We had the good fortune of connecting with VONETTA BERRY and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi VONETTA, what was your thought process behind starting your own business? When I was twelve my brother was turning 6, and begged my mother for a clown for his party. She said that it wasn’t in the budget, so I taught myself to do magic, dressed as a clown, and face painted to entertain for his birthday party. That began my career in face painting, and I hired myself out for my mother’s friend’s kids’ parties. After that I continued to build my skills by securing a seasonal job as a face painter at the now closed Six Flags Astroworld Theme Park. After college, I returned to face painting and began my business in 2004, to expand my creative muscle beyond just faces, into full-body painting. Over the years, we have been vendors in various amusement outlets, private parties, personal costuming, workshops, and classes. I really wanted to build an organization that offers the public premiere professional face and body painting services, including henna, temporary tattoos, face painting classes, and henna workshops. Honestly, my goal originally was to offer face painting that was bolder and safer than when I started face painting we used acrylic paints. Then I wanted to find a way. To combine my fine art and face painting in a more comprehensive way.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am an artist who walks the fine line between commercial art and fine art.
This has been a challenge as I often do not feel like I can fit comfortably in either world.
I am a commercial artist in that I am commissioned to do the art I am creating, ie. I get hired to create a centerpiece for a gala, or I get hired to help someone create a costume for a Halloween party.
Those are the client telling me what they would like, and me and my team executing that vision. On the other hand, I have individual projects, not funded directly by clients that are about issues in the world or convey a deeply held belief. These projects require me to either write for funding grants or to create some streams of income to generate the work. with the goal of exhibiting the work in a gallery or exhibition space. This delicate balancing act takes time and dedication to manage marketing and promotions to secure paying client gigs, with the effort it takes to solicit and secure grants, residencies, and exhibitions on the fine art side, all while still maintaining a high level of production. I love all aspects of what I do, but it can definitely wear me down. I struggle to be as consistent as I would like to be due to varying levels of competency in the administrative duties it takes to excel as a working artist. I really want the world to be aware that artists like me, who have less-than-traditional media, and a less-than-traditional way of presenting, still have an awesome value to bring to the art world. Today, I have been blessed to have amazing clients, a group of superstar models, and a production team, unrivaled in talent.
Together they have all helped me grow into a brand that people know represents equity and quality in our service offerings, whether its consistent service quality for clients, to models that can expect fair and safe conditions, free of harassment, or to artists knowing this is a company with which they can learn and grow. I bring a vision of creation that aims to change the way that people view themselves, the way they view their partners, and the way they view their community and relationship to it. I do this whether I am working with a private client and production team or models for my creative projects. Camouflage paintings, costume animals, superheroes, horror designs, and more are all in my wheelhouse and I love that I can have this transformative effect on people.
So whether interacting with me and my brand because you hired us to live paint for your gala, or you came to one of our body paint and sip workshops, or you volunteered to be painted as part of an art project, or you hired us to paint you as your favorite superhero for a comic convention, or you want to be painted to mark a significant milestone, like anniversaries, birthdays, or cosmetic surgery, or even if you just like to stalk us on Instagram, I want you to know that I appreciate the support and you are doing something to build this bodyart community.
Because I value you as a client, I work to ensure that my best work is what I create.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers?
If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to? If I was creating a week-long itinerary for a friend visiting from out of town, I would take them on a tour of the Houston Museum District to experience The Museum of Fine Arts, the Contemporary Arts Museum, and the Menil and Rothko Chapel campus, then We’d check out the Hardy Nance Studios and Winter Street to check out some local artists as well. My friends in these studios would be really interesting to get to know since I used to have a studio at Winter Street.
We’d take some time to explore the theatre, either Tuts or whatever is happening at the Hobby Center. I’d take them to explore the gems in Third Ward, such as the S.H.A.P.E. Center– because Deloyd is awesome and he and the Elder’s institute of Wisdom are such a great repository of Third Ward History; Soul Vegan restaurant–because they have some excellent and. creative soul food that is. also vegan; Doshi House–because Deepak. has become an institution of flexible business viability: and GCComics at Project House Campus– because they are some really cool people changing how we view comic book nerds., for the cultural history of the area. Then I would take them for a visit to Galveston Island, to visit the Strand and the beach, and eat at Gaido’s Restaurant to taste a local delight.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to Shoutout the Three Arts Club of Chicago. When I was in college, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I moved from Texas without knowing anyone, and without access to on-campus housing. So I was left searching for housing, long distance without the internet. I was lucky and blessed to find the Three Arts Club. A. boarding house for women artists. By the late 90s, it was all women during the school year, and co-ed during the summer, like a Youth hostel. I lived there for three years, two of which I was an RA. I developed friendships there that have lasted a lifetime. I learned so much about who I am as a person and as an artist. Because the space was not just for any ONE school, we got to network with students of painting, drawing, music, dance, and performance, not only from the local colleges but also from the professional theatre hosting artists for residencies. My experience there helped shape my art and my life. In addition to the women who lived there, or roomed there short term, the space was used for weddings during the summers. So every weekend, the ballroom, and courtyard were used as wedding/reception areas, complete with huge flower arrangements, and giant cakes, and fully catered by the in-house caterer, J&L. We got to know them so well and treasured the staff over the years.
Lastly, the Ballroom and art gallery were host to any number of concerts and art shows. One of those special events was hosted by Oprah Winfrey. That was a weird day. But my most memorable day was the day that I was called as the RA to help vendors and people in and out of the building during the special event via the loading dock area. Since the building was built in 1912, it was not ADA equipped. So sometimes those calls were for disabled individuals to have access to the space. The Elevator was the reason I had a core of steel since the gates had to be pulled down from the ceiling. On this night I was called to help a guest and I get to the loading dock and it was one of my favorite artists, like my creative idol, Chuck Close. It was one of the only times I was super excited to chat up someone in the elevator.
That made my life. Unfortunately, the Three Arts Club was shuttered after almost 100 years of existing for women artists shortly after I lived there. Such a huge loss for the arts community. but that is what happens when the neighborhood around an area changes so drastically, that the neighbor no longer sees its value. The build was located in Chicago’s Gold Coast Neighbor, but that was a neighbor that grew up around the club. The saddest part of this, that the neighbors rarely understood, was that TAC was a space that truly grew you as an artist. We had residents there from 16 years old to 76 years of age.
Because of its charter, men were not allowed to stay there except for during the summers. This means for many of us, it was the first time we could exist without the male gaze. 120 plus women existing, without men in the building 24/7. In a world with so few safe spaces, this was an important one. Today that space, (it’s historical, so it could not be torn down) has been turned into Restoration Hardware. It is so weird returning to see retail items and a showroom where you and your friends used to sleep or watch tv.
Frankie Muhammed Roshon Divinci