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VANESSA BERLEIN (article first published : 2006-04-30)

Vanessa Berlein has taken the international art stage by storm with her innovative concepts in abstract art. Her work is on display in almost every country around the world. Also a lover of music and poetry, South African artist Berlein is truly a phenomenon in the art world, and continues to push the boundaries in the field of abstract art and technique as she embarks on her first solo exhibition in KwaZulu-Natal, entitled Hush, at the Kizo art gallery during May.

Born in 1968, Vanessa Berlein studied a fine art diploma at Natal Technikon (now Durban University of Technology), completing her first and second year, majoring in painting. Since then, she has worked as a full-time artist and taking time off in-between exhibitions to travel the world. As an artist, she has worked predominately in paint medium on canvas but has experimented with photography, print medium and sculpture.

“We are looking forward to hosting Vanessa Berlein at Kizo, and to share her amazing talent with art lovers in KZN. Her one-of-a-kind pioneering style and unique use of materials make her a forerunner in her field,” said Kizo owners Natalie Bradfield and Craig Mark. “She studied art in Durban, and it is great to be able to bring her back to this city,” Mark added.

Up until 1997, she concentrated mostly on figurative work, being heavily influenced by the works of Otto Dix, Odd Nerdrum, Egon Sheile and Giacometti. For subject matter she was drawn to Western religious Iconography and symbolism. In 1996, she left for Los Angeles and in the year that she stayed there, she was exposed to a great deal of modern art.

“Having grown up South Africa in the time that I did, I was only ever really exposed to very traditional artworks. The impact of exhibitions I viewed there and the artists I came into contact with was huge, and after viewing an exhibition of Mark Rothko's work, I became passionate about exploring abstract art,” says Vanessa Berlein. She began at first to experiment with glazes of colour on canvas, but soon started to incorporate other mediums such as industrial building products, print material, metal, paper, and basically whatever she could lay her hands on.

All this culminated in an exhibition entitled Secret Icon at Area Gallery, Cape Town. “Old-fashioned erotica crept into my work and I produced for the show peepshow boxes, books of spells, shrines and icons,” she says.

In the years to come her work included numerous private commissions, from portraits to billboard sized print pieces for commercial use, as well as several exhibitions around the world. The direction of her art changed from land and city scapes, prints, photography and poetry, to abstracts painted on canvas using glazes of oil and acrylic, and creating depth using pure pigment. Soon she started to build up the surfaces beneath and over the glazes, layering beeswax and industrial products. Her current work, to be displayed at Kizo Art Gallery in Umhlanga during May, includes these works that feature built-up surfaces that atmospherically convey meanings in the paintings’ abstract concepts.

Vanessa Berlein has exhibited widely, from galleries in Durban, Cape Town, the Western Cape and Johannesburg, to the Lennox Gallery and Affordable Artfair in London, and Private Space in Los Angeles.

Her latest exhibition, at Kizo Art Gallery, Gateway, will run from May 9 to 30 and will open with a spectacular launch event on May 8.




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