Katherine Bernhardt | Pop Culture Queen
Editorial / Artists

Katherine Bernhardt | Pop Culture Queen

20 May 2022

New York art darling Katharine Bernhardt started out recreating the pictures of supermodels that she’d pored over as a teenager. They were all there: Kate Moss, Giselle and Agyness Deyn. At the time, these images were shortcuts to the values of a decade where magazines ruled – gloss, status symbols and consumerism. They were also the first in a series of quasi-obsessions with objects from popular culture that form the basis of much of Bernhardt’s work: these days, the artist often uses instantly recognisable motifs to create her painted patterns. Repeated, they lose their value, becoming merely shapes and forms in the artist’s joyful, uplifting pieces.

Below, we look at some of the symbols that have shaped her work over the last two plus decades.

Katherine Bernhardt, Pink Cake, 2007 / Watermelon World, MATE, Lima, 2018.
Katherine Bernhardt, Pink Cake, 2007 / Watermelon World, MATE, Lima, 2018.

Katherine Bernhardt, Pink Cake, 2007 / Watermelon World, MATE, Lima, 2018.

Saatchi Gallery / MATE

1. The Pink Panther

Inspired by her son’s love for the enduringly popular big cat and created as a soft return to figurative painting, Bernhardt’s Pink Panther paintings portray the character in a pared down, flattened style in fluoro colours. In 2020, Bernhardt’s exhibition at Embajada gallery in Puerto Rico depicted a Pink Panther adhering strictly to Covid safety measures by sneezing into a tissue and wearing a mask – amid daubed, simplistic Covid symbols.

2. Scotch Magic Tape

Injecting magic into the mundane, Bernhardt’s forays into the world of sticky tape involve taking an image of something non-descriptly uniform and adding random colour and marks to create a series of one-offs. No two of her Scotch Magic Tape paintings are the same; instead they’re all imbued with a cartoon-esque character and lovable imperfection that’s absent in the real objects.

3. Coca Cola

Bernhardt’s long-term love affair with Puerto Rico once led her to create paintings especially for the island’s Coca Cola bottling factory. The link was obvious: Bernhardt had been using the iconic drinks bottles in her work for some time, grouping them with little Star Wars storm troopers or, in 2019’s Garfield + Scotch Tape + Matcha + Coca Cola + Doritos + Nike, with many of her favoured subjects, in a selection that seemed almost sacred.

4. Sharpies

When choosing objects for her work, Bernhardt is drawn to simple shapes that repeat well: Enter the humble Sharpie, with its chunky lines and multi-coloured tops. Bernhardt has returned to the pens again and again, grouping them en masse and adding the sharp lines of cigarettes as counter points or placing them on black backgrounds so that their colours glow.

The fascination with her everyday surroundings and a extraordinary artistic freedom dominate Katherine Bernhardt's world.

The fascination with her everyday surroundings and a extraordinary artistic freedom dominate Katherine Bernhardt's world.

Watermelon World, 2018. MATE

5. ET

Everyone’s favourite alien has been a repeating theme in Bernhardt’s work. At New York’s CANADA gallery in 2020, the artist devoted a whole show to him, with works portraying him amid a sea of floating Xanax packets, against backdrops of repeating stars, telephones and pared-down Pac Men, or simply with his trademark glowing finger. Loosely portrayed through watery acrylics and spray paint, the pieces combine the avant garde painting style of the early 1980s with the advent of mass branding.

Katherine Bernhardt’s mural 'Fruit Salad' at Venus Over L.A., July 2015.
Katherine Bernhardt’s mural 'Fruit Salad' at Venus Over L.A., July 2015.

Katherine Bernhardt’s mural 'Fruit Salad' at Venus Over L.A., July 2015.

Savannah Art Walls

6. Nike Sneakers

Exploring the ubiquity of the brand, Bernhardt puts Nike’s signature swoosh on everything from Garfield to the Pink Panther’s face. It’s easy to imagine historians in the next millennia questioning the significance of the symbol, something Bernhardt plays within her almost ritualistic groupings of the big names of our times, such as 2014’s Apple Computers and Sneakers.

Cheeseburger Deluxe

Katherine Bernhardt

Cheeseburger Deluxe

  • 2016
  • Lithographic print on paper
  • Edition of 100
  • Signed, numbered and dated by the artist
  • 98cm x 71cm

£4,000

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Installation view, Katherine Bernardt Panther Panther Rosa Rosa, Hang-Up Curates Vol. III, Hang-Up Gallery, London.

Installation view, Katherine Bernardt Panther Panther Rosa Rosa, Hang-Up Curates Vol. III, Hang-Up Gallery, London.

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