22 October – 14 November

“In the hope of reaching the moon, men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.” -Albert Schweitzer

Photos, Ruvan Boshoff

The series of mixed medium paintings titled Bloom, evolved from a desire to explore the techniques and aesthetics of the 16th century floral paintings of the Dutch masters. Initially, Berlein was taken with trying to understand better their technique of ‘Grisaille”, but the more she delved the more enchanted she became with the blooms they depicted and the joyful emotions they inspired in her.

Berlein comments: “ Winter was fast approaching and the light becoming brittle. I began taking elements from the paintings of the Dutch masters and trying to emulate them, exploring their techniques and aesthetic. Pulling Spring, colour and cheer into my studio.

LEFT: Vanessa Berlein, Alma, 150cm in diameter, Oil and ribbon on canvas | RIGHT: Bobby, 120cm diameter, oil and selected thread on canvas

In looking for further references and inspiration, I turned my attention to wedding bouquets and Victorian seed packets, and flowers began to blossom and bloom on the canvases in my studio.

In creating the paintings, Berlein constantly considered the sensory experience the audience of the works would encounter when walking into a space filled with flowers. For all of us to have endured so many months of lockdown, restriction and illness, the artist sought to create an experience of joy. After the hibernation, the promise of Spring.
“Right now, I think the world needs to stop and consider the flowers. We so easily get lost in the horrors and exhaustion of this time that we forget that there is beauty all around”

Through the journey of creating the works, Berlein found inspiration in unravelling of the significance of flowers throughout history, as in Ancient Rome, Brides carried and wore flowers to signify new beginnings, and hopes of lasting love and fertility. In the Middle ages, strong smelling herbs, spices and flowers were carried to ward off bad luck, ill health and the stench of rot, and then at her wedding on 1940, Queen Victoria popularised the tradition of carrying a tussie-mussie down the aisle.

LEFT: LEFT: Charlotta, 120cm diamter, oil and selected thread on canvas | RIGHT: Vanessa Berlein, Lucy, 120cm diamter, oil with selected thread on canvas

The inclusion of stitching into the works not only provides an aesthetic bridge to additional dimensions of time, but is further symbolic in much of Berlein work, of suturing the wounds of the world. The loose threads that hang from the canvases, indicative of hope, that there is always room to stitch further, encouraging wounds to heal, if only we take the needle, prick the conscience and begin to stitch.

Our exhibition opens in the middle of Spring, and whilst an exhibition of flowers in the middle of Spring may be considered obvious, there is another message within the artists body of work. How vital and necessary denotations of old are in today’s times; how important the need remains for simplicity of meaning. Paring down to the basic essences of techniques also liberated the sense of what the works would mean. By distilling the past and extracting the beauty, the artist has produced a tonic for our times, a single elixir of hope and joy in the form of beauty.
Berlein has worked as an artist for 33 years. She has exhibited and curated extensively in South Africa and abroad. Her work focuses primarily on painting.

At Present, Berlein works out of a studio she shares with artists Helen van Stolk, Antoinette Hampton, Juan Stockenstroom and Andrzej Urbanski in Woodstock Cape town.



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