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In Conversation with Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe

Selected as one of seven SINGULART artists appearing at the Affordable Art Fair in Brussels this September is Belgian painter and draftsman Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe. Her works, which are highly influenced by her time spent working in the fashion industry, intermingle vibrant colors and scenes from nature. With her subjects often taken out of context and placed amidst paradisal surroundings, Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe’s illustrative style captures estranged landscapes whilst simultaneously creating a dream-like feeling of deja-vu.

We talked to Vanessa to find out more about her influences and artistic process.

Would you please introduce yourself and briefly talk about your background as an artist

Ever since a was a kid, I was always drawing. I didn’t have many tools back then, only (squared) paper and some pencils! Back then, I didn’t think that becoming an artist was even an option. But I always knew that I wanted to do something creative.

I studied fashion design in art school and worked as a designer for over 20 years for several Belgian brands. For the love of drawing, I started working as a freelance illustrator around 2010. A few years later, illustrating evolved into creating artworks with ink on paper. At some point, I completely gave up digital drawing and got into painting. In art school, I didn’t learn much about painting, just some basics, so I learnt as I went along. 

How would you describe your style? 

I would describe my style as lively portraits and landscapes with bold colors and bright botanicals. It is modern and playful with a strong narrative character. 

Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe
Infernal Shallows
Infernal shallows (2021)
Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe

What inspires you as an artist? 

My background in fashion is still very much present in my work, but nature has also become a lead player in the paintings.

Some paintings are real existing places where I have been, mostly on hikes, but the use of unusual colors gives those places a imaginary vibe. Other paintings are partly imagined, partly inspired by my travel pictures. I lived in West-Africa for two years, so that’s the reason for the use of tropical scenes and palm trees. But I also like to paint tropical botanicals in places where they don’t actually grow.

Painting landscapes actually started out as backgrounds for my fashion paintings. A few years ago, I was only painting (fashion) portraits, where the plain backgrounds soon seemed a little boring to me. When I started adding nature into the paintings, it became a lot more exciting, the portraits came alive and had stories to tell. I now also paint landscapes which stand by themselves without any characters in them, but also have stories in then. Or I paint these very small figures into my landscapes, to create a fun narrative in the paintings. 

Would you say that you’re influenced by the surreal?

I wouldn’t say that I am influenced by surreal, it’s more about the colors. The use of bright colors may bring that surreal touch, but it is unintentional. I am much influenced by fashion photography, and I particularly like the style of the Gucci advertisements. 

Can you describe your process to us? Which part of a painting’s creation do you find most interesting and why?

I don’t have one particular process. Sometimes I make little sketches on paper, with pencils, pastels or watercolor. It is more based on color scheme. As for the portraits, I start with a drawing of the pose on the canvas, without knowing what the story will be. The stories come alive when I add background colors. Until then, it can go many ways. I think that is the most interesting part about it. 

Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe 
So Far Away
So far away (2021)
Vanessa Van Meerhaeghe

What’s the next project that you’re working on?

After the AAF, I don’t have any concrete plans for exhibitions any more. I would love to be a part of an exhibition for which I specially create new works around a specific theme. A whole story on several canvasses. I would love to make a travel book with small artworks an photos, like a diary. But it is so time consuming, I don’t know if I will ever get it finished. I guess I have to work out a plan!

Thank you Vanessa for taking the time to talk to us!