written by Natasha Donn

You don’t need any special knowledge of art to recognise greatness when you see it. It just hits you; moves you, and there you have it. Vera Christians has it, in spades. The minute you walk into her atelier, her special brand of talent zaps you right between the eyes.

But while she knows she has it, she remains without affectation. A staunch supporter of Arte Algarve since the very beginning, and with a history of exhibitions in her native Germany, she still says delightful things like: “Arte Algarve has really helped me get known here”, and “nowhere else do you find anything like Arte Algarve. It is wonderful”.

The truth is Arte Algarve might not have had the success it has without gifted people like Vera Christians. And you don’t find painters like her easily… anywhere.

“I have enormous difficulties making statements about my art”, she reveals some way into our interview. In Germany, it is “an absolute no-no to make statements about one’s art”.

But one statement, made recently, tickled her enough to repeat. It came on Facebook from a young friend in response to her own son’s observation that “just lately my mum’s been doing some kick-ass painting”.

The friend commented: “Dude, your mum ALWAYS does kick-ass painting!”

“I am very, very happy when people say they are moved by my work”, Vera smiles.

“I have always wanted to paint – always wanted this”, she gestures round the room filled with artistic paraphernalia, books and colour. Canvases, huge, bold, bright, shocking, expressive, spontaneous, unique, filled with confidence, lean against walls and bookcases. Scores of them, surfaces hidden, are stacked in corners. She slides one out, here and there, to show a different style, a different period, a different technique in the flamboyant development that has been ongoing for the last decade.

It was only in 2003 that Vera managed to dedicate herself completely to painting. “Life and all its changes… you get so distant”, she tries to explain. “You start doubting yourself”… But “a wonderful teacher” in the form of successful young artist Stefan Geisler encouraged her, at just the right moment.

“He really pushed me. He knew I could do it. He was extremely demanding, in a very nice way. He made me do the big canvases. Bigger and bigger and bigger!”

From 2003-2007, Vera studied under Geisler.

“No matter how much talent you have, you must learn the techniques: train the eye, train the hand. It is all important”, she considers.

After those four intense years, Geisler sent Christians off to find her own path. “I wanted to cry! I missed him so much at the beginning – but it was the right thing to do”.

Extraordinary, impulsive abstract art followed. “I went into it entirely on my own”.

It was the beginning of an exuberant path that is now well-versed at moving through different styles. The abstracts that glorify in life and spontaneity are, this far, her landscapes.

Portraits she has aplenty, and more recent “trademarks” in a way are her voluptuous lobsters – luscious, large and mesmerising in layers and shades of red.

“I’m known throughout the Algarve for my lobsters”, she laughs – still putting finishing touches to compositions for an upcoming show.

New challenges are to try and paint small. Recently invited into the Algarve Artists Network, she has to produce paintings in the 20 x 20 cm format for a collective exhibition in August. It is a fraction of the size she usually works with.

“I have gone so wild already, so many times, that it is probably time for something new”. Where is she headed? “I’m not sure”, she thinks for a moment. “Travel. It is very important. I will be off to Africa soon on a painting trip with my former teacher and other painters. It will be mainly about landscape”.

“I also want to go back to Venice. You have to get to grips with the architecture before you can be free. You need a feeling of proportions first”: She has a series in which she has already
explored these. Next time round, who knows what will come?

“I have always painted, but it is honestly only in these last ten years that I have started to develop” (she is coming dangerously close to making a statement!). “I honestly never thought I would come this far”…

And then, with the classic down-to-earth quality that masks her touch of genius, Vera adds: “Every single day of my life I look up and say ‘thank you’. We should never forget how lucky we are to live in this beautiful environment; to have the freedom we have here to be who we are. To be able to speak in three different languages without even thinking about it. I just love it! I am extremely grateful for all of it”.

Grateful, and great-full. Considering the average age of full-time artists in the Algarve these days, Vera Christians still has many more years ahead of her – and we’re the lucky ones with ringside seats…