Alice Berry’s invitation to her exhibition ‘Wonderland’ really made me sit up and pay attention!
Over the years I have watched as Alice grew a wholesale print empire that got the nod from many as a shining example of a young creative “doin it for herself”!
Her work was fun, graphic and light hearted – a total winner for the card and print shelves of boutique design stores across the country. (You may have seen or even own an Alice Berry Llama?)
So when the beautiful painted abstract invitation arrived I did a massive double take!!! It was unrecognisable to me as her work – and on further investigation, I had missed a lot more than a progression in style when it came to this savvy young woman.
The interview below has been done quickly to make sure we can get the word up and out about her show open for just TWO days this weekend! But Alice has undertaken it with such raw honesty that I highly urge you to share this among any friends who have experienced a struggle against anxiety. As someone who has been there myself – I found Alice’s story and words below to be enlightening and reassuring.
Wondering what I am on about?? Read on!
I am always struck with a smile when I see an Alice Berry “llama” series print on the wall. I mean they are seriously everywhere!
That very clean, light hearted style has been very much an identifying factor in your public work to date…which is why I got such a delighted surprise to see this amazing, painted abstract work from you with the launch of Wonderland!
It would be great to learn a little about your artistic pathway to date?
Haha thanks! Those llamas are a good time. #SpiritAnimalOnLand.
I’ve actually always painted throughout my life so far. I used to take lessons with another NZ artist; Hayley Brown when I was a kid and she took me under her wing a little in my primary years. I didn’t do art or design at high school as my intention was to become a town planner!! I did my first abstract when I was 12 that was in a shared exhibition. One more when I was 16, then 22. So it’s been a bit sporadic!!
After a year at Uni, in the first stages of a town planning career, I though “F**k this, I’m out”. So I quit Uni and had no idea what I was doing. I applied for a Graphic Design course 3 weeks before it started and got in (thank goodness) which is how I became a designer. It’s also where my love of vector became apparent and I developed my illustration style.
After that I tried finding a design job which took 18 months and moving to Auckland without a job or flat! That’s when Alice Berry Design began and my own creative outlet got its groove on! I’ve focused a lot on illustration over the past 5 or 6 years which is cool but got back into painting last year as a way of relaxing. Abstract just seemed to come naturally to me. I love the mixing of colours and not having the pressure to make something look exact. Painting this way allows me to express myself and still have a design eye on for the overall look.
In the release supporting your exhibition “Wonderland”, you very openly spoke of your personal experience with anxiety.
“After struggling through a solid year or two of intense anxiety, Alice has come through the other side and decided to put herself out there with a collection of her abstract paintings – WONDERLAND.
This collection expresses Alice’s feelings and experiences. Some have been painted over up to 6 times until the feeling is right. This collection celebrates individuality and colourfulness within ourselves. You will see paint on the frames. This represents being outside the box.”
Can you share with us how the process of painting, forming a collection and then putting it all out there in the public eye has helped you ?
Yeah, so, basically anxiety has been a thing for me for a long, long time without really realising it. I faced a lot of bullying in my school years and had no confidence to stand up against that. Losing special people over the years and doing things alone all freaked me out but I didn’t know why and maybe thought it was normal. Then at 20 I had my first full-on anxiety attack. I had no idea what was happening to me and I felt like I was never going to recover and that this was how I was going to die. To put it plainly, it was fucking scary.
Then the same thing happened again the next year, and the next year and then I realised I probably needed some help… after which I found out I was experiencing extreme anxiety. Although I got help and felt fine, it would still come back from time to time.
About 18 months ago I basically had an emotional breakdown and just could not go on like this any longer. It’s a pretty hard time to look back on really. It was about a year or two in the making and just hit me like a ton of bricks – I felt stopped in my tracks with no escape. Luckily I have great family, friends and doctor that all supported me through those times when I couldn’t be alone, stop crying, too scared to drive or too tired to stay awake for a whole day from the exhaustion of anxiety.
I kept being asked ‘Why haven’t you got any new work out yet ?’ and ‘What’s taking so long?’
My feeling was, “I can barely make it through a day right now, so the idea of being creative is really not happening” – obviously I didn’t say that though.. haha. I think people need to understand that we can’t always be ‘on’ and creating non-stop. It definitely can’t be forced or it just ends up crap.
First up, I did the 100 Days Project and started small by just drawing one thing a day. That got me slowly back in the mood for creating which led me to play with abstract patterns and design a sock for release later this year.
Then it just felt like it was time to hit the paints again. Got paints. Got brushes. Got an easel and away I went. I was playing and experimenting with colour and texture while trying to communicate a feeling at the same time. It wanted it to feel positive but real. You will see there is always a hint of a darker colour in the paintings which represents the realness of feeling low, but it is being taken over by light, colour and fun.
The reality is, you will always have ups and downs, just hopefully in less extreme way.
As the paintings were happening I just decided that it was time to put it out there. Share the anxiety and the creative in me. It’s the real me and I want to try and embrace it. A few of my family and friends are going through similar times, so I also felt stronger to let it out. The process of painting also helps me to be calm and not overthink life! They come together with lots of layers and textures created with the paints. A lot of these have about 4 paintings layered underneath as I would keep painting over until I felt it looked like the feeling I had – if that makes any sense.
I called the collection WONDERLAND as a play on Alice in Wonderland. I feel like her falling down the rabbit hole is my experience with anxiety- falling into what seems like an unexplained world, then turning that around into something positive. It’s pretty nerve-wracking but I’m proud of myself for making it happen and most people are really supportive. Some have definitely called it bull shit but I am stronger now to push forward against the haters. Haters gon’ hate after all.
Hopefully you guys will enjoy my artwork and have a good time if you come along! And to be real, anxiety is still part of my life, probably always will be, but you just gotta keep working on it and look after yourself.
A shout out to John Kirwan and his work for mental illness. I met him at a rowing regatta about a year ago he was so kind and inspiring. What he does is pretty amazing.
Who out there do you hold a creative flame for? Share with us some of your favourite people/brands who inspire you in their work, attitudes or practice.
Citta – I also worked here for a bit and the girls are the best.
Gorman – the BEST prints ever.
Margaret Petchell – I love a good bird painting and hers are the brilliant!
Jen Sievers – the way she creates is pretty amazing and I love all the colour and the vibes
Timo Design – from my home town and his work is fun, quirky and awesome.
Alice Berry – Photo by Will Morgan
What I learnt from Alice Berry:
“Outlets (whether they be creative or not) are important for
distraction, building courage, value, purpose and confidence.
Sharing, while scary, creates perspective and
everytime will show you that you are not alone in your experience.”