BerriBlue is a 27 year old Polish-Irish painter and street artist based in Porto, whose many travels and nomadic upbringing has informed her artistic practice. We took five minutes to delve into how Poland, Ireland and Portugal have acted as main characters in both Berriblue’s life and art.
Hi, Berriblue! How does your hometown inform your art?
I’m from Gdansk, in Poland, and I think… well, first of all, I grew up with my mother who is an artist. She’s a very Polish artist in a sense. Her work is very classical and figurative, and very nostalgic. There is a huge sense of nostalgia in all Polish artwork, and I think I inherited that. As a teenager, I used to visit Poland, I moved to Ireland when I was 13, but I used to visit home for summers. I used to draw all the buildings in the surrounding neighborhood, and I’d find old photographs of the area and I used to be very influenced by that. So there’s this very specific sort of Germanic, pre-war Jewish nostalgia. A melancholic sense of something lost.
What was it like growing up in Poland?
It was really nice. The architecture is beautiful. People are really active. I had the forest, and the seaside right there. I grew up in a huge, beautiful pre-war flat with wooden floors and big windows. There was a great sense of space and air, and natural materials. That aesthetic stuck with me, and it was something I missed a lot in Ireland.
What led you away from your hometown?
My mother got a job in Ireland in a bronze foundry, finally doing what she loves, working with casting and patinas. So we moved to Dublin.
And how did that experience shape your work?
Well, it induced many years of depression. I was leaving behind this beautiful city, all of my friends, and a very stable and free life, to live in a small flat-share. I went to an all-girls’ Catholic school, which was a terrible, repressive experience. I had to start a new life in a strange place, without any English, and cut off from my roots. It really felt like I’d lost my identity, which took years to build again. I was very lonely from the age of 13 to the age of 18. Ireland felt very different. It did feel like a very happy place though. Poland is really overtly pessimistic in it’s attitude, I’m not sure how to describe it. There’s a sense of almost fetishized gloom that people endure. It’s a very serious culture. In Ireland though, everybody’s happy, and no one seems to be bothered by anything. So, it was a funny mixture. I was in this really happy place, and I definitely developed my sense of humor there, but I was really lonely at the same time, and feeling like an outsider for many years in school. I think it made me read books and draw and withdraw into my own head. So I think it forged the solid core of what developed into my current work.
What then led you to Portugal?
A mixture of things. Not being able to afford living in Dublin, and becoming really disenchanted with Ireland. I felt really stuck, like I was in a dead end. Everything was just too expensive and rainy, and we needed to get away. Then my husband and I got evicted from our home, on our wedding day actually; the landlord hadn’t paid the bank, so they repossessed the house we were renting. It’s a common story in Dublin, almost to the point of cliché. So that gave us the final push.
Well, I visited Lisbon at the age of 14 or 15 with my mother, for a short trip. As a teenager I really wasn’t that emotional, but it was one of those moments where I almost broke down when we were leaving, and promised myself I’d come back one day. I really fell in love with Lisbon. I fell in love with the metro actually, all the artwork in the metro stations, the azulejos. And I was fascinated by the oceanarium. I fell in love with it in a way that I hadn’t before with any other place; it was a really significant experience. So when we decided to leave, it was the obvious choice. We packed all of our things into our old Skoda, clothes, books, boxes of paint and things, and a two meter easel wedged on top, and we drove. We lived in a village in Coimbra, in deepest darkest Portugal, for a while, but then got a bit of cabin fever up the mountains on our own. We had the opportunity to live in England for a while; my husband’s great aunt passed away and we lived in her house to arrange the sale and sort out her things. That was a really beautiful experience actually. June was an artist, a painter and a sculptor, and it was very intimate, sentimental, and inspiring. It was just for a short while though, and I had already fallen for Porto. We’d visited the city a couple of times and decided that’s where we wanted to settle. So, when the house sold, we moved around a little, drove around Europe, but eventually came back here.
Do you have any particular moments of artistic inspiration from your travels?
From my travels?… Well, I suppose the first time I saw Porto. I always say that, but it’s true. It had an immediate impact on me, unlike anything before. I know I talked about Lisbon, and Lisbon’s lovely, but Porto’s fucking amazing. Back then, it was this run-down, magical city. Every building was different, everything was colorful. It was very creatively arousing. I felt reborn after moving here, creatively. I started working large, working with colors. I stopped holding back, and I remember the first time I saw it I felt this incredible urge to be a part of the city, to weave myself into it. It was like meeting a person that you really admire, and you want to be their friend.
How did your mother’s work influence your artistic style?
More than I realized I think, that’s what my new show is about. My mother’s work is very figurative, she’s a sculptor, so it’s all horses and women, and fish. It’s very romantic work, very influenced by medieval illustrations. I think you can really see that in my painting, in the figurative aspects. My prints and illustrations from a few years ago used to have a strong compositional structure, inspired by religious artworks and shrines, I think I’ve moved past the rigidity of that now, but you can still see it in my paintings. There’s a lot of loneliness, I think I inherited the sense of loneliness from her, from her work. Flowers, organic materials… I used to spend hours with my mother. The smell of burning wax on the kitchen stove. She used to take casts of fish in silicone and plaster, and she used to cut out pictures from newspapers and put them on the walls. And, yeah, I think all of this is basically what I do now, which is funny, because you don’t think about becoming your parents, but you do.
Where do you call home now?
Well… Home is where my dog is, and my husband. I don’t know. It’s not Portugal, well it is… for now, but I don’t know for how long.
What about Poland or Ireland?
Definitely not. You know, I think about countries like, like ex-husbands. You know? They are a huge part of your life, and your making, but ultimately they come and go.
What’s your favorite thing about the places you’ve lived in?
Probably from Poland, I really miss the weather, and the change. I miss the really defined seasons, cold, snow, and heat in the summer. I miss Sopot, and the buildings and the romance of Gdansk. There’s a very singular feel to it.
Are there any places you’d recommend from your current home in Porto?
Downtown is beautiful, all of Porto. You should just walk around Porto and take in the little details. Another place is the cemetery near where I live, Cementério do Prado do Repouso. It’s an incredibly quiet, almost wild place, in the middle of the city, with a beautiful view over the river valley. It’s stunning. Every grave is different, and the religious and Freemason symbology is fascinating. It’s a very reflective, serene place. I often go there just to sit and think.