Born and bred in Johannesburg, Ray Berman left South Africa in 1966 to go into voluntary exile in Swaziland and has since become a national household name in places such as Australia, Israel, South Africa and his home town, Mbabane in Swaziland.
Ray studied graphic arts at Witwatersrand Technical College and then landed a job in advertising which he pursued for a few years. He painted in his spare time. In 1961, he won the award for ‘Most Promising Artist’ at the Artist of Fame & Promise Exhibition in Johannesburg. This motivated Berman to spend a year studying Fine Arts at the Academie de la Grande Chaumier in Paris, France.
Upon his return to South Africa, the state of oppression and struggle in the country dispirited him. Most of his friends were imprisoned along with the arrest of Nelson Mandela, while others had left the country. This sparked the decision he made to leave the country and go to Swaziland to start a new life. This proved quite challenging as an artist and with a means to sustain himself. He found work as an architectural draughtsman, which is where he discovered his love for building design and eventually led him to open his own practice in architecture. Berman gained recognition for his designs and unique houses, his work appeared in ‘A House in Swaziland’ – ADA Magazine in 1990 as well as the Pioneer television series of ‘World’s Most Extreme Houses’ in 2005.
Berman began to engage with the traditions and culture of Swaziland and learned the customs of ‘art’ in Africa that revolve around ancestral influence in their work. To this day, Berman still practices the notion of submitting and listening to spirit and allowing them to inform his work. Ray is also influenced by African music and has found a deep appreciation for the uniqueness of urban jazz that he was exposed to in his earlier years in South Africa.
Following the Democratic election in South Africa, Berman returned to South Africa and worked as a storyboard artist, Art director and Production designer in the film industry. However, he quickly found the world of film to be superficial and too commercial for his liking and soon after, he returned back to his home in Swaziland and chose to paint full time. Berman is known to have distinct control in his choice of composition and color that brings about a natural and excellent confidence in his technical skills in his preferred medium of oil on canvas. He states that “through creating art, I attempt to fulfill some inner necessity. That’s why I’m here”, reiterating his belief that he paints because he has to. Ray relies on instinct and an openness to flow, a lot like in jazz music, in attempt to comprehend sound and form through his art. Thus his work can be seen as more internal and abstract, a shift away from the expected.
- Most Promising Artist – Artists of Fame and Promise Exhibition – Aubrey Fielding Gallery 1961 Johannesburg South Africa.
Prize of the City of Salzburg for Painting – Salzburg Art Academy 1969 Austria
Sculptural Fountain for His Majesty King Sobhuza 11 – Embo State House Lobamba Swaziland
Carved Hardwood Lions – Lozita Royal Palace Swaziland
Murals – 11 meters by 4 meters – Maguga Lodge Swaziland
Murals at several private homes and schools – Mbabane Swaziland
Various group and one man shows – Swaziland & Johannesburg South Africa.
- His work is represented in private collections in Australia, America, Israel, Swaziland and South Africa.