(This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Luxury Living Magazine- a subdivision of Newsday Media Group)
“Be unrealistic,” world-renowned artist Kevin Berlin declared over the phone, as he finished his coffee. “Realize your dreams now. Don’t wait for a realistic moment. That’s something I aim for a lot these days.”
From the Renaissance influence of Florence in all its glory to the stability of Southampton, Berlin splits his time working from the two cities. He admits, “Southampton is one of the few places in the world where you can be in one spot and bump into some of your favorite, most loved people in the world, and they just happen to be there.”
The American artist, best known for his black and white paintings of cocktail party scenes, also excels in sculpture and performance art. Anyone who may have had the opportunity to attend opening night for Art Southampton Summer of 2016 will recall Berlin’s unmistakable presence, as he made his entrance with several women clad in black bikinis, the lot of them wearing top hats. In true Hamptons fashion, Berlin certainly knows how to grab the attention of a crowd to launch his newest endeavor.
Berlin’s captivation with top hats started at 18 years of age, upon being gifted a top hat by his parents at his first solo show at Bonwit Teller & Co. He chuckled, “I have no idea why; they just knew their kid, I guess.”
Since then, his fashion company, Kevin Berlin New York, has accidentally reinvented the classic piece for everyday use, “like jeans that already have holes in them…coming to a really nice shop near you, hopefully soon.”
A TEMPTING VIEWPOINT
“We all have a powerful, beautiful force…something inside of us that’s beautiful, that can be hard to control,” Berlin roared.
For the Yale University and Slade School of Fine Art alumnus, temptation and desire are the quintessential themes behind his work, as he “usually tells stories about things that motivate people.”
Berlin gushes, “I love Nutella, and I find that I’m not alone in this world. It’s one of the few images I’ve worked with that people really identify very quickly…if you want to create a moment of joy, an image of Nutella will do exactly that. There aren’t many things you can paint that will have such an immediate positive reaction.”
Delicious cravings aside, Berlin is fascinated by worlds often closed to society, such as that of ballerinas. Once upon a time, his curiosity led him to Russia, and he remained for almost a year backstage with the Kirov Ballet in Saint Petersburg. Observing more than 100 of the “beautiful Olympic-level athletes telling stories” in the same legendary theatre where Tchaikovsky first wrote and presented Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. In another chapter of his life, he moved to Ukraine to study the life of the national circus in Kiev. From this experience, his “Save the Tigers” series was produced, shown in galleries in Miami, London and Southampton. Developed to bring awareness to the extinction of the animal, Berlin enjoyed the primal instinct that resonates from within.
“The importance of the paintings, at least for me, is that I never tell you what to think or tell you how to feel.”
Berlin has become a master of narrative art, with an aim to constantly engage his audience over time. His work has been collected by the likes of Kim Basinger, Luciano Pavarotti, Quincy Jones, David Letterman, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, among others.
Pointing out, “You can look at it today, you can look at it a hundred years from now, and you’ll still have a chance to add your own interpretation to it…as you change, your interpretation of the painting will change.”
As an unstoppable creative force, Berlin retraced the past two years of his life back to Russia for “The End of the World” series, depicting the secret life of ballerinas. Upcoming will be his latest program, “Berlin in Berlin,” a fitting title, evoking the German city where the artist spent time exploring the unknown. The solo show, running May 28th – July 15th, is being featured at Livingstone Gallery in the Netherlands.
As for his dream project? To build his “new colossus,” a large-scale monument the size of the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore.
While Berlin’s “unrealistic” artistic goals remain quite large this summer, he aims to make his circle smaller…that, along with getting in a good bonfire on the beach.
“When I’m ready to greet the world, I always go to 75 Main in Southampton, which I consider the center of the universe,” Berlin divulges. “The Lobster Grille Inn is also a good spot. Good food. Sometimes, it’s a real pleasure to be in a place where you don’t know anybody.”