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Ellen Berkenblit, 2013 (by Kikuko Usuyama)
|Born||Paterson, New Jersey, New Jersey|
|Awards||John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow|
Ellen Berkenblit (born Paterson, New Jersey 1958) is an American painter. She received her B.F.A from Cooper Union in 1980 and lives and works in New York City. Best known for her feminine- pop-style paintings, Berkenblit has exhibited her work since the early 1980s, and is represented by Anton Kern Gallery in New York.
Berkenblit grew up in Westchester County, NY one of four children. Her father was a chemist and amateur photographer who used a half-bath as a darkroom. "That was a big influence for me," Berkenblit said. "he is practical and he loves materials."
Berkenblit is married to American film producer Joshua Astrachan.
Her paintings are made with a distinctive palette of vigorously mixed colors with assertive broad brushstrokes and some scraping of the palette knife. Her shapes are rough yet well-defined fields of color; occasional black outlines can define an object, animal, or a face. Out of the paintingsʼ visceral physicality emerge certain themes, motifs, and ideas: a head in profile featuring intense black lashes and long shimmering hair, lacy ribbons (painted as angular and deliciously awkward bands of paint that vigorously pull together the paintingsʼ fore- and middle-grounds). Even purely atmospheric sensations such as clouds, bolts of sun light, rainbows, and starry night skies find expression. These images simultaneously emerge from the subjectsʼ relevance and the visibly exuberant act of painting.
Her paintings have a visceral buoyancy that stems from their slashing streaks of parrotlike color and radiating lines of hair — touch points that move the viewer through the moonlit world of each painting. But Berkenblit always starts with her obsessive character’s distinctive profile, one that she has been drawing since her childhood in Westchester County, N.Y. 
The paintingsʼ spirit is bold, boisterous, and forceful, sometimes mysterious, always deeply emotional. The interplay between figurative elements, the intense atmosphere created by color contrast and tonal palette, as well as the compositional devices, create figurative paintings of great fluidity and openness without being narrowed by narrative.
Berkenblit's work has been inhabited for years by female characters, which, when they first appeared, might have stepped out of Illustration into Painting. They were drawn in the stylistic equivalent of the Palmer Method, and looked shy and credulous, maybe slightly saucy, but perhaps not fully contemporary. They suggested elements of Snow White and Betty Boop, and one could imagine them in a book from the 1940s for and about teenagers. They appeared, most often (but not always) alone, occasionally with domesticated animals, in a world of half-rendered objects and painterly gestures, a soup of the mimetic and the procedural.
Exhibitions and Collections
With numerous solo shows to her credit at galleries in Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome and throughout the United States, Ellen Berkenblit’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Farnsworth Art Museum (2011), Artist Space, New York (2009), the New York Academy of Art (2008), the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati (2007), the Tucson Museum of Art (2005), and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY (2004).
Her work is included in numerous public collections, including, amongst others, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH; and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA.