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Anja Van Herle adds drama to her “classy ladies"; photography by John Gilhooley

Red Lips, Fingertips

by Wendy Bowman-Littler | Modern Luxury Orange County magazine | April 24, 2012

Call Anja Van Herle a girly girl, and you’ll be on the right track. Say she’s a child at heart, and you’ll be even closer. At 43 years old, the Belgian artist (who resides in L.A.) still likes to play dress-up every day. Only now, it’s an art form: Her realistic yet playful figurative paintings of fashionable female faces—or “classy ladies,” as she likes to call them—allow her to experiment with fun vintage apparel and accessories, striking makeup and exquisitely styled hair.

“I’ve always liked painting, but I’ve loved fashion and clothing, too,” Van Herle says. And you can get a glimpse of that passion in her new exhibit Girls, Girls, Girls, on view this month at Laguna Beach’s JoAnne Artman Gallery.

To create these gals, Van Herle seeks out models who remind her of glamorous beauties, such as Audrey Hepburn (think Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and uses their poses to form her fantastical faces, complete with her choice of makeup and statement-making accessories, like oversized sunglasses and ribbons. She peruses shops and magazines before each session to glean inspiration for the looks she wants to portray. Then she shoots the models in the small upstairs studio at her Westwood home, tinkers with the images in Photoshop and uses acrylics to transfer the finished products to smooth birch wood.

There’s always one constant: dramatic makeup. “Without even knowing it, I am a makeup artist,” Van Herle says. “First I put the foundation on… and then the eye shadow and glossy lips.”

She actually considered a career as a makeup artist or fashion designer in her late teens. But her artistic origins took root far earlier than that. As a young girl, she’d ask her parents to sit still so she could illustrate their faces using crayons and watercolors. She went on to earn a master’s degree in fine arts from Belgium’s Higher Institute for Art Education. Later, she decided to focus on women’s faces because, she says, “they tell stories.”

“Faces have a lot of meaning, a lot of expressions. … It’s up to the viewer to think what they want about the paintings,” she adds. “Everyone interprets them differently.”