9 July 2018

Painting Nudes Through the Female Gaze

A voice of the Instagram artist generation, Venetia Berry's work is as powerful on a tiny screen as it is on the canvases piled in her studio. Inspired by the likes of Matisse, Venetia’s art is focused on the beauty of the female form: having admired and cared for the power of women all her life. Now, she's teamed up with Shoreditch concept store Modern Society to create an exclusive 9-piece ceramic collection. Featuring her iconic etched feminine figures, the ceramics are powerful pieces of modern art and encompass everything that is lovely about Venetia Berry and her work. I caught up with her to find out just what it takes to dedicate yourself to the world of art in the cyber age, and how it feels to portray the female nude as a woman in the wild world of now…


talk me through your creative process…
In terms of the paintings, I actually make all my own canvases so that’s were I start. I have my own stretcher in my studio so I make myself a canvas from scratch. Up at Leith, Edinburgh where I studied, that’s probably the most valuable thing i learnt. Then from there I always start with a drawing in a sketch book, and from there I decide what I want, and draw it onto the canvas. If I make mistakes when drawing, I don’t get rid of them when I paint, I like them to become a part of the finished piece. Then I lay it on the floor and just pour paint onto it. I base it on just 3 or 4 colours, I like to keep a limited palette.

where do you draw inspiration from when you paint?
I’d say colour palettes and I really draw from other artists. I’ll see a snippet of a painting and it will stay with me then I’ll use it as inspiration for my next piece. But 100% other artists work is what I’m inspired by, I’ll go to exhibitions and find influence for a new piece. I do have some I stick by, Egon Schiele and Matisse are my go-tos, if I’m uninspired I’ll just look to them.

was the female form something you were always drawn towards portraying?
I trained quite classically, some in Florence, Italy. And I actually started off doing portraiture. But with portraits, I funnily enough always preferred to paint men. Then I studied etching, and was just given a plate and told to make something I’d like to see in print. That was the first time I’d drawn without something in front of me to work from. I thought back to all the times in life drawing when a straight up and down 50-year-old man had walked in… So I thought I’d draw what I would’ve wanted to see walk into the life drawing class, and that’s when I started portraying women’s bodies. 

how have your creations changed since then? 
They’ve become a lot more abstract since then. I don’t always show arms or feet, or faces even. I like to have you able to tell it’s a woman, but without it being too overt. 


I think that’s how you can really feel the female gaze, which seems potent and important at the moment. do you feel empowered to be making that kind of art in our current political and social climate?
Yeah absolutely. I think now painting women is a completely different ballgame to before: traditionally women were painted by a man, for a male audience. It was about objectification, but now I feel like women have reclaimed the gaze by portraying other women in a sense of admiration. It’s definitely a very interesting time to be a female artist who paints women, but it all came about organically. I was speaking to Katie Hessel recently, who runs GreatWomenArtists, and she was telling me how people always say to her “oh your accounts so trendy”, and she wants to shout “it’s not about that!”, it’s so much more. 

do you find portraying other women’s bodies affects how you perceive your own?
I’ve never been a very body-positive woman, and I think that my art is partly trying to celebrate women of all shapes and sizes and include myself in that too. 

You were recently in a talk discussing the effect of Instagram on the art world, do you feel like it’s really promoted change in the art world? 
I think it’s really provoking a change in art: it’s democratised the whole art world. Anyone can create an Instagram, and then there’s so much out there that’s so easily accessible. I don’t think that that necessarily means we don’t need to be represented by galleries anymore at some point, but I think that Instagram is such a great starting point for artists to explore and to find people they wouldn’t normally be able to interact with. In the talk at Soho House, someone asked “is there too much on Instagram now?”, and Cassie Beadle [Curator at The Cobb Gallery] said that although there is so much out there, talent always does show through. So obviously there are negatives to social media, but I think Instagram is great. It allows people into the studio, it’s not just having one exhibition every few years. It allows people to see behind the scenes of the art world. It gives an artist to the painting. 

do you find that being in the london art bubble affects your work?
I’m from London originally, so it’s hard to say if it’s affected my work. But from moving between Edinburgh and then my time in Florence, that really saw my work change and evolve. I had a very different style, I was younger and I painted much more realistic, less abstract pieces. I mostly painted portraits, but I found that quite unfulfilling because if the painting doesn’t look like so-and-so’s son, what’s the point to them? So I think that’s almost why I became so abstract, as a form of rebellion against the strictness of that. I’d say it’s hard not to let your surroundings impact your work, but to be honest what’s affected me the most recently is less geographical it’s more the whole feminist movement. It’s just been so inspirational, through Instagram I’ve got to know other London-based individuals celebrating women and their work.


was there a moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?
Yeah, I had a place to go to the University of Bristol to study Politics, but before that I was going on a trip to study art in Florence. When I was there I met so many people who were at Leithe School of Art when I was there, and the idea of leaving and going to do a politics degree seemed so bizarre. It was all fate really: Leithe had one cancellation on the exact day that I called up, and I always think who was that person who I can thank for my career. That was the moment. And I didn’t even think twice.

if you could paint just one thing for eternity what would you choose?
The woman’s body, easy answer.

where do you see yourself in the future? could you do fashion collaborations as well as ceramics?
Definitely! I’d love to do fashion collaborations, I made an embroidered t-shirt the other day which was so fun. I draw over things I own and love customising. I have a few projects in the pipeline, Hunza G would be a dream to work with. I’m so drawn to clothes with artwork on them.

what’s next for you?
I’m hoping to have a solo show later in the year. My horoscope said this will be the year of collaborations, so hopefully that will be true. Hopefully fashion designing: I’m thinking simple linear figures on great textiles. My collaboration with Modern Society is only 9 ceramics, but that’s in the store in Shoreditch now.