Name: RACHAEL BERRY
Location: ISLE OF WIGHT
Mission: TO CONFUSE DERREN BROWN
For anyone who has never been to the Isle of Wight I highly recommend it. Not just for the fact that it is a beautiful place, but because there are so many lovely people who live on the island. One of them is the very talented Rachael Berry, who I met about 6 years ago when I went to the island for Bestival in 2008.
Rachael has been painting and drawing since before she can recall. “It was always just what I did! I remember drawing every day as a kid. By the time I was 7 I had decided that I wanted to be an artist. I remember doing a self portrait project one day in Year 3 and one of the other kids asking me ‘Are you going to be an artist when you grow up?’ and I said yes.” She feels it was due to encouragement from friends, family and teachers that she has been successful in her career choice. “I was really lucky to be encouraged as a kid. It’s so crucial! Encouraging kids is like watering tomatoes: they’re 1000 times less likely to thrive if you don’t.”
Rachael mainly works with fine synthetic sable brushes and multiple thin layers of oil paint on primed MDF/wooden panels. “I love oil paint. It’s very forgiving in comparison to other mediums such as watercolours or acrylics”. These are applied over the course of many sessions as she “needs to let the layers dry for more than a week between sessions. This is why a single painting can take many months, between 70 and 300 hours to complete”. She mostly paints portraits which are inspired by the sitter and Rachael tries to draw out and convey as much of a person as she can. When planning a piece she “starts purely with form. I plan a rough idea of my desired composition and work with the available light to bring out the forms of the sitter that I want to focus on, then tweek the composition in-situ until it looks right.”
At times life hasn’t been easy for Rachael. “I’m still trying to make sense of everything but the journey is a beautiful one and it makes me better every day. My mother, brother and sister have always been a bottomless well of all-surpassing love and encouragement. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today”. In 2006 she was taken very seriously ill. “I had to expand my idea of ‘success’ and how it is achieved, contending with a baffling, painful set of physical challenges and the de-constructive effect this can have on one’s identity”. She was confined to bed for over a year and spent several painful years in a wheelchair. Thankfully she is now largely recovered, “I am a richer person for the experience, a rare and precious education that can only be purchased with one’s health.”
When I asked Rachael about her proudest moment she regaled the tale of the day she finished college. “I had taken my tent and sleeping bag to college with me and after walking out the door and rolling around in the sun, with the most immense feeling of relief and joy in my heart, I went straight to the Isle of Wight festival site, sneaked effortlessly under the fence and went to see David Bowie!” However her artistic career has advanced somewhat since then and her proudest moments also include: having her work displayed at the Houses of Parliament; coming first out of 5000 entries in the Saatchi-showdown; having her work displayed on a giant billboard in Times Square; and appearing on the same bill as Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marylin Manson.
One collaboration which Rachael is involved in is The Undiscovered Creature Project. Working with the illustrator SCAB the project is “about the wonder of creation: embracing the unknown as something that needs our respect and support; engaging with the possibility that there are things that we don’t yet understand and giving every aspect of nature, known and unknown, a chance to thrive.” Through commercialising their creative efforts through sales of the book and associated merchandise, they hope to “make funding and creative support available to organisations and individuals working to protect specific habitats from the encroachment of human development.”
Rachael has visited South Africa twice to work on projects with SCAB. “We visited reserves and national parks across the country, staying on world class conservation projects. We road-tripped and camped out from the Drakensburg mountains, Umfolozi Hluhluwe, down the coast to St Lucia and up through Swaziland to Kruger National Park, to the Global White Lion Trust, back to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and many places in-between. We meet eminent entomologists, writers and genetic experts along the way whilst trekking up rivers to mountain pools and waterfalls. We had close encounters with hungry baboons, were woken up by lions and shared our camps with honey badgers, bushbabies, mongooses, monkeys and heaps of awesome giant bugs.”
Currently Rachael is involved with a group of visual artists, poets and creative souls based around Ventnor but reaching as far as Columbia, South Africa and London. Founded in 2011 the Undecided Art Collective provide a hands-on platform for engagement between a diverse network of Arts practitioners. They also work in close partnership with service providers in the community to deliver opportunities, training and cultural experiences to young people and the community at large. The collective is involved with the Ventnor Fringe Festival and the Ventnor Exchange, a new independent arts centre, record store and theatre. At the moment Rachael is busy co-planning the next Undecided Art Collective show which runs from the 6th-8th of February 2015. “This one’s going to be big! The theme is Love: bringer of joys and sorrows: catalyst of temporary (and sometimes lasting) madness. I’m really looking forward to it.”