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Patchwork People: The Whimsical Collage of Barbara van den Berg

Go ahead, try not to smile… 

Looking at the mixed media portraiture of Barbara van den Berg, there is an instantaneous delight as her imaginative protagonists gaze back, steeped in childhood reverie and abundant vibrancy.

Bursting at the seams with curiosity and intrigue that is equally shared with its viewer, Barbara van den Berg’s collage work fuses a well-crafted compositional style with nuanced femininity. With her playful aesthetic and emotional timbre, each surreal patchwork portrait hearkens back to simpler times. Memories of hopscotch and rattling metal swing sets counterbalance the echo of children’s laughter, seemingly palpable elements of her artistic ability to summons the ‘feel good’. Each piece is vigilantly crafted to shape her unbounded imagination, inviting you to learn more… and asking you to embrace human connection.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara van den Berg to gain further insight into her work, narrative visions, and plans for the year ahead. I hope you enjoy!

The technique of collage is about the social engineering of society, the appearance of our time in which we think we can make everything our own way with individual happiness as the highest good.

Interview with Barbara van den Berg

Thank you so much for taking time to share with our readers, Barbara. Let’s start from the beginning. What do you feel has nurtured your creativity and artistic journey the most?

I’ve been fascinated by people’s behaviour from a young age. As a child, I lived in an almost perpetual state of observation, constantly fascinated by human behaviour: how do we relate to each other, how do you show your feelings, or not. How do we make contact with the other? I wanted to understand and express what I saw and felt; I already did this by drawing and painting at a very young age.

This later manifested itself in making artworks of people grouped together looking for contact. Everyone is crying out for attention, but no one really sees the other. You feel friction between what we show on the outside and what we feel on the inside. I play with this paradox, with bright, vivid colours that leave the semblance of happiness and celebration.

Since I had two daughters, I have been inspired by their inexhaustible imagination and curiosity about the world. They are so real, sincere, open and playful. They still have a vulnerability and naivety that I admire. Children can keep looking at you without looking away. They make contact without words; that way of making contact fascinates me.

That’s how my digital collages came to life, showing children in bright colours with an ‘open mind’. Their wide-eyed gazes and slightly chubby cheeks accentuate a childish innocence. They take on a doll-like appearance that is somewhere between being human and a puppet. These children symbolize innocence, playfulness and vulnerability. They look at the world with natural curiosity. The technique of collage is about the social engineering of society, the appearance of our time in which we think we can make everything our own way with individual happiness as the highest good.

In the series ‘Cry if you want to’ in which I paint the dictators of the world as crying boys, I had the question: what were these influential men like as children? What happened that made their fragile innocence, which we were all born with, disappear? The message in these works is not dark, but a gentle reminder that we all begin with the purest naivety about the world, and as adults we can strive to preserve this power within us.

Barbara van den Berg digital collage

If you had to single out one piece that correlates to a sentiment within yourself, which would it be and why?

The work Aphrodite from the series ‘Look at me’ is very special to me… because of two reasons. The first is because this is the first work of art that I have made in this style, digital collage. I made paintings before I started making collages, though I did use the collage style to sketch for my paintings, but not for a piece of art.

The second reason is because Aphrodite is a combination of my two daughters. For example, I used the eyes of my oldest daughter and the hands of my youngest. The dress is made from pieces of pictures of mine and their skin.

I called her Aphrodite, an ancient Greek goddess associated with love, beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation.

In collages, I can emphasize our differences and similarities. I create one new person out of many different people with different skin colors.

Barbara van den Berg Aphrodite collage

Why do you work in portraiture and what elements of collage do you enjoy most?

Portraits are a reflection of yourself. There is recognition. People like to see people. We see ourselves in another person and we get to know ourselves better through the other person.

I like the directness of a frontal portrait, there is no way out. Because she looks at you, like only a child can, very directly without looking away. At the same time, they are playful and loving and invite the viewer to make contact.

It is challenging to create a new image with existing material. Some of my collages are the mix of up to 20 different characters. It is a patchwork of people. In collages, I can emphasize our differences and similarities. I create one new person out of many different people with different skin colors.

Barbara van den Berg imaginary realism collage

What do you feel is the most integral part of your work in terms of visual expression, style, and narrative?

My works of art are always about the human and our behaviour. In my digital portraits, the desire to make contact with the other is expressed by the big friendly eyes and hand gestures that invite you to make contact. The story is already present in my subconscious, but the images arise first.

I find it interesting how, by using pieces from different people, a new human being is created; this emphasizes how we are connected. People are so focused on the differences, even afraid of the unknown, because we don’t know. While in my opinion we are much more ‘one’; longing for the same things and having the same struggles.

How has it changed and evolved over time?

In the beginning, I was fascinated by people’s extreme behaviour, extreme emotions, absurdities, ugliness, sexuality, bestiality. When I had children, there was a need for a certain kind of beauty. I started looking for beauty in the fragile, the playful and the connected. My style developed from coarse painting to more refined style with more detail. That’s how my digital collage came about. But the core of my art has never changed; it’s always about making contact.

When looking at your work, it’s difficult not to smile. There’s so much joy and emotion conveyed through the many expressions of your subjects. What do you feel is the most significant aspect of your work and what do you hope each will communicate to the viewer?

Haha nice! It is indeed important for me that my work radiates something positive. It makes you smile and second hopefully lets you think about making real contact and connectedness.

We live in a world with many temptations. With the arrival of mobile devices and social media, we take less time to make real contact with each other. How do we deal with our feelings and emotions? I notice the temptation with my daughters, the attraction of a screen. It’s so important to develop their creative and social skills in real life. Learn to go to someone to say that you like that person, instead of sending an app. For me that’s beauty, the human discomfort in all its stratification. That’s what fascinates me and drives me.

Barbara van den Berg pop surreal collage

I make my artworks in Photoshop or by hand. I cut out the parts of the face and body very roughly, with straight angles; I don’t want to make it more beautiful. I want you to see the lines and the layers. I do edit the colors sometimes.

Could you briefly take us on a walk through your creative process?

I need a period of time to collect life observations. In this time, I do not create anything, only in my mind and subconscious. I go to the museum, theatre, films or documentaries. I play with my children, walk on the beach, and look at people in the street. Suddenly something bubbles up, an idea that I cannot fully put into words yet. Then I start making a lot, it can be 10 to 20 works in a month. After that, it all falls into place. It’s about things that keep me busy, the little things in life or frustrations about the world.

When I start working at an artwork, I collect the material while I make it. I have an image in my head and then I look for pictures of the right eyes or hands, skin and ears. I cut them roughly and look for the right position and proportions. When she looks at me and she comes to life; I know I am on the right track.

I collect images of children, mostly girls and women from old glossy magazines or pictures from the internet and from my two daughters and friends. I also regularly use parts of myself, my hands in a specific position, mouth with lipstick, a piece of my cheek etc.

I make my artworks in Photoshop or by hand. I cut out the parts of the face and body very roughly, with straight angles; I don’t want to make it more beautiful. I want you to see the lines and the layers. I do edit the colors sometimes.

Combinations of different skin colors and playing with the proportions of the body and face creates an estrangement that I think is fascinating. For example, I combine adult hands with the face of a child… I make the eyes bigger, the ears smaller… and I use photos of plants, animals, fabrics, food and clothing items. In the artwork “Josephine” I made a dress of candy and the artwork “Evaline” has wings of a bird as a collar.

How do you explore and maintain the integrity of your vision each time you begin a new piece?

My intuition is very important; I have to feel if it is right. I have difficulty putting it into words. My visual is so much stronger. If I look at my artwork, I need to feel something… an emotion. It feels almost like giving birth, she is born and comes to life.

I gave birth to many children, hahaha. Two real ones and many in art. My art girls and boys ;-)

Sometimes I work from an idea, but it also happens when I start a series and suddenly I see what it is about, what has been on the surface all the time. A title and my vision for the series come up. I feel butterflies in my stomach, as if I am in love; then I know I’m going in the right direction.

One last question… What’s on the horizon for 2020?

I have a few ideas that I’m excited to develop next year. I am working on a new series about people and nature. The world is changing. How does human relate to nature? Who is ultimately stronger? Or can we find a good balance?

Another branch that I am exploring is making digital collage portraits on assignment. I am now working on collage portraits of two children from a client.

I have new collaborations with galleries, Miva Gallery in Sweden, MPV Gallery and Kroon Gallery in the Netherlands as well as ZK Gallery in San Fransisco. I’d like to find a gallery on the Asian market, because earlier artworks have done well there.

Barbara van den Berg  Social Media Accounts

Website | Facebook | Instagram

About Author

Internationally exhibited artist and creator of Wooden Ophelia, Bella Harris is not only the Online Editor at Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, she also oversees all staff writers and helps support website functionality and development. As a contributing writer for the website, active copy editor, and editorial photographer, she plays a vital role in the growth of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine while working closely with advertisers and artists. Wooden Ophelia is a contemporary collection of original moon designs, handmade woodwork, artwork furnishings, and sacred crystals... all to enchant your home.

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