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Fashion supermodels and Balenciagas. Bananas, toucans, Sharpies, Nikes, cigarettes and watermelons. Sherbet hues and fresh compositions. A world made of pure symbolism and continuous fascination with her everyday surroundings, the one represented by Katherine Bernhardt, a unique example of artistic freedom in an increasingly hermetic art world.

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New York based painter Katherine Bernhardt is well known as the “female bad-boy” of contemporary art, with a style that has no precedents and an extremely vivid artistic persona. In her paintings, everyday consumeristic goods are put in unusual compositions and exploited by the mature usage of flashy, graffiti-like colour tones. The freedom that lies in Bernhardt’s persona, expresses itself in the openness of the act of painting, a moment in which the artist is allowed to represent and combine a variety of symbols, with the aim of enhancing the reason of their coexistence on the canvas, through the use of repetition and powerful chromatic combinations. 

 

Katherine Bernhardt, Direct Flight, 2017. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas.

 

At first sight, Katherine Bernhardt could appear to be a socially engaged artist, but as we learn from her own words, her work has no relation with the critique of consumerism, it is in fact a direct representation of the fascination the artist feels towards her everyday surroundings; a straightforward influence that Bernhardt experiences when observing the shapes and colours displayed by these objects. 

When I started, I wanted to paint things that had nothing to do with each other, that made no sense. That was the goal: nothingness. And what were the brightest, craziest colour combinations I could come up with, that would clash?”

 

       

From left to right: Katherine Bernhardt, Untitled, 2015. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas; Katherine Bernhardt, Hello Hello, 2015. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas

 

The goal is “nothingness”, creating a powerful image with a strong meaningful appearance, that actually means nothing; painting without any reason to it besides displaying the symbol itself. Placing colour and objects on the canvas by simply following instinct and allowing the stream of consciousness to break free and build the composition, while letting go and enjoying the pleasure of painting something that has caught the artist’s attention. Katherine Bernhardt describes her style as “tropical, futuristic hippie”, and by doing so, she underlines the importance of the unusual and joyful chromatic experience that the observer encounters while viewing one of her paintings, rather than building up metaphors and complex conceptual secondary meanings to describe her work that is, in the end, extremely synthetic and simple. Bernhardt’s paintings display quickness. Honesty and courage prevail over tricks and narcissism, rendering an image that appears beautifully raw, intelligently stained and messy, or as the artist says “using-your-hand-in-it art”.

In a forward moving world, artists grow impatient and feel the urge to express the fast life they are subject to, in a game of love and hate, during which painters, like Katherine Bernhardt, try to create as many powerful images as possible, constantly working towards self emancipation, while using their courage to display an image made of honesty and purity. 

I'm satisfied and yet never satisfied, I don't like to waste time. Life is short, so I always try to do as much as possible.”

 

          

From left to right: Katherine Bernhardt, 2 Hamburgers + 5 Cigarettes, 2017. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas; Katherine Bernhardt, Windex Cigarettes Basketball, 2016. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas

 

Cover image: Katherine Bernhardt, Watermelon World, 2018

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

 

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