( 1968 – )

Vanessa Berlein

Vanessa Berlein is a South African artist. Primarily a painter, throughout her career she has explored and worked in many mediums, including photography, various print mediums, and sculpture. Her work has been and continues to be exhibited in South Africa and abroad.

Born in 1968 and raised on a farm in Mpumalanga, South Africa, she became interested in making art at a young age. Her mother was a pianist, and her father a geologist and farmer. She grew up in a home filled with music, art, and books, and an eccentric mix of houseguests who would arrive with tales of wonder and stories that fuelled the youngster’s imagination and instilled a desire for travel and adventure. From the age of 5, she attended boarding schools.

Her Great Grandfather had been a keen collector of 16th Century Dutch and Flemish art, and her first influences in painting were the styles of that school of painting.

On leaving school, Berlein studied Fine Art for 2 years at the Natal Technicon in Durban, majoring in painting. Her exposure to artists such as Otto Dix and Giacometti gave her a chance to start regarding new narratives in painting, and she became interested in exploring the theatrics of society’s revelries. In 1989, she moved to Johannesburg and studied prosthetic make-up, and this further influenced her painting techniques and her love for the drama of human expression, theatrics, and story.

Vanessa Berlein works across a broad spectrum of subjects, from portraiture to landscapes, abstraction to botanical study. Now in her 50’s, having worked consistently as an artist for over 30 years, subjects, mediums, and techniques are beginning to merge in her work. While her botanical paintings were mostly small in scale, they are now as oversized as her portraits have always been. Landscapes have merged with abstraction, and the use of thread, metal leafing, and industrial products have begun to be incorporated in all of her works.

Berlein’s figurative and portrait work is well known. She has been a Finalist in the SPI National portrait award 5 times. In her paintings, she explores the eccentric and individual quirks of people. Furthermore, it celebrates the beauty within humanity and the fragility of the human soul and their individual stories. Berlein sets out to capture the moments between poses when people are most candid and unaware of the viewer, and so expose their most vulnerable side. She has an enormous love for humanity and its individual stories.

In her abstract works, Berlein works with a cross-section of mediums, including metal leaFing, thread and stitching, and industrial products alongside fine art materials.

Her abstract paintings are greatly influenced and informed by the time spent as a young child on a goldmine that her father owned in the Pilgrimsrest area. Before her father purchased the mine in 1972, it had last been mined during the gold rush in the late 1800s. Berlein spent much time with her father exploring the old underground mine workings and learning about the formation of the reef in the area. Her abstract paintings draw inspiration from material use, largely from geology and the formation and colour of minerals and rock. More recently, she has begun to incorporate thread and stitching in an emotional response to her identity and privilege as a child born of European descent in South Africa.

Berlein’s landscape and seascape work is an extension of her abstract works wherein she utilizes similar materials, such as metal leafing, powdered pigments, and glazes. Her Landscape and Seascape work evokes a sense of melancholy and surrealism. Drawn from the memory of road trips throughout her life, they are mostly imagined and yet recognisable as somewhere many have been to. The paintings are an emotional and often melancholic response to the landscape in her country, often evoking a sense of desolate beauty devoid of humans and yet evocative of human memory and longing.

There is a dream-like quality in the paintings, as the reflective quality of the metal leaFing changes through the hours and so to the imagery. Her botanical studies are a nod to the Dutch and Flemish schools of painting of the 17th and early 18th Century and their mastery of technique and use of light in the depiction of Flowers and fruit. In her most recent exhibition, BLOOM, Berlein threaded ribbons into the paintings so that they cascaded from the petals and stamens off the canvases and onto the floor, as if the blooms could not be contained by the perimeter of the canvas. Berlein lives in Cape town, South Africa, presently working from a studio in Woodstock, Capetown.




Quintessence – 12 People I know, ABSA KKNK, Oudtshoorn.

Chocolate box Series, Rust-En-Vrede

Sanlam Portrait CompetitionTop 40 Finalists.

 Investec Cape Town Art Fair, Diedericks/Faber.


Investec Cape Town Art Fair, World Art.

Disengagement, World Art, Cape Town.

Turbine Artfair, DF Collective, Johannesburg.

Lucent, Exhibition with Francois Irvine, AITY, Franschhoek.


  I bet you look good on the dance Floor, D/F Collective, Johannesburg and    Cape Town.

Sanlam Portrait Award, Finalist.

That Artfair, DF Collective, Cape Town.


  Hong Kong Art Fair, Tanya Baxter Contemporary Art Gallery.

Olympia Art Fair, London, Tanya Baxter Contemporary.

Sister Trilogy, Knysna Finearts.


  SPI National Portrait Award, Finalist with 2 works.

ART Africa Fair, DF Contemporary.

Hong Kong Art Fair, Tanya Baxter Gallery.

Juliette Cullinan Standard Bank wine Festival, Holden Manz.

Fynarts 2017, Rossouw Modern.

The scent of Jossticks, Eclectica Contemporary.


  Harlem Fine Arts Show , Black History Month, South African Womans        Art Association,  New York.


Girls and Boys in the hood, ManZart.

Affordable ONLINE Art Fair London, Tanya Baxter gallery


Rust-en-Vrede, Portrait award Finalist.




ABSA KKNK, Velvet Exhibition, Oudtshoorn.


The Industrial Karoo – Fear & Loss, Oliewenhuis Art Museum,             Bloomfontein.

The Industrial Karoo- Fear & Loss, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria

Rust en Vrede, Music & Lyrics Exhibition, Durbanville

Golden Haze, Salon 91, Cape Town.

Winter is coming, Equus Gallery, Cavalli Estate.


Abstraction: Apart& Together, Collaborative exhibition with Frans Smit,     AITY, Franschhoek.

Cohesive Clash, Tanya Baxter Contemporary. Kings Road, London.

Artemisia, DF Contemporary, Cape town.


Materiality, The Melrose Gallery.

AITY, Various Group show.

Manzart, Various group shows.


Bloodlines, Deepest Darkest.

AITY, Various Group shows.

Manzart, Various Group shows.

Precarious Winters, Platform 13.


Home is where the art is, Zeitz MOCAA.

Women who read are dangerous, Rust-en-Vrede

 These walls have eyes, Haas Collective.


ManZart, Various group shows.


ManZart, Group show.

District Gallery, Ohio, USA.

Die Hand, Die Mond, Die Hartvlamvol, Breytenbach gallery, Wellington.


Sunny Side Up, Group Exhibition, Graham Contemporary, Johannesburg, South Africa

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