Shany van den Berg was born in Riversdale in the Western Cape in 1958, and matriculated from CJ Langenhoven Highschool. She studied ceramics part-time from 1982 to 1985 at Paarl College, and life drawing and painting part-time at Ruth Prowse School of Art from 1990 to 1992. Since then she has worked as a full-time artist, developing her own technique in oil painting and producing work exhibited at various galleries.
Out of more than 2000 applicants, van den Berg has been chosen as one of 50 exhibiting artists for the 2010 BP Portrait Awards show at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her oil on board painting, 'Bloedlyn - Sannie en Leah', shows two woman at very different stages of their lives. The exhibition runs from June 24th to September 19th.
Van den Berg´s ethereal, sensitive oil paintings and artwork capture a mood reminiscent of contemporary mannerism and romanticism with a strong focus on womanhood. She succeeds in communicating the multi-layered emotions, ideas and modern concepts with a classical approach to portraiture and captures these ideas with a meticulous attention to detail, simplicity and subtle symbolism.
Shany van den Berg’s body of works includes monumental oil paintings inspired by the Old Masters and many other art forms, such as music and poems. They are often portraits, primarily of women, whose features morph into a composite of the artist and her loved ones, serving as portals to an internal narrative of sacrifice, struggle and ultimately transcendence.
The references are delicate and ambiguous: a nude atop a gallery plinth is transposed from stone into flesh and blood, or vice versa; a sheet draped shroud-like across an ethereal form emerging from or entering an abyss; hands depicted in gestures of supplication, prayer, self-protection or release; a red scarf or fragile scarlet thread seeming almost to flutter across and beyond the canvas. In fact, the colour red serves as a recurring literal and symbolic refrain throughout this body of works. Alongside black and white, red is an archetypal hue, suggesting rites of passage, states of mind and in-between spaces.
A sense of layering pervades her works, both in terms of the imagery itself and van den Berg´s painterly process. Despite their air-brushed appearance, the surfaces are built up of swathes, painted not onto the board but rather, absorbed into it. Shadows are imbued with texture and skins exude an almost viscous sheen. Although unmistakeably feminine, some of her forms evoke a sense of animalism through their attenuated bone structure, and an underlying sexuality pervades many of the forms. They suggest recognition, confirmation and the bitter-sweet knowledge of love, loss and letting go.
Shany van den Berg was selected to travel to China as a representative of Everard Read´s Sino-South African cultural exchange in 2008, in association with Chenshia Ltd & Hubei Institute of Fine Art.