Katherine Bernhardt - Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches Hong Kong Thursday, May 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • Ebullient, bold, and sumptuously exotic, Six Papayas is a resplendent work by American artist Katherine Bernhardt, where she explores the possibilities of form and colour. Often characterised by her use of recurring motifs such as cartoons and characters borrowed from American pop culture – namely the Pink Panther, E.T., Garfield, Smurfs, and Darth Vader – the present work conjures a unique sensibility, devoid of what is commonly observed within Bernhardt’s artistic oeuvre. Refusing to be bound by the strictures of conventional painting, Bernhardt has developed an approach that evokes the limitless potentials of creativity.


    Executed only a year after the artist’s first foray into creating a public mural of similar subject matter, Six Papayas is an exemplary of this ethos of disruption, evincing a striking depiction of fruits, featuring an assemblage and interplay of the titular half-dozen ripe papayas and bananas that dominate her canvas. Rendered in a simplified and graphic quality set against a monochromatic lavender background lies one of Bernhardt’s most iconic motifs— a solitary Nike sneaker— a nod to her ever-expanding interest in the visual culture of contemporary society.



    Explosions of Colour



    Installation view of Katherine Bernhardt’s Fruit Salad, 2015, Venus Over Los Angeles

    Bernhardt is renowned for her distinctive technique: a complex infusion of process painting, Colour Field painting and street graffiti where colours take centre stage in her expression. Her frenzied application of colours in Six Papayas – most notably papaya pink – recalls her initial stay at the Pink Palace Hotel in Hawaii, whereby evoking a blazing tropical sunset on a balmy summer’s day. Pink as a colour, also carries other connotations, perhaps in the current work denoting to the idea of consumer culture and popular imagery as it is widely used in advertising and marketing, typically associated with femininity as well as appealing to a predominantly female audience. Six Papayas hails from Bernhardt’s widely acclaimed ‘patterned’ series and the artist’s current top record is a painting that belongs to the same sequence of works. 


    “I love the 80s aesthetic, which is very colourful. I love painting because I can make lots of colour in it. I like places that have lots of colour. I am attracted to colours. Art is a way where people can go and escape from reality. The bigger, the better.”
    — Katherine Bernhardt


    Redefining Still Life


    In Six Papayas, the artist interrogates the way in which consumerism shapes our identities and desires, and how it impacts our relationship with the environment we inhabit. Bernhardt draws upon how even the most quotidian objects are commodified and marketed in our society today. Painted in a highly gestural aesthetic, she masterfully elevates these everyday objects to the level of fine art and glorifies these items from their original context.



    Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries, circa 1625
    Collection of LACMA, Los Angeles
    Image: Los Angeles Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter (M. 2003. 108. 8)


    In the present work, the artist embraces an unconventional approach to painting – seeking to redefine and temper the boundaries of the traditional still life genre. Hovering between the fine lines of abstraction and representation, Bernhardt achieves this result by outlining the shapes of her subjects with spray paint then applying intuitive and spontaneous strokes of diluted acrylics onto the canvas, simultaneously allowing the paint to pool and conflate by chance. Still life paintings were traditionally understood as the most direct way of displaying one’s wealth through depicting esoteric culinary items such as exotic fruits as they were only assessable to a select few. This brings forth the notion of rarity and natural objects being seen as commodities within Six Papayas.


    Evidently, what sets Bernhardt apart from other artists associated with the still life genre is her choice of medium and the experimental technique that she employs within her work. Oil paints were traditionally favoured for its malleability and potential for achieving subtle gradations of colour and tonality. However, in Six Papayas, Bernhardt entirely disrupts the praxis with her use of spray paint, alluding to the versatility of the medium.


    Detail of the present work


    Spray paint has often been linked with graffiti culture and street art, which challenges the traditional boundaries of what is considered ‘fine art’. The medium also acts as an enabler for artists such as Bernhardt to create bold and textured works that cannot be easily replicated with traditional painting methods. Bernhardt invites the audience to perceive her painting from a distinctive, contemporary perspective, allowing viewers to obtain a sense of the time and space in which it was created. Standing whilst overlooking her work on the ground, she throws her entire body over the surface with loose and carefree applications of spray paint, imparting disruptive acts of mark making where her energy is almost palpable.


    In comparison to Clara Peeters's refined still life paintings, Bernhardt not only reduces the form of her fruits. She also taps into her innovative tendencies by incorporating a bird’s eye viewpoint within a single composition, highlighting her trailblazing compositional experimentation.



    Katherine Bernhart in discussion with Art This Week ahead of her Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art exhibition opening, 2017



    Collector’s Digest


    • Born in 1975, Katherine Bernhardt lives and works in St. Louis.

    • Having received her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York she is represented by David Zwirner in partnership with Canada Gallery.

    • The artist’s works are part of important institutional collections, such as the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D. C.; Rubell Museum, Miami; among others.

    • Exuding a sense of warmth and confidence, Bernhardt’s papaya paintings are widely celebrated for their playful yet powerful aesthetic. Particularly, with the present work further establishing the artist as a visionary female ‘disruptor’ within the canon of western contemporary art. 

    • Provenance

      Pilar Corrias, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Katherine Bernhardt

      American • 1975

      Katherine Bernhardt, whether in her paintings or make-shift Moroccan rugs, is rapt by neons and geometries. The artist, who works in New York, takes an almost hasty-flick of a brushstroke that lands as a jagged architectural form — figures cut in space and in buzzing colors that leave a mental trace.

      Seemingly each month, multiple galleries, museums or art fairs across the world exhibit Bernhardt's large-scale fantasies and rug-centric installations, as seen in 2017 at Art Basel and with a solo retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth. "I think the best painters don't intellectualize their own art—they just make stuff," she says; but with sharks circling trash in the water in today's climate, as is depicted in Sharks, Toilet Paper and Plantains, it's not hard to see Bernhardt's deeper meanings. 

      View More Works


Six Papayas

signed, titled, inscribed and dated '2015 Katherine Bernhardt "six papayas" three bananas + a Nike' on the reverse
acrylic and spray paint on canvas
183 x 152.5 cm. (72 x 60 in.)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for HK$368,300

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Head of Mid-Season Sales
+852 2318 2014

Thomas Perazzi
Head of Watches, Asia
+852 2318 2001

Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches

Hong Kong Auction 25 May 2023