Green is Katherine Bernhardt’s fifth solo show with the gallery and finds the artist oscillating between optimism and dread. Bernhardt uses green to allude to jungles, money, grass, smoggy air pollution, barf, and envy. Green also refers to Soylent Green the classic dystopian movie, which tells the story of environmental collapse and moral decline. The paintings depict robotic killer bees, huge avocados, Garfield, bottles of Coke, Nike swooshes and manufactured crap that is contrasted with the delights of nature. Bernhardt has also made a series of painted wood sculptures which augment and extend her painted forms; they are hybrids of flora, fauna and furniture painted tropical day-glo pink.Green pushes the parameters of Bernhardt “pattern” paintings that debuted at CANADA three years ago. The paintings were wild mixtures of seemingly unrelated objects (plantain chips, airplanes, cigarettes) depicted radically out of scale in relation to one another and executed with non-hierarchical conviction. The most recent paintings feature a new collection of imagery: Oaxacan bird symbols, avocados, Agua de Jamaica, cross sections of watermelons, bottles of Coke and stormtroopers that add to her ever-expanding personal lexicon.Bernhardt finds a new sense of up and down with a return to figuration. The paintings are so large that Bernhardt painted them face-up on her studio floor. The process is direct and straightforward. She outlines things and characters with spray paint and then “colors” them in with thinned-out acrylic. The resulting color flows and puddles to add a sense of uncertainty and loss of boundary. There are many chance moments that conjure a weightless feel: opaque paint pools in odd places causing a drippy light saber or mussed-up bowtie on Babar.
The introduction of figures (Darth Vader, stormtroopers, the Pink Panther) gives the works allegorical power as Bernhardt’s painting seems to offer a warning about our materialistic culture and its mindless waste. The paintings reflect a political climate where suddenly good and evil seem to be colliding again, even though who is good and who is evil is anyone’s guess. Bernhardt doesn’t provide any simple answers, but allows her attraction, revulsion and sense of wonder to flow.