Social Life Magazine presents an exclusive interview with Kevin Berlin, painter, sculptor, and performance artist whose works can be found in the collections of Kim Basinger, Luciano Pavarotti, David Letterman, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Quincy Jones and Henry Buhl. Berlin, a Yale University Alumnus, studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Shanghai Daily, The Miami Herald, MTV, Tokyo Television and BBC Radio. Kevin Berlin's recent solo exhibitions include shows in New York, London and Shanghai and will be featured by Gallery Valentine at Art Southampton, July 25 -29, 2013.
GIOVANNI ROSSI: So how did you get started as a painter?
KEVIN BERLIN: Painting always came easy to me. I won a lot of national poster contests when I was 6 years old. My favorite themes were people and cultural icons like the “Marlboro Men.” I also spent a lot of time copying pictures of animals from the en- cyclopedia and copying old masters like “The Mona Lisa.” I used to get in trouble at school for memorizing the bones and muscles in the human body instead of doing my homework. I didn’t realize how valuable knowledge of anatomy would be later for painting and sculpture. I painted my rst nude at the Corcoran School of art when I was 13. At 16 my grandmother gave me a subscription to Playboy and I started copying the centerfolds. By 18 I was honored by president Reagan at White House as a US Presidential Scholar as one of the nation’s top 5 young artists. At that time I never thought I would be able to spend my life doing something that I love to do.
GR: Tell us about your upcoming show at Art Southampton?
KB: Yes, the show is entitled “Alien Invasion” and is being presented as a special solo project at Gallery Valentine, booth A35. The Art Southampton show opens on July 25 and features a new series of larger than life, mostly black and white cocktail party scenes and a few surprises. Including a live "Alien Invasion" performance at 7:30pm sharp on Opening Night.
GR: “Alien Invasion”? Tell about these Aliens.
KB: To me, an 'alien' is anyone on the cellphone. To be honest, these days you might as well have an alien in the room because peo- ple are right in front of you and they are behaving like they are on another planet. Probably somewhere in cyber space. The Alien In- vasion paintings include, “SMS,” “Fuck You,” “Some Drink To Re- member...” and a few “Porno Aliens.” “Snow White” also shows up in a painting, she is also from another planet. Disney World.
GR: Some of your Aliens are naked. Why?
KB: The female nude has always been a centerpiece in the history of western art. If you follow Renaissance History for example, you will notice that the venus’ of Botticelli or later, the reclining nudes of Titian, are always very beautiful. The reason why is very simple. At the time the paintings were generally commissioned by a church with the goal of communicating with people who cannot read. The paintings were meant to teach and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds. The beauty of women from head to toe was intended to reflect Divine beauty. So Botticelli chose the top models of his day to pose for him.
GR: Aren’t you worried about censorship?
KB: I always had problems with censorship. Especially self censorship. We seem to live in an environment where you can no longer talk about sex, politics, religion or death without offending somebody. The kind of freedom in Paris 1920’s is over. We live in a very decisive and polarized world. We have more freedom of communication and less freedom of expression. These days I come accept that some people will be upset.
GR: You are known for doing series of narrative paintings.
KB: Yes, behind every painting is a story. I usually choose a figurative theme and travel to an exotic location to research the new series. Once, I woke up one morning and decided to move to Russia and paint ballerinas on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the city of Saint Petersburg. Another time I moved to Kiev, Ukraine to work backstage at the Circus with live lions and tigers and their trainers. I am very afraid of tigers and I wanted to get to know them better anyway. Part of my creative process is a bit like being a private investigator. I need to immerse my self deeply in each case in order to paint the right conclusions.
GR: And what about your palette, mostly black and white with a little bit of color?
KB: Well, I think the modern audience for a painting has already seen almost everything in terms of color. We already know that the painting is at with some dried liquid on a piece of cloth. I don’t think its necessary to convince the viewer that it is “real.” By using only black and white, the viewer can focus on the con- tent and emotion of the painting without being distracted. The rich colors I use such as cadmium red, cobalt violet or alien green are used to create additional emotion or for their symbolic value. What is important in the end is only one thing: That you give a damn about the people in the paintings. You must feel more than just sympathy but rather true empathy. You must love and care about the woman in the painting as if she were your sister, your lover, your friend. If the viewer doesn’t make this direct connection with the people in the painting, it is a failure.
GR: You have studios in Florence, Italy and Southampton. How did you end up in the Hamptons?
KB: Do you mind if I do some name dropping? A top model friend from Yale invited me to Southampton for the week- end about 17 years ago. She was surprised that i wasn’t showing any art work and introduced me to a neighbor who was friend’s with Roberta Von Schlossberg, owner of RVS Fine Art. Roberta suggested that we put one of my paintings in the gallery window on July 4th. It was a painting of a giant hot dog floating in the New York harbor. Literally 15 minutes later, a black Bentley pulled up in front of the gallery. A man got out, walked in, and asked “How much for the hot dog?” It happened to be investor Howard Lorber who has just purchased Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. The painting is still hanging in his of office today and I’m still here.
GR: You have so many projects, what’s next?
KB: My solo show in Holland opens in early September. Living- stone Gallery will present “Into The Cage,” new paintings. In November I will judge an International Beauty Pageant in Cancun. And of course, in December I am presenting new works at Art Miami/Context. I am also writing two books. One is about my adventures working with classical ballerinas in Saint Peters- burg, Russia and the other is a sort of memoir entitled “How To Get a Model To Take Off Her Clothes.”