Stars and Diamonds, 2010, by Katherine Bernhardt, courtesy of Canada Gallery
Five Watermelons, Orange, 2013, by Katherine Bernhardt, courtesy of Canada Gallery
Tropical Fruit Salad, 2014, by Katherine Bernhardt, courtesy of Canada Gallery
Swimming with Sharks, 2015, by Katherine Bernhardt, courtesy of Canada Gallery
When artist Katherine Bernhardt came on the scene, nearly a decade ago, she did so with abstracted takes on fashion models pulled from magazine tears — a Valentino campaign or Giselle editorial, rendered in broad expressionist strokes. Then came a trip to Morocco in 2008 and, inspired by the country’s weaving culture, she turned her focus from figural to pattern paintings — and launched an online shop, Magic Flying Carpets, dedicated to those traditional rugs and textiles, to boot.
Still working in that graphic mode, Bernhardt has now turned her attention to Puerto Rico in her latest solo show Pablo and Efrain, at the New York gallery Venus Over Manhattan. Named after the artists behind the local art collective Poncili Creacion and inspired by her time spent on the island, the exhibit is a vibrant reminder of why Bernhardt has long been one to watch in the painting arena. Her works, still wonderfully gestural, are vibrant and boldly graphic, filled with everyday objects — cigarettes, Doritos, Sharpie markers, toilet paper rolls — as well as floral and fauna native to Puerto Rico, like toucans, plantains and sea turtles. They leap off the canvas and endure in the mind’s eye.
First art love…
A cassette tape that I found in the seat in front of me on an airplane. It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I listened to it over and over and over…
I knew I wanted to pursue art as a career when…
I never really thought of it as a career; it was more the only thing I knew how to do. I always made art as a kid. I just never stopped. It was the only thing I wanted to do.
How I discovered my signature style for the new pattern paintings…
I came across some graffiti near Union Square and thought I should paint like that — it was some modern-day hieroglyphics of a rainbow, a smiley face, an ice cream and popsicle and some other things — mixed with my idea of African wax Dutch printing. The first painting I made was smiley faces and bananas. It was so ugly I hid it for a while in my studio. After a while I took it out and the people who came to my studio for visits responded to it the most. I thought, “Wow, I’ll try and make another one,” so I did watermelon and telephones. The “style” is a kind of mixture between graffiti and painting and watercolor.
The themes I return to again and again…
This is what I see every day — deli posters, African hair braiding signs, tires, tropical murals — so all these things are in my work. It’s all based on a love of popular culture and daily living, objects within daily living, like coffee and cigarettes. It’s a reflection of my surroundings.
Artists and/or works that changed the way I see the world…
Favorite room in a museum…
I would have to say the American Museum of Natural History’s blue whale room. It’s huge and impressive and dark and spooky and massive at the same time. It’s awesome.
Must-read art publications…
New York Times.
The inspiration behind Magic Flying Carpets…
MFC was inspired by traveling around Morocco and seeing all these amazing weavings and weavers and artisans, and seeing the color and texture and amazing symbols within the weavings. It’s a love of the handmade and love of color. It was a collecting addiction that had to be made sustainable by importing and selling as well.
A good work of art should always…
A. Make you want to take a picture of it and post to Instagram!!
B. Make you so happy you sing out loud.
C. Make you cry.
D. Make you jealous.
E. All of the above.
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