Veronique Vanblaere (Vero), owner and operator of Naked Art Gallery in Birmingham, Alabama, is a creative genius and master of revamping and revitalizing. Her gallery is housed in a historic home located in a vibrant district of the city. Bright and colorful walls and custom fixtures welcome customers to come in, shop and stay a while. Approachable art, wearable art, yard art and wall art — Vero has it all, and something for everyone who visits.
Vero is always busy. Painting, drawing, making or sewing, she wakes up and goes to bed making art. Even when she travels abroad to her home country of Belgium, she carries a kit full of supplies to make things while she is on the bus, plane or train. One such project is fun one-of-a-kind patches for clothing.
Vero draws her dreamy and whimsical designs onto recycled fabrics with permanent fabric pens, and embellishes with vintage fabric, buttons, and stitching to complete the fantastical collages. Revamping clothing is the perfect project to keep her self-described “multi-tasking-obsessed” personality engaged during travel stints. “I came up with something creative to do that did not involve spilling paint on fellow passengers,” says the artist. She first began making soft jewelry, and from there, it naturally progressed to hats, shirts, dresses, hoodies — “because every time I get my hands on something new, I get so excited. It never stops evolving.”
I asked Vero a few questions about how she balances life and work and what her interests are in living a sustainable lifestyle:
You are one of the most prolific artists I know. You are constantly moving and creating and running your own gallery, yet you seem to find the time to go to events, parties, ride your bike, go for a run, and be involved in the community. How do you manage doing it all? When do you get to sleep?
I am lucky to have the time management gene! That is probably why I am one of those artists who can also run a business. Working with artists for over 15 years, I realize how rare that is. I am a morning person, so I can squeeze in a run and some studio time before riding my bike to the gallery. I am a multi-tasking machine. For example, when I hurt my leg and could no longer run, and it was the Ice Age outside, I put my bike on a trainer, listened to language podcasts, and crafted at the same time. I called it the craft bike. I used to sleep only 3-4 hours a night but now I sleep 7-8 hours. I just had to shed some things off like learning to unicycle, painting murals with the coalition, and a few other things that I just could not fit in even though I really, really wanted to!
Will you explain the naked in Naked Art?
It is art stripped of its pretenses. You can walk in the gallery and immediately have a good feeling about being there — no intimidating, no hi-brow experience. We focus on functional art, art with more than just an aesthetic purpose. That includes wearable art. Our price range is thus lower than hi-end art galleries, allowing anyone to buy a handmade gift locally rather than going to the big box store. We also pride ourselves in being the place where people will purchase their very first piece of art, and because we focus on artists who are not yet famous, the price range will be within the affordable range. Hence our slogan: “Art for the People.”
How does coming from Belgium to Birmingham, Alabama, influence your art and your life?
I never thought it influenced me that much, but more and more, I find myself putting traces of my previous life in my work. I travel there twice a year and I love to make references to cities I used to live in, work in or visit, Belgian icons, or just the language. People here absolutely love to learn about other cultures just because it is not as varied as in Europe, and they are generally less exposed to it. I also play a ton of French and other world music in the gallery and get compliments and info requests about it on a daily basis.
What motivates you to encourage sustainability through your art and through your interactions with artists and patrons?
In Belgium, 90% of all trash is recycled. So I have been trained at a young age to care for the planet. I was a member of Greenpeace when I was 16. I always encouraged my artists to create art with recycled materials, and this has been received with open arms by my patrons. Some love it because of its novelty (like lamps made with recycled bottles or music instruments) but the green trend has lately made people appreciate it for its environmental purpose, which it great!