Mary van de Wiel (aka Van) is a multi-talented visionary who has lived in four continents before the age of 15: Venezuela, Canada, Holland, and Australia. Van has led such an extraordinary life up until this point and is so insanely talented, I’m not sure I know where to begin.
Van likes to say she wears two hats. One of them is as a brand consultant. Van is the chief creative officer, speaker, and founder of an award-winning branding and design agency with offices in New York and Sydney. Van was dubbed “brand psychologist” by Time Inc. Magazines in the early ’90s when her agency launched People Weekly in the Australian market, maryvandewiel.com
Since selling her agency in 2005, she has been consulting, speaking, and taking her signature NY Brand Lab workshops across the US. Latin American, and Australia. Her goal is to help businesses avoid falling into the trap of “Dead Brand Walking” by defining who they are and making themselves memorable. Van’s proven track record has made her consulting services very much in demand.
Among of Van’s agency clients were start-up CEOs as well as organizations like Nestle Nespresso (Lausanne), Viacom, The Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., Macau International Airport (China), Comcast Cable Communications, Conde Nast Publications, News Corporation, Sydney Opera House, The Federal Airports Commission, Sony, American Airlines, Zurich Group and many more.
The other hat Van wears is that of an accomplished artist. Van admits to being an incurable doodler all her life. Her bold expressionist artwork in black and white is evocative of Franz Kline. About 15 years ago, when living in Williamsburg Brooklyn, Van covered her dining table with white butcher paper and created designs using different widths of black tape.
That’s when she came up with the name Black Line Crazy. In 2014, Van had a studio in Sydney, Australia. She inaugurated her blacklinecrazy.com site featuring her paintings. Van has two exhibitions under her belt. Her first commissioned public art installation made its debut last September in New York City. It continues to be showcased in 5 massive vitrine/glass windows in the UBS corporate bank lobby at 1285 Avenue of the Americas at West 51st Street.
In 2016, Van was living in LA and began designing handbags based on her artwork. Van visited Leon, the leather capital of Mexico, where she was having her bags made. It is also where Louis Vuitton has its bags made. Van rented a house in San Miguel de Allende just outside of Leon and never left. She picked up a can of black house paint for the first time in her life and started painting her doodles from the floor to the ceiling. It turned her world upside down.
Van couldn’t resist interpreting her paintings across different platforms, mediums, and textures. In 2019 Van had the Black Line Crazy domain trademarked. She launched the online design shop, a limited edition collection of homewares, wearable art, and the archival giclée prints that have inspired the designs. Van’s love of words is apparent in the playful names she has assigned all her work.
The artist has collaborated with master weavers in Mexico to design the first Black Line Crazy Wool Collection of rugs and throws. Van prefers seeing the massive work hanging on the wall. They are all hand-woven using ethically sourced wool from Guanajuato. Each one-of-a-kind rug is adapted from a BLC original painting and features Van’s hand- embroidered signature in the corner, $1750.
Working with printers, artisans, and makers in Mexico City and Leon, Van has created “Street Talk,” a truly exceptional collection of lightweight bags made of vegan leather (the same material Stella McCartney uses). All the limited edition designs are based on one of Van’s original paintings. Only 50 of each one is made. When they sell out, Van will create a new painting. The bags are produced using a three-step process, which involves printing, embossing, and coating with aqua seal to protect from dirt and water. Each bag is lined with a black and white striped material and a dust bag for storage.
It all started with the Messenger Bags. Living in New York for 22 years, van de Wiel was admittedly obsessed with the lanky couriers she would see riding their bicycles on Sixth Avenue; their vinyl messenger bags strapped across their bodies. Each bag, $388, features three designs adapted from a limited edition BLC print. One is on the outside flap. One is on the inside. And one is on the back.
The multi-purpose Zippered Portfolios can be used for legal docs, TV scripts, private journals, or to carry lipstick, phone, and keys when you’re headed out for a quick trip. They feature two different paintings on each side, come in three sizes, and are priced from $188 – $258. The large size comes with an adjustable and removable strap for additional practicality.
The Totes, which are great for traveling- or anything else for that matter- are Van’s best sellers. Each bag shows off two designs adapted from a limited edition Black Line Crazy print (one on each side). They are reinforced with black leather at the corners for extra protection, as are the messenger bags, $468.
Van is undoubtedly her own best model. The artist is incredibly chic and dresses solely in black and white with silver jewelry from Mexico. It’s a perfect way to frame her black and white artwork, homeware, and handbags.
She believes that art has a pulse, and it belongs in everyday life. “I have always thought of myself as a designer. I have friends who are serious artists, and they say I’m too commercial. I say, no, my intention is not to put my artwork in a frame on a wall. I want my artwork to be used and enjoyed!”
And speaking about not being so serious. When the lockdowns began, Van started creating her admittedly crazy, cartoony “BLC Portraits in Quarantine” from existing images that cheer everyone up. Van recently did a few of me, and they instantly put a smile on my face.