Venetia Berry (b. 1993) is a painter, printmaker and ceramicist based in Brixton, London. Berry explores abstractions of the female form, and her aesthetic is imbued with an air of calm and femininity that creates a dream-like feel. Her breakout exhibition was a ‘Walking Lines’ at Alex Eagle Studio in 2017, and her solo exhibition ‘Dreamscapes’ opens on 30th November at One Room Gallery in Shoreditch, London. Berry studied painting at the Leith School of Art, Edinburgh (2012-2014) and the Royal Drawing School, London (2015-2016). She was an artist in residence at Villa Lena, Italy (2021) and is co-Founder of Sol Creative Retreats.
Culturalee: Define culture.
Venetia Berry: For me, culture is the rich amalgamation of peoples’ backgrounds and history, coming together to create a collection that can help define an era or place. Culture is a great teacher. It can help to create an understanding of what a country or group of people have been through to get where they are today. Without culture, we wouldn’t have much beauty to be inspired by! This reminds me of a Winston Churchill quote during the Second World War when he was called on to cut arts funding. He responded with “then what are we fighting for?”, a sentiment for which I am very grateful for.
Culturalee: What was the starting point for your career as an artist?
Venetia Berry: I began my career as an artist by painting portraits – mainly of friends and their parents who wanted to support a 20-something budding artist. Whilst I was doing these portraits I was studying at the Royal Drawing School and learning how to etch. Here is where I developed an interest in abstracting the female form. I posted some of these on my Instagram and people started to become more interested in these than the portraits! Which was lucky, because at the time I was developing a slight resentment against the medium due to its restrictive nature and I really enjoyed the freedom that came with abstraction. I had my first solo show at Alex Eagle Studio back in 2017, and I was then taken on by Partnership Editions in one of their first collections of artists. Both of these events helped to kick start my career and I am very grateful to both parties for doing so!
Culturalee: What has been your most moving cultural experience to date?
Venetia Berry: I have been lucky enough to have quite a few! But the most moving I think was seeing Bernini’s ‘Rape of Proserpina’ at the Borghese Gallery in Rome for the first time. The ability Bernini had to create handfuls of flesh out of stone is so incredibly awe inspiring and remarkable. If you don’t know it, give it a google and you will see what I mean. I love the power of art and often feel myself becoming emotional or even getting heart palpitations when viewing something that speaks to me. When you think that these have been created from a stone, or maybe just some paint and a canvas, and they can make someone feel this way it is quite incredible!
Culturalee: What’s your greatest personal achievement as an artist?
Venetia Berry: I think for me, just being able to call it a full time job has been my biggest and ongoing achievement. And I am really hoping it stays that way! It isn’t easy sometimes to be self employed, particularly when times in life are tough so I am really proud of that. The important thing is to keep going and keep creating!
Culturalee: What’s your favourite artist/ book/ exhibition/ play/ film/ musician?
Venetia Berry: I am not a very decisive person so it is always changing, but at the moment it goes Matisse, ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith, Helen Frankenthaler at Dulwich Picture Gallery 2022, ‘Agatha’ by Florence Howard, ‘Notting Hill’ (not very cool, I know!), and Tracy Chapman.
Culturalee: Who are the cultural icons and artists that have inspired you most?
Venetia Berry: I am constantly being inspired by many different artists, but there are a few that I turn to time and time again, knowing that I will find something within their work that will spark some kind of inspiration inside of me. These artists are Henri Matisse, Helen Frankenthaler, Tracey Emin, Joan Miro, Hilma AF Klimt, Agnes Martin and Pablo Picasso.
Culturalee: Any tips for young people wanting to break into the art world?
Venetia Berry: Find living artists that you like and connect with them. With social media it is so easy to reach out to artists. There is no promise that they will reply! But if they do I am sure many would be happy to have you come for a studio visit and have a coffee. It is so important to keep conversation flowing between artists as it can be a great source of inspiration and also skill swapping. I would also advise to try to find your niche. Work out what it really is that makes you want to create and why. Keep creating work that you are passionate about, and when it starts to feel stale, work out why and whether you want to build on it or take a new direction. But create work that makes you happy, do not try to please others as you will end up pleasing no one!
Culturalee: Can you describe the process of making your art and how you developed it?
Venetia Berry: As I mentioned earlier, I was painting lots of portraits and becoming slightly tired of the subject matter as I would often feel I couldn’t fully express myself, especially when working on a portrait commission. This coincided with the year I spent studying at the Royal Drawing School. Here I learnt how to etch which ended up fundamentally changing how I viewed the work I was creating. We were etching in a basement room with no windows and, crucially, there was no life model or even a still life to work from.
During my previous studies I had always been encouraged to work from life. With nothing to work from I was forced to really think about what I wanted to represent on the page, as it were. I had always loved life drawing, particularly drawing from the female form. So I began to draw from memory and imagination. That was about 7 or 8 years ago and I have been working with the female form and abstraction ever since. I went quite far into the abstraction, using only lines to represent the form, however, over the last year I have been bringing my forms closer to reality having been inspired by living in Rome and the abundance of figures seen in the frescoes there.
I am currently working on a series of works, which have been inspired by the bathing scenes found within art history. In my works there is a dreamlike feel to these landscapes due to my unnatural colour palette and the layering of thin veils of colour. The forms lay on these landscapes creating a whimsical and almost other-worldly atmosphere to the paintings.
Culturalee: What project(s) are you currently working on? Venetia Berry: I am currently working towards an upcoming solo exhibition, ‘Dreamscapes’ which will be opening on 30th November at One Room Gallery in Shoreditch, London. The show is open until 5th December, come along!