● Quarantine Nudes by Kevin Berlin is a solo show of the artist’s work that opens on November 28th and runs until February 13th, 2023.
Starting the following day on Valentine’s Day 2023, Slow Motion | 45 Years of Nudes is Berlin’s second solo show at the museum which will run until May 29th, 2023. Berlin is an international artist best known for painting, sculpture, and performance. He currently lives in Southampton, New York and Florence, Italy
An Interview with Kevin Berlin
By Baronesse Louise von Duesterlohe
Kevin Berlin’s “Quarantine Nudes” revisit the classical nude with a spontaneity and directness
that can’t be achieved any other way. Berlin’s works follow the Renaissance tradition of drawing from life as the basis for expression and the development of ideas. These intimate studies capture the hidden motivations of the model and serve as a reference for large scale paintings and bronze sculptures. Themes such as vulnerability, desire, and hidden thoughts are portrayed in a palette of mostly black and white with touches of vibrant color.
“Slow Motion: 45 Years of Nudes” explores the Artist’s lifetime interest in the human form as a basis for inspiration. The installation features a 45 year timeline of painting, sculpture and performance art. As a unique retrospective exhibition, “Slow Motion” invites the viewer to take a closer look into the creative process and development of the nude over time.
BLVD: You started painting nudes very early…
KB: Yes. I started painting nudes when I was 12 years old. With a lot of encouragement from my parents I took college level figure painting classes at the Corcoran School of Fine Art in Washington DC after school and on the weekends. I found myself in a room full of grownups, filling up endless pads of paper with charcoal and ink wash studies of the figure. For some reason the figure always came easy to me. The work kept getting better and better. It was a revelation.
BLVD: You also studied anatomy…
KB: I started to study and memorize all the muscles and bones in the body in my spare time in
Elementary School. Instead of the usual books that other kids had, I used to bring giant oversized
textbooks filled with small print and old-time illustrations like Gray’s Anatomy and University Physics to reading period. I enjoyed the attention, and also soon realized that I could impress the girl I liked by reciting the long Latin names of all the new muscles I had just learned: flexor carpi radialis longus... extensor carpi radialis brevis... flexor digitorum profundus... Hey, I still remember some of them (!) At the time I was thinking that this information would help me to one day become a doctor. Little did I know that this was also the perfect education for a painter and sculptor of the figure.
BLVD: Did art run in the family? I understand your grandmother was an artist.
KB: It was my grandmother’s childhood dream to become an artist. But growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, it did not work out that way for her. She became a devoted wife and mother instead. While she painted and sketched from time to time in her later years, she considered herself a hobbyist. She wrote a poem about her ‘lost ambition,’ and expressed hope that her grandchildren would someday achieve greatness in the arts.
BLVD: Did she influence your development?
KB: Perhaps in an indirect way. I’ll never forget when I was 16 my grandmother bought me a
subscription to Playboy Magazine. I rarely got mail, so I was quite surprised to open the hand
calligraphed envelope to discover a card with a half-dressed woman in a Santa-outfit on the front and written inside; ‘Seasons Greetings, you have received a subscription to Playboy from Grandma Rose.’ The models at the Corcoran were nothing like the models in Playboy. I made well rendered drawings in pencil of the Playmates in every issue for the whole year.
BLVD: So painting nudes led you to the White House?
KB: Senior year of High School I received a gold medal from President Ronald Reagan at the White House as a ‘United States Presidential Scholar in the Visual Arts,’ the nation’s highest honor for a graduating high school senior. My portfolio at this time featured landscapes, nudes, and self-portraits. Up until that point, I never planned to be a professional artist. I always thought I would be a doctor or something like that, but the experience of presenting my work at the Kennedy Center and meeting a lot of other artists from all over the country made me realize I could spend my life doing something that I love to do.
BLVD: Tell us about ‘Quarantine Nudes.’
KB: The ‘Quarantine Nudes’ series started completely by accident. I was literally quarantined in Italy at the start of the 2020 global pandemic. Everything was shut down and closed except for short trips outside the house for food or medicine. When Florence finally started to open, we were all traumatized in different ways, and in a kind of mass shock as to how to go about everyday life in a healthy way. Of course it was essential that I continued to paint the figure from life, and for practical reasons, my model and I agreed that it was best to continue wearing a mask inside the studio. I was very surprised to discover, even from the very first painting, that the works came out in an inspired way which cannot be planned.
BLVD: Can you share more about your process?
KB: Most important, all of the works are painted from life. There is no other way to create with such directness and authenticity. Artists from the Renaissance such as Raphael and Da Vinci, knew this and became masters of the figure. They practiced so much painting from life that their ability included the possibility to paint any figure in any position. They understood, and it is still true today, that if you want to concentrate on feeling and expression, you must first remove your concerns about anatomy and things like that. One of my favorite quotes from Michelangelo: ‘Good painting is merely a copy of the perfections of God.’
BLVD: And materials?
KB: All works are similar size and painted on arches 300lb cold press paper. Arches has been making paper in France since the 1400s and I fell in love with the texture and thickness of the paper as well as how it reacts to a brush, pencil, gouache, ink wash and watercolor. The paper is archival and has permanence if properly cared for of hundreds of years. Each of the ‘Quarantine Nudes’ is like a mini sculpture. Each hand-cut from a larger sheet of paper. No two are the same.
BLVD: I have read that your work is about what people are thinking but are afraid to say.
KB: True. I often ask the question: ‘What would you never do, but in secret you would like to try?’ There are some things you would never tell your mother. You would never tell your best friend. But you might tell a stranger on a train, the person who cuts your hair, or me.
BLVD: So behind every painting is a story?
KB: Yes. All of my work is narrative; a painting or sculpture that tells a story. Storytelling through the ages has been an effective and perhaps even the best way to communicate. Bible stories for example, since the Middle Ages, were shared in the form of images decorating walls; from the great cathedrals to the smallest home chapel. Storytelling is a way of sharing life experience and allowing people to relive experiences in both a profound and mundane way.
BLVD: What keeps you inspired?
KB: I really enjoy collaborating with the person who is posing. I learned a long time ago that if you
surround yourself with geniuses and steal their ideas, it’s almost the same as being a genius yourself. Often, I get my ideas from the people that model. Michelangelo was very proud that in a lifetime of 89 years making artwork he never repeated a pose even once. Matisse, who lived almost as long, was proud that in all of his years of painting, he never got bored. He always found something new to paint. Picasso was admired by fellow artists because ‘he found something new every day.’ For myself I can’t imagine getting tired of painting the nude. There is always something new to say and I have a very big imagination (laughs).