage in the making of modern illuminated manuscripts.”
An excerpt from the essay written by art historian Dore Ashton for the MOCRA catalog:
“The ‘enwoveness’ of all Maisner’s inspiring sources in the work of his hand is a visible phenomenon wrought from persistence, quoting, and an abiding sense of awe. Whether working exceedingly small or very large formats, Maisner is always embarking on Kafka’s ‘truly immense journey’ with an artist’s peculiar fortitude. As Herakleitos epigrammatically declared: ‘Character is fate.’”
Mr. Maisner’s love of painting, medieval illuminated manuscripts, calligraphy, and gold leafing techniques—both modern and historically precise methods—led him to create what he refers to as “Modern Illuminated Manuscripts.” He uses contemporary as well as ancient texts—from John Cage to Heraclitus—and his imagery is symbolically referential to their meanings.
The texts selected are generally abstract and theoretical in nature rather than narrative, since Mr. Maisner wishes to illuminate concepts, not illustrate stories. The works are painted with mixed media, on paper or animal parchment, using egg tempera, gold leaf, watercolors, ink, and acrylic.
His paintings, many as large as 6 by 8 feet in size, are created using oil paint on canvas, some featuring collaged elements. Many have diminutive text placed within the work, others are without text. The artist refers to these large paintings as “giant miniatures.”
Maisner stopped painting for almost 20 years. He began again in 2020.
Some of Mr. Maisner’s works are represented in the collections of The Morgan Library & Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philip Morris company art collection, and Saint Louis University’s MOCRA, as well as in private collections.
For many years Mr. Maisner taught and presented workshops and lectures on “The Materials, Methods and Techniques of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript Illumination” and garnered accolades at The Morgan Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, and The Met Cloisters Museum. Many of the techniques discussed are used in his modern works, yielding new modern visions employing these amazingly old materials and techniques.