An Interview with Venetia Berry in her Studio in Brixton, London
Venetia Berry is a London-based artist known for her abstract nudes rendered with gestural brushstrokes and uplifting colour palette across her painting and ceramics. A graduate of Leith School of Art, Edinburgh and the Royal Drawing School, London she seeks, “to reverse the male gaze, challenging the archetypal sexualised female nude.” Inspired by the work of Helen Frankenthaler, Pablo Picasso and Lee Krasner, she surrounds herself with exhibition catalogues as she works. Venetia is equally influenced by the program of galleries such as Victoria Miro, Tate Modern and White Cube. Her recent exhibitions include The Elephant Family at Hauser & Wirth and Modern Bodies at Alex Eagle Studio as well as Partnership Editions at Benk and Bo, London. Don’t miss her collection of ceramics now available with Matches Fashion. Follow her @venetiaberry.
How would you define beauty in 280 characters or less?
Beauty to me is something instinctive and primal, something our eyes have the power to recognise, without necessarily having the skill to articulate.
Why have you chosen to focus on the female nude?
I think, whether we like it or not, artists often reflect their life experience within their work. For me, the artwork came before I knew why I was painting the female nude. After reflecting and realising why I want to portray the female nude everything made sense. As someone who has always lacked body confidence and felt the societal pressures to look a certain way it is now integral in my work to celebrate all female bodies for their natural beauty.
Tell us about the space within which you work:
My studio is in the centre of Brixton, it has floor to ceiling windows overlooking Brixton Road (great people watching spot!) The walls are covered with images of artwork that inspires me, as well as my own paintings.
Do you follow a routine or rituals as you work?
Yes, I love being in a routine. A perfect day would be yoga in the morning around 7am. Then head to studio and before anything do a meditation, before a big mug of black coffee. I then work my way through my emails and start painting/researching/drawing – whatever I have on that day! I tend to finish up around 6.30, I am not a night owl at all.
Which books or publications have influenced you?
Whenever I am feeling uninspired I open one of my art books. I have a beautiful Schiele book, lots of Matisse, Irving Penn, Freud, Yves Saint Laurent, Kusama, Khalo, Picasso – the list goes on. There is nothing better than getting lost in one of those.
Describe the unique colour palette of your paintings?
It definitely changes but at the moment I am completely drawn to a pastel palette. As a committed tomboy when I was younger I always avoided anything pink. Now I can’t get enough of it! I think this is all part of me now embracing my femininity.
What do you wish every child were taught?
How to cook good, healthy and delicious food. Learning something about paying taxes wouldn’t go amiss either!
Do you collect (or swap) the work of other artists?
Yes! This is one of my favourite things about being an artist. I have recently swapped with Millie Edwards – who makes beautiful prints using ocean/sea water. I have just swapped with Anissa Kermiche for one of her amazing terracotta vases. One of my friends studied fashion at University so we swap tailoring and artwork! There is something so refreshing about trading without involving money.
How would you define your personal aesthetic?
I love wearing matching block pastel colours. I am often told I look quite ‘70s, but I think that is because of my fringe!
Has social media had a positive impact on your work?
There is no doubt that Instagram has been an incredible way for artists to get our work out there. I personally love being able to show what I am doing in the studio everyday. It has allowed a fairly solitary occupation to be less lonely. However, I think there can be pressure within social media to be constantly creating something new, which can be fairly draining as well as being an unnatural way to work.
What is your favourite art gallery in London?
Probably the Tate Modern, it always has something great on. I also love galleries like Victoria Miro and White Cube.
Which of your travels has most impacted your work?
When my sister lived in New York for five years; me and my other sister were lucky enough to visit numerous times. I can’t get enough of the energy and art there. MOMA is my favourite museum in the world; I could spend weeks there! It is a place I regularly go back to in my memory for inspiration. It would be a real dream to exhibit there one day.
Have you enjoyed collaborating (D&D, M) with fashion brands?
Collaborating with fashion brands has been brilliant as it gives me the opportunity to explore new mediums. I have always loved the aesthetic of the Bloomsbury group and Charleston – the artwork not just being on canvas but on walls, chairs, ceramics etc. This design aspect means that anything can become an artwork – even a pair of pyjamas!
What role has your art education played for you?
I think it has been integral to my growth as an artist. At Leith School of Art I was taught everything about painting – from artists to mixing and layering the paint. We were also taught how to stretch a canvas, which has been one of the most valuable and useful lessons. I use something I learnt at Leith most days in the studio. Studying etching at the Royal Drawing School gave my work a totally different direction. It taught me to think so much more about how the work looked, than trying to gather a likeness of reality. This brought about the beginnings of focusing on the female nude, leading further into abstraction.
Are there particular artists, which have inspired you?
Yes, many! My main source of inspiration comes from seeing other artists work. To name a few – Henri Matisse, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele, Jenny Saville, Sigmund Freud, Joan Miró, Yayoi Kusama, David Hockney, Alberto Giacometti, Frida Khalo. I also love following the works of these artists online - Jessalyn Brooks, Caroline Popham, Rose Electra Harris, Rosie McGuiness, Emily Ponsonby, Mattea Perrotta, James Wilson, Fee Greening, Juliana Byrne, Hester Finch, Alexa Coe.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Food – the cooking and the eating of it!
Is there a subject or medium you’re yet to explore?
Many! I love the idea of sculpture and embroidery.
Do you love what you do? If so, why?
I do love what I do. I feel very lucky to spend my days painting in the studio and call it my job. It can be tough sometimes though, it is such a personal occupation.
Find out more at www.venetiaberry.com
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, Founder of Arteviste