John Berger, a respected art critic and acclaimed artist and writer, passed away in his Paris home at the age of 90 on January 2, 2017.
Berger was born in London, England, in 1926, and first ventured into the art world as a painter. By the late 1940s he was exhibiting work a number of London galleries, including the Leicester Galleries, Redfern, and Wildenstein before moving on to teach drawing at St. Mary’s University College (now St. Mary’s University) in London. Berger’s first pieces on art and culture were published in the New Statesman, a British leftwing magazine, in the early 1950s. His opinions frequently featured political commentary alongside art critique, making him a controversial figure in the mid-century art scene.
Berger’s long-form written work came to the forefront of his career in 1958, when he published his first novel, A Painter of Our Time. Several other works followed soon after, plainly reflecting their author’s disparagement of cold city life in England. Berger relocated to France in 1962, and continued to write in a multitude of genres, including screenplays, poetry, essays, and short stories, as well as additional novels. His novel G won both the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1972, and gained Berger further notoriety when he donated half of his Booker Prize cash winnings to the radical Black Panther movement. Berger is perhaps most widely known for the groundbreaking BBC television series Ways of Seeing, an introduction to the study of images and art criticism, and its companion text.
Berger is especially noteworthy for his dedicated study of urban poverty and its impact on the lives and work of immigrants, as demonstrated in both fiction and nonfiction writings. Berger held strong views on the Palestinian struggle for statehood, and was a member of the Support Committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. His later written works addressed photography and memory, in addition to contentious political issues such as AIDS, homelessness, and displacement, marking him as a figure ahead of his time.