A Conversation with Tess Bergman, Visual Artist and Undergrad at Hunter College

Bergman wears layers of rainbow-colored makeup, very long black eyelashes, white and gold beads and gems, and a sign on her forehead that says "Beach House" in white. Her head is tilted; she's not smiling. One earring looks like a swan. She wears pearl jewelry and holds an open ring box. The inside of the lid of the ring box says "I [heart] You."
Tess Bergman. Photo courtesy of Tess Bergman

At 21 years old, Tess Bergman already has a presence under the alias Aeridona: a “nonsense” name that has become intrinsic to her art. The self-described “old handsome woman” already has several collections in print, all while she finishes up her Bachelor’s in Visual Arts at Hunter. Bergman’s appeal lies in transforming childhood influences into the surreal, drawing from a cache of video games, music, movies, wrestling and picture books. In one notable picture, she’s turned her face into a page from a classic I Spy, which she calls “my fav book as a kid.” Bergman isn’t afraid to bleed a little for her art either. After watching the David Lynch film “Blue Velvet,” she paid tribute by painting her face in a complicated tapestry of “Psyche’s box as a base + Miyuki glass beads + spirit gum on top,” a cocktail of makeup and crafts that includes a painful side-effect. In the caption for this post, she writes “still using beads that shred my face when I take them off,” and punctuates the sentiment with “lmao.”

Another post utilizes eyelash glue, Claropsyche palette, broken jewelry, Sugarpill Goldilux, and dewdrop lashes: brand name cosmetics repurposed in the name of art. Other works include pixel brush drawings, glass and plastic beads, ink, spirit gum, watercolor, animations, copperplate etching, acrylic, comics, tarot and more. She admits she’s not the first person to her face as a medium, but her inventiveness and desire to experiment, often face-first, makes Aeridona an consistently inconsistent artist worth exploring.

With the ongoing, universal isolation that began in 2020, Bergman is sure, more than ever, that she wants to collaborate with other artists. “I don’t really see myself as a stand-alone, solo artist,” Bergman muses from her home in Suffolk County. “That’s not something that really appeals to me.”

You wouldn’t suspect this fledgling desire to work on a team with the way she uses her own body as a canvas. But when Bergman obscures her face in layers of makeup and beads, she’s really creating a buffer zone. She’s both putting herself in front of the camera and hiding at the same time.

I spoke with Bergman over Zoom about all things artistic, cathartic and self-destructive.

Forest Oliver: I was trying to find an etymology for your name with no luck. Where does “Aeridona” come from?

Tess Bergman: It was something I did on some multiplayer game. I came up with it when I was twelve, a long time ago. It became my username. But it’s just nonsense.

FO: You’re working on your B.A. now.Do you plan on continuing with school after that?

TB: It’s a B.A. with Visual arts with Hunter, a drawing concentration. I’m probably going to work for a year and see what I can do with the B.A, if not then I’ll probably start pursuing my Master’s, but I’m going to see what I can do with this so far. I have just next semester and one class over the summer should be it.

FO: You work with a lot of different mediums, which is most comfortable for you?

TB: Drawing. It’s the most comfortable for me. I like painting, I like printmaking, I’ve had experience in all of it. But drawing feels the most natural for me. I don’t think that it’s the same for everyone. I think everyone approaches forms a different way, but for me it’s usually line work. Like, all makeup (projects), I’m drawing lines first to block it out before anything else.

If I ended up anywhere along the road, it would be digital drawing, just because I see the most opportunities with that. It’s what I put a lot of effort into. Although I don’t ever see limiting myself that much.

FO: Do you start with an image in your head, or do begin with putting your hands to the canvas, whatever that canvas may be?

TB: For me, right now it’s the head. I just don’t have time to explore like I used to when I was younger. When I first started I was all hands, like let’s see what happens, but I think now, I want to put my efforts towards more thought out ideas, so it’s almost always like head first; make sure it’s glued in my head and then I’ll start putting physical work into it.

FO: Do you find that nerve-wracking?

TB: Yes. (she laughs) Very.

FO: In one of your more expressive face painting pieces, a tribute to the film “Blue Velvet,” you mentioned ‘taking off some skin’ in the process. You’ve literally bled for your art. Do you think an artist needs to suffer to make good art?

TB: To a degree. I think when you’re pushing yourself and you’re trying to go beyond your stock, what you create, it’s going to be at least a mental discomfort, or frustration. Sometimes physical discomfort. A lot of my friends have carpal tunnel, like, at my age. I’m only 21! There’s definitely some give and take; you have to give something to get something.

FO: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?

TB: There’s definitely a level I always want to hit with my art — maybe not perfection, but maybe two steps down.

I try to really plan it out so there’s less error, but it always happens. There’s always error. You just kind of have to make it part of the piece or throw it out.

FO: Your Instagram post titled “fifty-fifty clown,” combines face painting with drawing, as well as photography. Was genre-blending a happy accident, or was it intentional?

TB: Definitely part of it is accidental. The drawing aspect started in the editing process, with color correction, eventually I just started drawing in Procreate, so some of it is accidental but I always want to have some sort of multimedia aspect to what I’m doing, so: fifty-fifty.

FO: Would you say you’re part of a new art movement? More visual style?

TB: I’d say I’m definitely part of [a movement] that’s more multimedia. I’ll see especially with the makeup or the face art, it’s something I’ve seen a lot of artists start as one or the other, they’ll do makeup, or they’ll do more traditional art, and they’ll branch into the other, they’ll branch into music. I think especially with social media now, there’s a demand for being a ‘jack of all trades.’ So, in that manner, I’m part of a movement… whether I like it or not. But it’s more so what I feel is demanded of me.

FO: Outside of school, what keeps you working on the projects you want to work on?

TB: Honestly, the social component. Not in terms of me, but in terms of the people I’ve met through [social media.] Interacting with people who have been affected by what I’ve done. They like what I’ve done, or they’re inspired by what I’ve done — that’s probably my primary motivation. Because, right now, I don’t know if there’s a consistent message I’m sending with my art. I don’t think I’m moved by some internal ‘something’ that I really want to tell everyone. I don’t know if I even have that level of mental sophistication yet. For me it’s just the social component. I don’t know if that’s a strange answer or not, but…

FO: So social media really helps as a source of inspiration then. What’s next?

TB: Now the community is all online. Before there was obviously an in-person component. I’d definitely like to move more into working with other artists or people who do other mediums like musicians. I like producing work in collaboration with or aiding another person’s work. I don’t really see myself as a stand-alone, solo show artist. That’s not something that really appeals to me. My original goal was to be a concept artist, with films or games or media, and at this point I’ll take anything that has me working with other people.

What’s coming up is a lot of personal projects. I’m working more with “Still here, still-life,” which is this page that posts a still-life every week. You can draw it and they’ll repost it, and you get to connect with other artists. It’s every week, and I just wanted something to keep me busy. I just want to do more technical practice honestly. It’s just going to be a very technical winter for me

FO: Your social media is full of tributes to your idols. There’re musical groups like Beach House and Rina, visual artists like Madrona Redhawk, films like “John Wick” and “Blue Velvet” and even wrestlers such as Joey Janela. Do you think it’s important to have idols?

TB: Maybe not in the traditional sense of an idol, in that you’re trying to model all aspects of your life around that person. It’s good to have benchmarks for what you want to be doing. Like Madrona Redhawk, the way she executes her looks, that’s a benchmark for me when I’m face painting. But she’s not my benchmark for my life choices, or how I approached art or what I think art is. It’s good to have at least reference points for where you want to go, but you should be very flexible with it. Everyone’s going to fuck up. Everyone. You can’t model your own personal ideas and politics off of a person just because you like their music or their art. I think it’s good to be flexible and have different idols for different things.

In regard to wrestling: anything with characters. a lot of my art tends to be pretty representational, so I look to people a lot. Either how they dress, or how they act. With wrestling it’s all — I mean, it’s obviously fake — but it’s all character work. People are playing, acting. There’s just a physical component to it, so I just think anything with that kind of presence. 

FO: Are you looking forward to getting back into face to face, in-person galleries?

TB: I’m definitely going to do more with Hunter publications, like Olivetree Review, The Envoy, might go back to work with The Stony Brook Press, I’m going to try to do more illustration work, with whatever publications will accept me at this point! So that would be my main focus next semester.

You can find more from Aeridona on Instagram. Also, follow her on Twitter, and purchase her art on Society6.

*Edited for clarity and length

In this picture, Bergman isn't wearing any of her jewels -- just basic makeup. She wears a turtleneck sweater and a purple jacket covered in cats.
Tess Bergman. Photo courtesy of Tess Bergman

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