April 26, 2011 Katherine Bernhardt – “Rites of Spring Passage”
26th of April – 04th of June 2011
Carbon 12 proudly presents the second solo exhibition of Katherine Bernhardt. It was clear from the beginning that an artist, with an output like Bernhardt’s, simply works in other dimensions. She therefore needs to go at a different pace in terms of exhibition, because the subject is the topic, the medium is the message, appearing in two very different styles. But in reality they’re tightly connected: painting in its purest form, working as mirrors and prisms, reflections from the abyss, glimpses of the carnival. The style is still ultra-fast and super-furious, never slowing down, dashing forward all the time, crossing conventions, deconstructing, reconstructing. Models, watches, and henna: uber-beauty and glamour, the pulsating rhythm of consumerism, ephemeral states of fragile entities. Actresses and singers, rappers and models, ultra-western ideas of beauty presented in opposition to the North African tradition of henna, as seen in her new series, either applied directly on raw canvas, or with paint on gessoed canvas. After extensive research trips to Morocco and Egypt, Bernhardt conceived her very own version of the “Birth of Venus”, the ritualistic reality of Venus giving birth to Atlas. Still Bernhardt’s brush works like a shovel, mercilessly unearthing layer after layer only to fill it up, till the treasure is found, and covering it up. Wet paint are her only traces. Willful suspension of disbelief, masks of sanity, mergers and acquisitions, prêt-à-porter. Starlight, star-bright, losing your Marc Jacobs glasses in a valley of roses. The oeuvre of Bernhardt circles around the basic principles of human existence, life’s fugacity, individuality, like sands through the hourglass, swords of Damocles all around: ancient wisdom meets pop culture. Colorful patterns and pastels, like the leaves reflecting the seasons. Rites of Passage: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring… and Spring.
Since your last exhibition at Carbon 12, the subjects of your paintings became more diverse, although a bit more complicated to grasp at first sight. Can you explain the two new subjects?
You might know me as a painter of supermodels but I have always painted a variety of things and often change my subject matter. I was recently inspired few months ago in Morocco. It opened me up to paint different things again.
So your art can also be read as a very direct reflection of your immediate surroundings, and the subject matter changes with the places you are going. I think that is a very interesting fact, because nowadays one would expect that with the constant media bombardment, everyone is everywhere at the same time, attending facebook event on other continents, ‘connected’ so to say.
A lot of my work comes from obsession and is usually based on obsessions that I had in my childhood. This is also true for the Swatch paintings. I have been obsessed with the Swatch watch since I was little. I used to collect them with my friends, and obsess over the 80’s design, and colors. I always looked out for the ads in the magazines for the new Swatch watches. So the Swatch paintings came from that. It is funny though making these Swatch paintings. They have come out kind of figural. They are “faces” for one, the face of the watch Swatch, and they also resemble figures like beings with a big belly. They are silly and fun and making them was a relief in my studio after making so many model paintings. They were freeing and fun to make. I made them giant, so they are larger than life depictions of the Swatch watch.
So from an analytical point of view, the influence for your work in one hand comes from the surface of the daily life — magazine pages, news tickers; and on the other hand they reach back to your childhood — very deep and symbolic.
Also traveling and being in new surroundings. My trip to Morocco directly inspired the henna series. Morocco, weaving, natural living, natural colors, extreme nature, awesome kaftans, casbahs, henna designs on feet and hands, the Berber smear, drawings on buildings and doors…
Still your description of Morocco sounds like twitters hashtags to me! How are you bringing all those influences on canvas? I think it is hard to keep up with the speed of yours just typing on a keyboard, let alone painting!
The henna paintings are based on actual North African henna designs. I decided to enlarge the designs and make very simple blow up renditions of the actual designs that I have found. I decided to make them on raw canvas and keep them very “natural” and square… related to the shape of the palm. So they are henna, which is a plant on raw canvas.
It is very interesting that although your work touches a big variety of topics, your very individual style and technique is still recognizable in every single piece.
Yes, because I’m still the same painter with the same brushes and I use paint in the same way which is messy and free. Basically my work is a reflection of Pop culture and my personal interests today and at the very moment. My paintings are fast and messy and colorful, and fun to make.
But when I see the new pieces of your ongoing model series, I see some changes too.
The new model paintings that are in the show some how were heavily influenced by red hair. Red hair this season is super in style due to Rihanna and her amazing locks and wigs. Rihanna’s hair has seriously influenced tons of fashion lines and styles this season. Other red heads that I included are either natural red heads or dyed, like Lily Cole or Rachel Wood. But Rihanna is definitely the ultimate red head right now. In terms of art history, I was thinking about Botticellis “Birth of Venus”, and she was an amazing red head. I saw that painting in real life and was amazed by the color, not necessarily the red orange hair, but the green background color as well, its so lush and beautiful.
What about the Minaj paintings?
The Nicky Minaj paintings are also slightly different from the others. In that they are over-sexualized poses. She is posing and sticking her breasts out to extreme measure, and accentuating her body to ridiculous positions, and the paintings come off slightly raunchy and in “bad taste”. Thats what makes them funny and have a sense of humor in them. I also added the leopard print background to add a sense of drama. And I’m really into pattern now, so I felt like that adding the leopard print was also very “in style” as well.
Your works also touch every relevant issue in contemporary society and politics like consumerism. How are you influenced by the media discourse? On the other hand how do you wish to influence?
Wow, I’m glad you can see so much in all my work. I am really interested in the media, The New York Times which I read from an one-inch phone screen. I love hearing the crazy Gaddafi speeches; listening to Charlie Sheen’s nonsense, Pop culture, magazines, ads, etc. So yes, I guess I reflect what’s going on in the world. “I’m on a drug — it’s called Katherine Bernhardt”
Actually I think Charlie Sheen is a genius, much more subversive than lets say Joaquin Phoenix or Banksy. Demanding a raise after getting fired, I think he really hits a nail with that. I am really fascinated with your interest in the constant flux of Pop culture. The huge amount of information we get everyday, still you distillate all this into paint on canvas, and not lets say, a blog.
I am definitely influenced or amused by Pop culture and magazines, and ridiculousness, and celebrity sightings. Actually seeing Marc Jacob the other night at the George Condo opening was amazing. Then the fact that he was also wearing the new Prada green and black fur scarf was just amazing.
Interview by Albert Allgaier