Venetia Berry, Artist

Reading Time: 4 min

Social Impact: Reclaiming the male gaze and unlearning classical presentation in painted female nudes.

The cat is well and truly out of the bag, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have announced over the past week that none other than acclaimed artist Venetia Berry will be collaborating with us on our third collection: HOURGLASS.

Long time fans of eachother’’s work Venetia has been working with Paradise Row’s founder, Nika, for an exclusive collaboration that sees the merging of art and fashion. Through four unique pieces, the HOURGLASS Collection seeks to provoke discussion on the presentation of the female form throughout history. Each leather bag will showcase a different exclusive drawing by Berry that features a pose made famous through classical art: CONTRAPPOSTO, PUDICA, SERPENTINE and ODALISQUE; each highlighting a piece fo the body in gold.

To find out a bit more about Venetia’s process and journey as a female artist reclaiming the male gaze, we visited her studio in Brixton to learn where her story began:

Let’s take it right back to the beginning: as a child, was this career always something you had your eye set on?

“No, not at all actually; I was always ‘creative’ as a really imaginative child. I was completely obsessed with Harry Potter and lived in the cupboard under my stairs for about a year, but I was never thinking ‘I want to be an artist’ from a young age. I did GCSE art and then A level art but was somewhat discouraged to take it any further.

I had a place at Bristol to study politics but when I was 18 I studied at Charles Cecil in Florence. A lot of people who studied there were going to Leith School of Art in Edinburgh so I called up last minute and got a place there.”

Why did you decide to make that move to Florence in the first place?

“Well, I still completely loved art, but Florence really invigorated my love for it. I was also drawn to the very traditional, old masters techniques they practised; you’re taught to draw with a weight on a  string and if you go to the actual school, you only get to paint real life people after one year of learning, just like in the old Academies.”

What kid of work were you producing before Florence?

“I concentrated on portraiture, which is basically what Charles Cecil was in a nutshell, but even through just using drawing I developed that interest in people. In my last year of school at Leith School of Art I just totally focused on portraiture. Then I went to the Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch.”

Is that where you developed your signature style?

“Yes, so I was on the drawing intensive year where you’re completely taken back to basics. I started etching and it was unlike anything I’d even done before.”

How come?

“Well, because I was fairly traditionally taught in Edinburgh just like in Florence; if it wasn’t drawing from someone or something in the room, I was replicating a drawing— you were always emulating something. So, for the first time I was drawing from nothing at all!

At the time I was interested int he works of Schiele and nudes so this is where my style started. For the first time, I was thinking about the finished product instead of focusing so much on making a likeness because I was still doing portrait commissions at the time. With that, even if it was technically the best painting I ever did, if it didn’t have a likeness to the subject it was useless. So, the first time, I was focusing on just the art in itself.”

What kind of art did you take your inspiration from when you were just starting out? Perhaps as a teenager or when you were even younger?

“I was very much inspired by Jenny Saville, Lucian Freud, lots of ‘painter’ painters. It’s so difficult to remember, though; I was much more obsessed with Caravaggio and chiaroscuro than the average teenager. Nowadays, I’m more excited about contemporary stuff.”

It’s quite unusual for a teenager to be so interested in the old master, was this because of a creative or artistic family?

“Not necessarily, my parents were very creatively minded but their jobs weren’t creative at all. I think that kind of thing can skip a generation: my cousin is Alex Eagle, I have another cousin who’s an artist, one who makes canvasses, on who’s a film-maker; none of the parents know where it’s come from!

So in that mind, I was never pushed to go to galleries as a child. Some kids really get forced to go and then really hate going as adults because they remember how bored they were as children, I’ve never had that.”

Let’s talk more about about the iconic work you’ve developed and stuck with the past few years: when creating your nudes, were they all immediately women?

“Completely. I basically started doing these women in everything I did, but without realising why. At one point, my teacher took me to the side and said: ‘It’s great you’re doing this, but have you thought about why, because one day you may have to explain it’.

I took a step back, which I’d never done before: I’d never thought about ‘why’ doing portraiture, because it’s interesting enough to have the faces and the stories, it’s very straight forward as an interest.”

And what conclusion did you come to when you took this step back?

“It’s all just clicked for me; now it just makes so much sense. Body confidence and my relationship with my body has run throughout my whole life. It’s just so obvious to me now why I do it and why this journey has led me here.”

Has your art been healing for you and the relationship you have with your body in that sense?

“Sort of, it comes in peaks and troughs, but having said that, I’ve come such a long way in the last few months. I remember a time painting in here and I realised that every ten minutes I’d be thinking horrible things about myself. This happens to so many women and men, so much time is wasted on something that really doesn’t matter. It’s healing in a way.”

Has there been any lightening bolt moments where that has changed for you?

“I think it’s a gradual process: you talk to other people, resonate with their stories about their bodies and realise how much time you’ve wasted, realising it’s time to move on to the next period of your life. There’s also a lot of great things going on in social media right now. I don’t think there’s a been a pivotal moment, [my body] changes all the time.”

What are you up to right now? What are you excited about?

“Besides the HOURGLASS Collection with Paradise Row? I’m planning an exhibition next spring; there’s no name for it yet. I’m going to include all my paintings, but I think I’m also going to include something similar to an artist that’s on at the TATE right now, where all the paintings move out onto the walls.”

We can’t explain how honoured we are that Venetia’s drawing have walked out of the page and onto our leather designs; make sure you’re following Paradise Row on Instagram for all announcements and updates on the HOURGLASS Collection.

Shop the HOURGLASS Collection here.