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Natural Awakenings Tucson

A Window into the Mind of Surrealist Artist Rebecca Bergman

Feb 29, 2024 09:00AM ● By Suzie Agrillo
Rebecca Bergman’s artistic path was the result of an epiphany she had after a near-fatal car accident in Australia when she was 30 years old. Doctors actually pronounced her dead before she was resuscitated. As a result of the traumatic brain injury she sustained, she had to relearn the basic skills of how to walk and talk. It also inspired her to ask herself the profound question, “If I only have a limited time to live—which is of course the case for everyone—how should I spend my time?”

The answer to that question was multifaceted: love, sing, run, dance, cook, travel, camp, hike, read, learn, think, draw and paint. Her art is colorful, abstract and mystifying. “I use my art to express my dreams, visions, the possibility of facts and imagination, uncontrolled by reason. The painting process transforms into a meditative contemplation rather than a representation,” she notes.

Bergman appreciates three major things in life: moving, painting and loving. Her doctors told her that she’d never move again after the accident, that she’d “always be a vegetable,” and she proved them wrong. Bergman enjoys hiking and backpacking, especially in the Grand Canyon. “It’s a magical place,” she comments. And the Grand Canyon worked its magic on her—she met her husband of 28 years there.

Her near-death experience has had a profound effect on the way Bergman leads her life, which is fearlessly. “Live. A lot. Unleash my heart in my art and in the world. Go forward. Go now. Trust myself. Fly free. Ignore conventions. Giggle. Laugh. This is life. Do it now. Take it all in. Compare this moment to no past moments,” she muses.

It has been said that the more you use your imagination, the more it will grow. Bergman loves to stimulate her brain to keep her creative juices flowing into her and her unique art. A native of California, she now lives in the wilderness of the Tucson mountains.

A Conversation with Artist Rebecca Bergman

How did your near-death experience cause you to shift gears and to start on your artistic path?
It’s a complicated story because I started painting after I had a car accident in Australia when I was 30. I didn’t really paint until then. I was in the back seat of a car in Australia. It went around a corner and flipped over. I was flown to a hospital in Brisbane where I was pronounced dead.

My family was contacted by phone with the news of my death. Immediately after the phone call, I came back to life. I was in the hospital from my traumatic brain injury for six months. I couldn’t talk, walk or read. That was when everything started. I realized that three elements of my life are important to me. One of them is moving, one is painting and the other one is loving. I started painting in the hospital while I recovered.

Where do you get your ideas from for paintings?
They come to me. The ideas just flow in. It’s part of my breathing. It’s part of who I am. My paintings have a lot of intricate details, like small circles. A large piece can take me a year, smaller pieces eight months.

What do you listen to while you’re painting?
Hip-hop, trap music, rap, drums and bass. I listen to comedy podcasts. I’m a fan of the Australian podcast Everyone Relax hosted by Wil Anderson and Charlie Clausen (he’s not a comedian, he’s an actor).

Why do you like comedy so much?
Comedians are philosophers. I have a huge list of comedians I like. I’ve seen a lot of them live, including Jim Jeffries, Steven Wright, Ari Shaffer, Marc Maron and Bill Burr, among many others.

How would you describe your art to someone?
I call it Neo-primitive surrealism. I mostly do mixed media and acrylics with pen and ink.
Please tell us about your most recent art exhibition.

It was last November in the Stevens Gallery at the Stearns Center for the Arts located in Salpointe High School, an amazing space. Artist Betina Fink wonderfully curated the exhibition, and I was delighted to have been chosen as one of the featured artists. It was a treat to see the looks of joy the art elicited from the people attending.

Where can people buy your art?
They can see it on my Facebook page and my website, The best way to buy it is to call me, come to my studio and select one. I used to sell prints, but my husband convinced me to only sell my originals.

Who are your role models, mentors and/or heroes?
The British doctor and author Oliver Sacks, because he studied the brains of patients with unusual neurological disorders. That’s interesting to me because of my brain injury. I lost all of my memories, so I had to start over.

What are your unique strengths?
Not giving up, I’m a positive person, and painting as a meditation for me. Also, I’m not defined by anything.

How would you describe your perfect day?
Exercise, movement, out in the wilderness hiking, avoiding being bitten by a rattlesnake. I like seeing wildlife, hanging out with my husband, yardwork, being outside as much as possible, reading and, of course, painting.

Speaking of reading, what books are on your nightstand now?
Two books. The first is New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People by Robert S. Desowitz, and it tells stories about parasites like guinea worms that can be debilitating. The second is The Circle by Dave Eggers, a dystopian story about how technology creates a gap in human interaction.

You exude an impressive joie de vivre. What brings you joy?
I love adventures. My husband’s Dutch, so I’ve traveled around the world with him. We’re planning on a trip to Sardinia, Italy in September, and last year we went to Greece. We don’t like resorts or shopping. We prefer staying in small, funky inns of character and our interests lie in exploring history, food, local culture, the arts and nature. During the trip to Greece, while hiking on some trails, we stumbled upon an ancient village which had historical significance.

Do you have a nickname or moniker?
The Desert Mermaid.

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
One of my favorite quotes is from White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “But how could you live and have no story to tell?” My mantra is giving thanks for my health, my wealth (which includes friends and experiences), my love, my life.

Connect with Rebecca Bergman at [email protected] or All included artwork by Rebecca Bergman.

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].
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