Unpacking Our Collection: Walter by Tsubasa Berg

This week Martha Clippinger unpacks a special painting by Tsubasa Berg.

Walter by Tsubasa Berg, oil on canvas
“In the photo, Tsubasa’s painting rests on my childhood sofa, where Philip and I must have sat thousands of times.” Walter by Tsubasa Berg, oil on canvas, 2010.

Walter Benjamin went to the Vet yesterday. It was time for his annual rabies vaccination. Perhaps you know the German-Jewish philosopher, Walter Benjamin? Well, he’s my dog’s namesake. And in fact, Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library” inspired the title of this column Unpacking Our Collection.  But back to my Walter.

When Marshall and I moved, Walter was the one possession that wasn’t put in a box, therefore we never had to “unpack” him. I did, however, unpack this painting of Walter Benjamin by Tsubasa Berg.

Tsubasa is a friend from grad school who lived with me and two others on the second floor of a Victorian house in Midwood, Brooklyn. After a while I started operating an alternative art space out of the house, that came to be known as “The Dirty Dirty.” And I adopted this dog, Walter, who first showed up with the name Benjamin.

He came into my life a few weeks after my brother, Philip, died in a car accident, and I don’t know how I would have coped had I not signed up to foster “Benjamin”. Two days after his arrival, I was in the process of sewing a bed for him when the adoption agency called to tell me that someone was interested in adopting him. It was at that moment that I committed to keeping Benjamin and decided to change his name to Walter.

A couple months later, my roommates threw a surprise birthday party for me. That night, Tsubasa gave me this painting that depicts Walter lying on the living room floor. I love that it’s painted on a small canvas panel because it has been easy to travel with. While I was away at artist residencies, Walter lived with my father, but I always kept this cherished painting near.

Of course, I think about Walter when I look at this artwork. I also admire Tsubasa’s great talent for painting, not to mention his generous soul.  Tsubasa had met my brother, but my brother never had the chance to meet Walter. Through Tsubasa’s creation of this small painting and his gifting it to me during a period of immense loss, he established a connection (for me) between my brother and my dog.

I will forever be grateful to posses this artwork, so full of aura.

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Philip Pritchett Clippinger: June 3, 1977 – September 26, 2009
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin: July 15, 1892 – September 26, 1940