Katherine Bernhardt’s work has been inspired by her love of patterns and colors and her disorganized mother. She was born in Clayton, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, in 1975. Her mother was a hoarder who saved everything from newspapers to ice cream molds to old estate furniture.
The family traveled extensively, something that Bernhardt continues to do. “I made an oil painting in 9th grade in art class at school.” she said in a 2015 interview in Whitehot Magazine. “It was messy, and I didn’t understand how the paint moved or worked. I only had black, blue and white as colors available, and I didn’t understand how to make colors, shades or tones. So it was really difficult to make a good picture. In relation to looking at other people’s paintings, as a child I remember being dragged around by my father through museums and churches all around France and Italy. But I don’t remember any of them.”
After high school, Bernhardt left home to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her BA. She was accepted thanks to a portfolio of watercolors that she’d created, which were based on photos she took as a high school exchange student in Portugal. She moved from Chicago to New York to attend the master’s program at the School of Visual Arts.
Even before she received her MFA, in 2000, Bernhardt was displaying her messy paintings in Chelsea galleries and her style made her a critical success.
Her early paintings were of fashion models and pop icons, like ET.
In 2011, she married Youssef Jdia, a Moroccan rug dealer. The couple has since divorced, but the rug patterns inspired Bernhardt to paint large, repeat patterned paintings, that have become her trademark.
Bernhardt’s studio is a converted auto-repair shop in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. She’s bought and renovated a massive former car dealership in her hometown in Missouri to use as a storage facility for her own work and an alternative exhibition space.
Her paintings are included in public collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the High Museum in Atlanta, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C, the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Rubell Collection in Miami and other fine museums and galleries.
Dylan Kerr. “The Best Painters Don’t Intellectualize Their Art”: Katherine Bernhardt on Her New Paintings, & Why She Loves the Tropics. Artspace. September, 2015.
Ashley Garrett. Katherine Bernhardt Interview. Whitehot Magazine. January 2015.
Howard Hurst. Katherine Bernhardt’s Junk-Food Moshpit. Hyperallergic. February 27, 2014.
Scott Indrisek. Paint it Loud. GQ Magazine. August 29, 2019.