Reclaiming the Female Form: Nine Minutes with Venetia Berry

Arriving with the vibrancy of Spring, Brixton based artist Venetia Berry delivers vivid, dream-like figures in her recent collaboration with Modern Art Society. Paintings from her ‘Modern Bodies’ collection, etchings, and sketches will be shown alongside nine limited edition, hand-painted bisque vases, designed exclusively for the exhibition. Working to counteract the male gaze, Berry’s work interrogates archetypical perspectives; her surreal and elongated forms are a playground for imagination, an invitation for new methods of thinking about representation. After Nyne catch up with Berry to talk Old Masters, new places, and reclaiming and celebrating the female form.

Where did your interest with art begin?

‘I have always been a creative and imaginative person, however, my true passion wasn’t ignited until I spent a month in Florence, covered in charcoal, drawing the human form intensely. We learnt using the classical and traditional Old Masters technique, ‘sight-size’. This was a brilliant place to project from, as with that base of knowledge you can begin to adapt into your own painting language.’

Who are you your influencers, past and present, and what provides you with inspiration?

‘My main point of reference for inspiration is looking at other artist’s work. If I am feeling uninspired I have a pile of go-to books on my desk to look through. Matisse is my number one. The way he creates a feeling through such simplicity is something I will forever aspire to. Other artists that continually affect my work are Egon Shiele, Giacometti, Helen Frankenthaler, Picasso, Yayoi Kusama, Freud and Saville. It is usually the colours in other artists work that provides me with inspiration. I may see a small corner of a Picasso and decide to base my next painting on those colours. Of course, looking through a book has nothing on seeing the work in real life. I was very inspired by the Modigliani show at the Tate Modern recently.’

How do you maintain artistic licence when commissioned?

‘With a background in portraiture, I found the restricted nature of a commission very frustrating. No matter the quality of the painting, if it doesn’t look like the sitter, your job has been unsuccessful. This lead me to paint as I do now, creating female forms that do not need to have a ‘likeness’ to anyone, a figure that all women can relate to. I still paint portraits and relish when I do, maintaining artistic licence through my recognisable brush marks.’

Why does the human body, specifically now the female form, hold such interest as a subject?

‘People and the way we work has always fascinated me. When I am in a new place, I look out for interesting people and faces over the landscape. I am drawn to the human form. The female form attracts me due to its angular shapes and curves. It also directly refers to fertility and nature, in turn referencing women throughout history. Men, for a male audience, have classically painted women. It is a priviledge to be able to reclaim the female form in a celebratory manner, as opposed to an objectifying one.’

Do you embrace chance and serendipity in your practice?

‘Absolutely. Chance is a huge aspect of my work. Whenever I draw onto the canvas, I make plenty of ‘mistakes’ and redraw it. I like to keep these marks as a part of the work, almost like the working out that needs to be shown in a maths test. I want to display the organic build up of layers, baring every process of my work.’

How do you think Instagram is changing the consumption of art works?

‘Instagram has democratised the art world. Anyone with access to a smartphone has the ability to create, for a wider audience, without any prejudice. As a woman, this has changed the experience in the art world hugely. I am yet to encounter direct sexism within the art world, if anything, the rise of women on Instagram has provided me with the opposite. As I said earlier, there is no comparison to seeing the works in the flesh. The instantaneous ability to scroll through works that may have taken years to create, in mere seconds, is a shame. However, this is a compromise I am willing to accept, due to the huge benefits of Instagram.’

Do you find it surreal, as you rise to prominence, that young female artists will be looking to you as inspiration? – And what advise would you have for those beginning a career in the art world?

‘Very surreal! My biggest piece of advice would be to stick to your heart and don’t be commercial. Your passion will have the longevity you need, but commercialism can be short lived. I am a big believer in ‘you get out what you put in’, so don’t succumb to the stereotypical lazy artist type (which is often untrue) and work as hard as you can.’

What’s on the horizon for Venetia Berry?

‘I have just launched a collaboration of limited edition, hand painted pots with Modern Society. To celebrate the collaboration I will be holding pot painting classes in store during London Craft Week in May. I also have paintings and etchings exhibited in store, go and check it out!’

Venetia Berry at Modern Art Society runs until Wednesday 30th May

Tickets to one-off ceramic painting workshop with Berry on 13th May:

Words: Laura Frances Green