From fast food and cigarettes to E.T and the Pink Panther, Brooklyn-based painter Katherine Bernhardt's art references a hodgepodge of the everyday and popular culture in a graffiti, pop, and Colour Field fusion. She has also collaborated with fashion brands such as Chanel, Miss Sixty, and EDUN.Read More
Katherine Bernhardt, St Louis-born and raised, studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated with a BFA in 1998. This was followed by an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2000. Foreshadowing her own visually crowded canvases, Bernhardt's mother was a hoarder of various objects.
Bernhardt began to gain attention for her paintings of models seen in high fashion magazines. Deliberately inelegant in their execution, the models' hair was a tangled mess of expressive brushstrokes, and their clothing depicted in patches and smears of colour.
Katherine Bernhardt's seminal work has been her 'pattern paintings', which emerged as the artist was approaching her mid-30s.
These works combine imagery as diverse and unrelated as watermelons and Pink Panthers, repeating them across brightly coloured backgrounds. Bernhardt referred to this aesthetic in GQ as 'tropical, futuristic hippie.' Her first experiments in this style played with a combination of emojis and bananas.
These patterned works were inspired in part by the repetitive design of Moroccan rugs, and by random street graffiti in New York. She also cites Dutch Wax fabrics, with their patterns made from unrelated images. Her more artistic influences include Henri Matisse, the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement, Chris Ofili, and Peter Doig.
Made with watery acrylics and spray paint, Bernhardt's pattern paintings buzz with clashing colour combinations as they abolish visual hierarchy on the canvas. Each work is a flat plane of colour filled with objects, in which there is no illusion of space, no proportional sense of scale, or any emphasis on a particular object.
Over the past decade, Bernhardt has expanded her repertoire. One can find pop culture characters such as E.T., Stormtroopers, Simpson characters, and Garfield. Her work also features familiar objects and food items, such as Nike sneakers, Sharpies, cassette tapes, socks, cigarettes, cheese balls, tacos, and ice cream. Other more exotic items include toucans, turtles, and tropical fruits.
Each canvas is a visual litany of the familiar, drawn from the artists' personal childhood memories and visual encounters while travelling abroad.
In 2013, Katherine Bernhardt exhibited several fabric-based collages evocative of Moroccan rugs she had seen on her travels and had started importing as a side business. Three of those works were sold to the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, Morocco.
Beyond the white cube, Katherine Bernhardt has worked on various outdoor projects and murals. In 2015, she painted sharks, bananas, and other items on the interior of a pool at Miami's Nautalis Hotel. That year she also created a permanent installation for Club Caribe rum distillery in Puerto Rico, and redecorated the exterior of the Venus Over Los Angeles gallery. In 2017, Bernhardt painted a 60-foot-long mural entitled XXL Superflat Pancake for the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis.
In 2020, Katherine Bernhardt opened her own gallery space, Dragon, Crab and Turtle, in the Midtown Design District, St. Louis, Missouri. Behind the 1910 façade is an exhibition space with a hand-painted tile floor featuring images of Scotch Tape, Sharpies, and other pop culture items.
Katherine Bernhardt's solo exhibitions include Done with Xanax, Canada Gallery, New York (2020); Garfield on Scotch Tape, Xavier Hufkens, Rivoli (2019); Watermelon World, Mario Testino Museum (MATE), Lima (2018); Focus: Katherine Bernhardt, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2017); and Black White Silver Gold Baby, installation with CHANEL and New York Magazine, CHANEL 64th and Madison Avenue, New York (2007).
Bernhardt's group exhibitions include We Fight to Build a Free World: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz, Jewish Museum, New York (2020); Animal Farm, The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut (2017); NO MAN'S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C. (2016); Hard/Soft, National Arts Club, New York (2009); and Bad Touch, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago (2002).
Katherine Bernhardt's Instagram can be found here.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021
Katherine Bernhardt’s paintings are pleasing to the eye. Her pattern paintings mix images of everyday objects like a Windex bottle and cigarettes, or the Pink Panther with jungle foliage. Her work, wh