Why the artist made Kate Moss look ugly

Katherine Bernhardt paints disturbing portraits of models and pop stars. Pretty, they’re not.

By Alex Kasriel, November 20, 2008
Bernhardt’s portrait of Kate Moss: “It’s not negative comment,” she says

Bernhardt’s portrait of Kate Moss: “It’s not negative comment,” she says

She paints bold, arresting, images of models and pop singers such as Kate Moss, Agnes Deyn and MIA. And all her subjects share the same sunken eyes, emaciated frames and vacuous expressions.

But New York artist Katherine Bernhardt insists she is not trying to make a social comment of the materialistic world of popular culture.

"My work looks very aggressive because my brush strokes are so fast, and people always think that I'm making a negative comment on models," she says. "I actually love them. It's more about obsession - I like to paint them. I've always been into fashion. I always watch the fashion shows on TV."

And while her paintings, made from photos published in fashion magazines Vogue and Elle, are of models and celebrities, Bernhardt, 33, who grew up in St Louis Missouri, says they are actually self-portraits, and a reflection of her moods.

Her canvases have certainly found favour with the public and influential collectors.

"My work influences young people," says Bernhardt, speaking from New York. "I think people like it because it's fashion. It looks easy to make. It's young and fresh and very painterly."

Charles Saatchi bought some of Bernhardt's painting when she had a residency in East London's Hales Gallery. And Duran Duran keyboard player Nick Rhodes attended the opening of a new exhibition of her work in London.

His presence delighted Bernhardt who says she used to be "totally obsessed with him" and has painted his portrait.

The show is called Greeky as Bernhardt painted the majority of the works on the Greek island of Mykonos and she says she likens the models to Greek goddesses.

With such admiration of models, did Bernhardt ever want to be one herself?

"Are you kidding? I'm 5ft tall!" she laughs.

Greeky is at the Mark Ransom Gallery, 107a Dove Walk, London, SW1 until November 30

Last updated: 10:25am, November 20 2008