Artist In Residence

Artist Shany van den Berg in the doorway of her late-19thcentury home.

Exterior of house, looking North.

Studio — A space to think, visualize and create. Shany’s studio is filled with many works in progress, most notably the imposing medical head woven with hessian. Her bookcase is filled with books on art, psychology and personal journals. A vintage 1970s chair, with sheepskin and a voetstoel (footstool) made from recycled tires by daughter and fellow artist Roché van den Berg, is paired with a white Philippe Starck desk chair.

“The Island,” a portrait constructed from an antique world map using paper, paint and canvas.

Stellenbosch, a university town and South Africa’s preeminent winemaking region, is within an hour’s drive from Cape Town. As the country’s first inland European village, it’s full of history and historical buildings. Artist Shany van den Berg’s home is one of them.

Sitting on a leafy, shaded street, the home has a medical history which ironically echoes in van den Berg’s present-day artworks. Dr Jacob Versveld, the first South African-trained physician, constructed the H-shaped nucleus of the original Cape Dutch home. The upper story, balcony and Victorian embellishments were added later.

Today, the home has been subdivided into four separate apartments – all occupied by successful women – with a central dining room for communal dinners.

The hallway running from the studio to the living room — is a working wall of art, “morning pages” for the mind, a scroll of doodles and thoughts — and is an artwork in and of itself. The wall documents van den Berg’s thoughts for her upcoming one-woman show.

In the living room a cowskin throw cascades down the back of the lounge; an antique baking tin sits atop a pedestal table, with a wax Madonna candle. “I like to do things that don’t make sense when decorating,” notes van den Berg. “I like challenging traditional perceptions of what should go where.”

A 19th century Yellow and Stinkwood table serves as a studio desk coupled with a Philippe Starck ghost chair and a Konstantin Grcic chair. Artworks: Self-portrait (oil paint on cut-out board on paper); Self-portrait (oil paint on linen) and an artwork titled “Morning pages at my table” (oil paint on board, pencil on linen and Perspex).

Art in process — “Memory of the mountains,” charcoal on 1950s European linen, and rolls of linen for future artworks.

Van den Berg is the artist here, and her works pepper the public areas. Born in the tiny town of Riversdale, about four hours east of Stellenbosch, where there were no galleries and no art, van den Berg still knew from an early age she wanted to be an artist. “My mom used to buy me coloring books, but I would gravitate toward the blank pages,” she says. She credits a visit to artist Vera Volschenk for giving her a favorable impression of becoming an artist.

After a brief stint of nursing and rearing her family, the 56-year-old mother of four finally turned to her first love and for the past 25 years has worked full time as a self-taught artist with residencies in Germany, China and the USA. Now her studio is her home.

“One of the reasons I’m in this apartment is because it’s one of the few places big enough to fit my easel,” she jokes, referring to the large easel that nearly touches the ceiling. “It wouldn’t fit anywhere else.”

“I also love that this studio space is large enough that I can walk back for perspective on the art I’m working on,” she adds.

A collection of artworks and found objects forming a wall installation along with King Proteas, one of the artist’s favorite indigenous flowers. Looking down the length of the galley kitchen.

Looking down the length of the galley kitchen.

“I love lemons. For their aesthetic, to add to the water I’m constantly drinking,” she says. “I love flowers too — particularly sculptural plants. I always have something fresh and green in the house.” Riempie re-imagined; van den Berg’s kitchen table is a new take on an old Cape Dutch classic by friend and fellow artist Eddie Haumann, who restrings a table in a nontraditional pattern.

A 3/4 bed with an antique fireplace screen doubling as a bedhead. Draped across the bed, a prized possession: her mother’s fur stole. Hanging from the ceiling, a Tord Boontje light shade; at bedside, a basket constructed by Roché van den Berg out of recycled bicycle inner tubes.

With many pieces in various mediums on-the-go at any one time, presently, all her energy is being poured into a gigantic head that dominates the room. A wire-framed representation of a head from medical diagrams of old, van den Berg has literally been in and out of it, weaving 180 meters of hessian around its skull. Ultimately, she plans to have a bronze made of the woven piece.

“Aside from the incredible light that pours in from the studio’s two huge sash-windows, they also offer the additional benefit of allowing me to move my larger artworks in and out of the studio,” she notes.

Sitting on a relatively busy road for this country town and tourist destination, van den Berg says she loves having her studio connected to the hustle and bustle of the street. “It’s been my hourglass many a day. I can get so lost in my work that the increased traffic of people and cars reminds me that another day has ended and it’s also time for me to stop.”

Bathed in light, the otherwise airy bathroom features a washing basin nook that van den Berg painted midnight black to give the space a bit of drama. On the floor, the distinctive skin of a springbok sewn into a cloverleaf rug.

Various artworks made by the artist and her cronies overlook a lamp made from recycled egg holders which sits atop a restrung riempie table and is paired with a mix-match of chairs, including one by Ray and Charles Eames.

Van den Berg, who lost everything in a fire in the early 1990s, says she learned the importance of letting go and renewing oneself. “For me, decorating is all about layers. I’m constantly trying to weave a story; trying to make a narrative, and as such I am constantly moving things around,” she states.

These layers are readily apparent in her living room which features an eclectic mix of items all artfully displayed – a skull candle, a Victorian mannequin, a Scandinavian lamp.

“I love to put certain aesthetics together,” she admits. “The truth is, I get bored quickly and I get to a stage every now and then where I just want to give it all away, and often do – passing things onto my children.”

Reflecting this benevolence, her bedroom is a humble monochromatic affair featuring a palette of earth tones. “I prefer calm colors; they allow me to think, to create.” Opposite her single bed with an old fireplace screen as a headboard, her tiny television is eclipsed by a wall of artwork. “I try and retain a piece of my art each year for financial investment,” she declares. “But often I end up swapping my art with other artists’ work I admire.”

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