“I was one of those awkward, anxious kids (then teenagers, then adults),” says Berta Vallo on how she first came to love drawing. From the start, drawing was “the only thing” she found solace in. Finding herself as an observer on the periphery, rather than a participator in action, for Berta, drawing became a way to engage with her environment in a different way. As a young teen, she became obsessed with London and decided at the tender age of 14 that she would leave her native Budapest as soon as school finished, and make her way to the English capital to study at the renowned art school, Central Saint Martins.
There, she continued a keen interest in people watching. Drawing inspiration from the everyday scenes of London and Budapest, Berta has developed an “unhealthy fascination for the completely ordinary things in life.” Whether it’s taking a bath, sitting on the bus, taking in the objects that people carry around in their bags, or the varied facial expressions pulled at any time of day – Berta is entranced by it all. “I just have this need to describe what I see around me in the best way I can, and illustration seems to be the most fitting avenue” she later tells us.
Cramming detail upon detail of character, cultural insight and sense of place in her work, ultimately, Berta hopes to highlight “how vulnerable and strong people really are” through illustration. While both childhood memory and trauma also make their way into Berta’s work, she treats much of her personal work as an act of therapy. Having developed a personalised visual language that can only be decoded by those that know her very well, her aesthetic has also evolved out of the Russian realism that she grew up with, such as the dramatist Gogol’s grotesque yet forgiving stories.
“I’ve always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to literature and storytelling and that is still what excites me the most when it comes to my own creative process,” says Berta. During her studies at CSM, including two and a half years spent in “utter confusion”, eventually she realised that what made her most happy was what she’d been doing since she was a child, working on her signature line drawings of old women going about their daily business.
Exemplified in her recent project Summers in Buda, Berta created this personal project as a response to the enviable Instagram posts she witnessed of her friends on summer holiday. While attempting to make sense of her own “relatively uneventful” summer after graduation, she decided to document her neighbourhood of Buda, “where not a great deal happens and the average age of the citizens is around 80 or older.”
For Berta, illustrating old women has always been the most interesting subject to draw. The memories engraved in the lines on their face, and their choice of fashion and accessories proves to be a constant subject of intrigue. And while this illustration interest seemed purely innocent at first, once Berta took the time to think about her chosen subject some more, she realised that the old women in her drawings represented something more significant. “After a while, with no young people in sight for ages, it became fairly obvious that it wasn’t just me who had left the city and moved abroad, but my whole generation had and the issue is becoming more and more pressing. So without trying to get too political here, I guess Summers in Buda is best described as a dystopian but very real vision of the future, let’s call it a half joke.”
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