Colette Bernard: Thumbs Up
Now that you are out of college and exploring every medium do you still think there should be a medium distinction or a general fine arts major?
CB: I think that what Pratt is doing is pretty good for the most part if you consider how they make you take classes outside of your major. There were a few times as a sculpture major that I wanted to take class in the architecture department and they were violently against that. I didn’t appreciate that because it defeats the whole purpose behind the marketing of a lot of colleges that say you can take classes in whatever, but then you get there and you can’t.
What initially drew you to sculpture?
CB: I was a graphic design major my first year and I had professor Dan Buckingham in the upstate campus in Utica. I originally knew that financially that would be a more promising career, but that was because I hadn’t done any research about what jobs could open up for me as a sculpture major. I had a history of glass blowing in High School, so I already had a background in sculpture and also interned for a glass blowing company in New Orleans called The New Orleans Glassblowing and Printmaking studio on Magazine Street. I fell in love with it, but I never considered doing any kind of sculpture for a career.
I first became aware of your art through your piece, “The Burden”. What was the physical process behind the piece as well as the message you wanted to get across?
CB: I had just learned how to use the laser cutter and I wanted to create a piece that emphasized my frustration with birth control. I wanted it to leave room for people’s own projections and frustrations with contraception. I wanted to visualize carrying birth control and when that went viral it added to the piece in many ways. It told me I was doing something correct when I was getting hundreds of DMs from girls who had issues with their birth control and I had one girl tell me that she almost bled out and died from having a birth control caused incident. I also loved all the negative attention I got too, all the trolls.
That’s how you know you did something right when the trolls came for you.
CB: It’s like evil fun. I laser cut it and then spray painted and filled in all the gaps by hand for the numbers and days. When it blew up I had no idea that was happening. I was in class and when I opened Instagram it would crash immediately and I had no idea. After a day or so my roommate texted me the link to Feminist who reposted it to their 8 million followers and that really made it take off over night. I was asked to have it in a show in the Lower East Side and that was my first time having it in a gallery.
Congrats on that. What is so cool about art is that as an artist you have a message or intentionally, but once you release it to the public it can take on a whole new meaning and life. It can make you have a connection to someone you don’t know like all the people who commented. Was this piece a catalyst for taking social media more seriously?
CB: I started taking social media seriously about my sophomore year of college. I saw it as a tool and I listened to the Joey and Amanda podcast and Amanda has an episode called “The Business of Art”. She explains that although social media is fun and you connect with people, it is also a tool for artists to use as a portfolio. You can be your own magazine, newspaper or gallery. I started looking at it more seriously and as an opportunity to be my own publicist. I also find it really fun, so it doesn't feel like work to me.
I also love your murals and paintings. Do you approach sculpture and painting the same way or differently?
CB: I reached a point where I stopped trying to over analyze why I do things and gave myself the freedom to just create. I felt like at a certain point Pratt was asking me why too much and I became paralyzed about why my voice matters. I don’t even really have an answer because I try to not overthink it.
That is definitely an answer and just letting it flow.
CB: I just did three paintings after graduating and had a show for them in the East Village. If you ask me why I chose to paint over sculpture the short answer is it is more accessible and I felt like painting. The long answer is I think Pratt wanted me to come up with these pretentious reasons for choosing materials and I wanted to do something fun and colorful.
With the show you had in the East Village, what was setting up and doing things on your own like?
CB: Something I have been very vocal about is taking matters into your own hands as an artist and not waiting for someone to present you with opportunities. I met John 2.5 years ago in the city and he is a little bit older, maybe in his 60s. We met through a gig we worked together and I found out he owned this little courtyard and studio bedroom, very small and very New York. The courtyard wasn’t being used and I asked if in exchange for cleaning it could have an art show. John being the punk he was was like, “fuck yeah”. It was right near Tompkins Park and people would just be walking by and stop in. It was also great because it was right before all these new variants had come out and was like the last hoorah for the summer time. For sponsors I emailed hundreds of brands and said we are having an art show and asked if they wanted to sponsor. Three brands said yes.
Your work has a lot of visual representations of the internet. How does your experience with the internet influence your art?
CB: I grew up on the internet as a small queer person in the south. It was totally an escape for me and I grew up playing Webkinz and Poptropica. I have always been on the internet, so that is partially why having an online presence comes natural to me. I think that there are lots of different ways, but mainly with the different communities you can interact with.
What is your typical day like as a full time artist?
CB: My average day is that I get to wake up whenever I want, usually 10am. I try to film videos in advance and sometimes I’ll batch create videos for my TikTok. One of my series is where people can mail me their art and I will talk about it and unbox it. It is a fun way to be able to use my platform to help other creators. I’ll go see a public piece of art or an art gallery and make a work about that. I’ll work on my own art for a little while. Right now I am designing some hats and spend time every day on that to make sure I meet deadlines. I’ll spend time on the internet to make sure I stay culturally relevant to what is being talked about and how I can contribute. I do a lot of brainstorming for future art projects.
What is your experience working for other artists?
CB: Part of going to Pratt I knew I wanted to focus on manufacturing and fabrication. As a sculpture that is one of my most valuable skills, especially working with other artists. Lots of other artists have ideas, but don’t have the skills on how to execute them. With Danny Cole I worked with him a few times just figuring out how he can create something and giving him material feedback as well as creating certain items. I helped him fabricate these 20 foot paintings back in 2018/2019 for a show he did with Matt Schultz from Cage The Elephant. Every now and then I’ll do a consultation for here’s how you can make something. The cool thing about going to Pratt is the formal training about materials and feeling very comfortable making things. Dan Lam and I became friends after she discovered my birth control video and she actually owns it now. It was such an interesting full circle moment because I loved her work since I was 15. Now she is one of my closest friends and we worked on a show together for The Waterfall Gallery in the Upper East Side with a collaboration for Kinetic Sand. I fabricated some of her sculptures and helped manage a lot of the resin pouring and all that jazz with other people I hired to help.
Check out Colette's work!