An appreciation of
the life and work of
artist, sculptor and writer Sven Berlin
Sven Paul Berlin
"Art is a greedy mistress & the Establishment a ruthless dragon…
It is as simple as the days when I worked in sackcloth - & as austere."
Sven Berlin to Bryn Hammond 1991
Every chapter of Sven Berlin’s colourful life has been captured in his art and writing. The discipline of any art movement was not for him. ‘I am Sven Berlin!’ he would say with bravado.
Berlin was a consummate personal archivist, recording key moments, changes in lifestyle and the many extraordinary characters who crossed his path.
There were artists and writers in Cornwall and the New Forest, music hall performers, soldiers and villagers in France and Belgium in World War II. Capturing the essence of all manner of creatures was a favourite occupation. All appear in his drawings, oils and watercolours, in his ten books and in his sculpture.
1920s and 1930s
Born in Sydenham, South London, his dream to become an artist was diverted by life on the music hall stage as an adagio dancer.
However, by 1938 Berlin had moved to Cornwall to pursue his artistic career. His first solo exhibition, was held in 1939 in Camborne, while studying with Arthur Creed Hambly.
In St. Ives he was drawn to the work of Alfred Wallis and he began to write the first biography of the naive artist, eventually published in 1949 by Poetry London at Nicholson & Watson.
Berlin produced more than 50 pen and ink drawings during his WW2 service as a Forward Observer in Belgium, France and Holland. On his return to St. Ives, Berlin recorded charismatic images of the artists, writers and poets he came to know. Following the breakup of his marriage to Helga, he met his second wife, Juanita, also an artist and writer, while he lived and worked in his tiny studio overlooking Porthgwidden Beach, The Tower.
He was a founder member of the Crypt Group and instrumental in the eventual breakaway which became the Penwith Society. This created a momentous rift which would signal the most important event in the story of 20th century British art.
By 1948, with Berlin increasingly outside the Modernist movement, the Berlins moved to nearby Cripplesease and began to entertain thoughts of the New Forest.