Vanessa Berlein finds Inspiration Everywhere!

Urban Craft magazine's own Godfrey Johnson caught up with one of South Africa's most celebrated artists, Vanessa Berlein. Below ...


Urban Craft magazine's own Godfrey Johnson caught up with one of South Africa's most celebrated artists, Vanessa Berlein. Below is how their conversation went.....

GJ: I have known you for so many years dear Vanessa and have always been a huge admirer of your work. You are an artist, singer, writer and business person. When did the creative bug first bite?

VB: We have known each other a long time, and I too have always been a huge admirer of your work! I think the creative bug has always been with me. I grew up on a farm and my father had a scrap heap of engine parts that I was allowed to play with, so some of my earliest memories are of building things out of old engine parts. As a kid, I was always encouraged to be creative as on the farm we were pretty isolated and had to entertain ourselves- there was no TV, and computers were still a thing of the future. When I was 11, my mum let me turn a room in the cottage into a studio and I would shut myself away for hours and paint and draw.

GJ: Who were your greatest influences growing up?

VB: My greatest influences growing up, were my parents and siblings. My father had an old mine near Pilgrimsrest that had underground workings dating back to the gold rush, so I got to spend time there and see the formation of rock within the rock in the mineshafts, this had, and still has a big influence on my abstract works.
My family are great story tellers, and tales of human trials and tribulations abounded always with a sense of wonder at the spirit of humanity, and so I have always had a fascination of people and their stories. This is probably the reason I paint portraits, trying to capture the stories of people.

GJ: What gets you up in the morning?

VB: The birds! I have two big trees outside my bedroom and the birds start chirping round 4.30.
I get up in the morning because there is always so much to do, and its another day, and Im 51 and have become so much more aware of how precious time is.

GJ: Aquarians are often misunderstood, what is the importance of being understood?

VB: I think everyone to a degree is misunderstood. I think its ok to be misunderstood…we only measure our understanding by our own experiences. I don’t believe one should be that concerned about being misunderstood, instead we should be more accepting of our differences and celebrate the diversity of humanity.


GJ: Do you have a strict work regime? 

VB: I am quite strict about my work regime. It helps of course that I love what I do, but I start work usually at about 8.30 and work through till 5 in my studio and then sometimes work at night.

GJ: What advice do you have for people who drown in creative ideas but are to afraid to actually create?

VB: I think we drown in creative ideas when we stop playing. When the creative process becomes contrived and we become consumed by the thought of what influence our work could have on others. The best thing to do is to take time out and do something completely unrelated to the work you are busy with. This gives space to breathe and understand that there is nothing to be afraid of, and we can start to play once again.

GJ: What are the various mediums you continue to explore? Do you have a favourite?

VB: I work mostly with oil paint and metal leafing. I love working on paper, most of my portraits are oil on paper. In the last two years I have started using thread in my works and have just started working on a series of portraits in pencil and oil glaze which is proving to be pretty seductive.

GJ: Please name a few career highlights?

VB: Going through to the top 40 in the Sanlam portrait awards 3 times. Exhibiting in New York at the HFAS (Harlem Fine Art show) in 2018 as part of Black History month. Every time a work of mine sells is a career highlight!

GJ: Where do you look for inspiration?

VB: I see people every day who inspire me to paint. There is inspiration everywhere - the way the light touches form, the way colours dance, human stories, road trips. In the end its a mind set, you have to open yourself to the wonder al all.

GJ: Do you believe that practice makes perfect?

VB: I believe that the more you do something the more you understand the workings of it, so technically, the more one paints or draws or sculpts, the better your understanding of the medium will be, but one should also be aware that the work can become tired. Often the best work comes from trying a new medium or new way of executing something and the mistakes that come from the try.

GJ: Please name a few of your favourite artists. 

VB: It is hard to list them. Because of instagram, I see the works of artists I have never heard of, and each day seems to bring about a new favourite, but a few South African artists whose work I love are Chris Kriek, Brad Gray, Mary Sibande, Loyiso Mkize, Cinga Sampson and Ruby Swinney to name a few.


GJ: Where can we find you on social media?

VB: Insta: tesselate68
blog: berlein portfolio.blogspot.com

GJ: One of my favourite quotes is Mark Twain’s, “How can you see straight when your imagination is out of focus?” How do you keep your imagination in focus?

VB: I don’t believe one should ever try and focus ones imagination….it has life of its own thankfully and allows us respite from the constructs of our daily lives.

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Urban Craft Magazine: Vanessa Berlein finds Inspiration Everywhere!
Vanessa Berlein finds Inspiration Everywhere!
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Urban Craft Magazine
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