Al Bernstein's earliest works - from 1959 onwards - already show the first signs of an ambitious extension of creative techniques. The precocious young artist did his first ever oil painting 1959, at the age of ten: »LANDSCAPE WITH A FLOWERING TREE« (P 002/60), today in the private collection of Prof. Hildegard and Ferdinand Otto, cf. Catalogue Al Bernstein 1990.
Al Bernstein: »As a kid aged between eight and nine, at my grandparents' house where I used to spend my summer vacations, I found some brushes and painting equipment in the attic that had belonged to my late uncle, an artist, and I experimented with these treasures - mainly in secret. There were also wonderful old cameras, tripods made of wood and boxes full of large glass negatives with pictures of landscapes, groups of people, portraits, et cetera, all of them taken by my grandfather, who'd been a really keen photographer. With those wonderful French oil colors - in tubes - and brushes of all shapes and sizes, I just started oil painting as if by magic, and found it really easy and natural to do from the very start. I had a harder time with drawing; the effect of a brush full of color, reacting directly to my feelings, produced instant pictures when compared to a weak, thin, worried-looking pencil line. I loved painting on sections of wood, plywood, and pressboard, smooth or otherwise, wherever I could get hold of any, and liked painting those colorful landscapes I used to find in big art books.«
As he grew older, however, the young and sensitive Al Bernstein began to feel constrained and, leaving his old world and old work behind him, he moved to the sunshine of Hollywood, Florida.
In the U.S.A. during the 1970s he began doing entertaining, encyclopaedic drawings of old American colonial landscapes in the style of the old European masters, and veered increasingly towards allegory. Al Bernstein's representational period - with the main works produced between 1972 and 1985 such as »SUPERFUERO UT ESSEM - OR I WILL HAVE HAD SURVIVED TO BE« (P 115/81, diptych), »ABADDON - ANGER OF GOD« (P 100/79), »LOVE« (P 104/80) and highly detailed miniatures as »THE KISS« (M 099/79) - is distinctive for his astonishingly skilful use of classic European artistic techniques. Bernstein's representational art seems to reach back to the traditions of the Renaissance and Baroque ages; he uses them as a means of communicating his pictorial message. The subjects he chooses, some of them biblical, are historically ambiguous: »ABADDON« (P 100/79) and »THE KISS« (M 099/79), both brilliant examples of the artist's craft, are angry satires on wellknown human shortcomings, with an additional touch of humorous self-parody. The consistency and clear identity of Al Bernstein's »classicism« place it far beyond the superficial displays of technique familiar from commercially-motivated representational art, and lend him the authenticity that has always been possessed by art that sets new standards, alongside a perennial relevance based on a free choice of perspective.
Al Bernstein's many and varied representational watercolours, sketches and drawings are a pleasure to behold. On the one hand the artist cheerfully illustrates European cultural history in works such as »CARLOS III, 1788-1988« (P 352/88), painted on the occasion of the bicentennial celebrations and portraying the Spanish king Carlos III smiling beneath a floating crown, while on the other he knows precisely how to lend uncanny authenticity to his North and South American street scenes, so reminiscent of detective stories, such as »GREAT SOUTHERN HOTEL« (D 146/84-1) or »LIMA, GARAGE SCENE« (D 267/86), without over-stylising them. The viewer is often given a sharper-than-photographic sense of these milieux, which have their literary parallels in the work of Raymond Chandler or Mario Vargas Llosa. Cf. Al Bernstein: »Codified Values«, 1996.
By way of contrast, Bernstein's encyclopaedia-style watercolour studies of subtropical fauna and flora - such as »PINEAPPLE« (D 124/84), »ORCHIDS« (D 143/84) or »SUPERFUERO UT ESSEM«,» CRICKET« (M 114/81) - reveal an analytical, dissecting eye which knows how to meaningfully integrate the smallest of details into a picture, and to grab the viewer's attention with extreme plasticity of form. During the early 1980s these drawings formed the basis of a delightful intermediate period of works on representative themes, such as the large-format, mixed-media »SOME FLOWERS« (P 132/83), dedicated to Vincent van Gogh. One can clearly sense the way in which the colours radiate into one another in this strikingly successful expressionist rendition of sunflowers in umber, ochre and yellow tones influenced by azure. Energy exchanges like these are central to Bernstein's work, as is his concentration on colour: »Color in the way that it moves through the endless spaces right up to the apparent solution of the primeval metaphor, created by light.«
In their light-flooded spatial depth, Al Bernstein's abstractions are both grandiose and dramatic - a prime example being »RISE TO POWER« (P 572/90-1) More recent abstract works ( 1990- 1999) - primarily to be found in the U.S.A. and Spain - is »CLIMAX, A PIECE OF WORSHIP« (P819/99), »ETHIC I« (P 785/98), ETHIC WORK II « (P 786/98), SYSTEM OF ETHICS« (P 822/99)
These large-format works, often traversed by »thought traces«, are based on extensive preliminary studies, and their sheer subtlety is often only accessible on a second viewing. Al Bernstein's metaphorical portrayal of the close bonds between human consciousness and the supernatural places his art on a multidimensional level:
While the pigmentogram is a monotypic original, pigmentography is a picture-printing technique related to screen printing whereby Al Bernstein perfects the individual prints by hand; each one is unique in its own right because of the different individual techniques and materials used each time respectively. For the purple pigmentograph of his triptych »FOR ALBRECHT DUERER« (3 proofs pulled by hand, G 126/81), for instance, Al Bernstein used a method combining perforation printing and pigmentography.
Al Bernstein describes the technique: »The pigmentograph »FOR APELLES« (3 proofs pulled by hand, G 124/81) with its characteristic line pattern was dedicated by me in New York in 1981 to the great line painter Apelles, who worked at the court of Alexander the Great and made a decisive contribution to geometrical concepts during antiquity. For the pigmentograph »THE SECRET« (G 125/81) I followed Kandinsky's line of thinking: »THE SECRET« is about the dark areas inside each soul - akin to the black holes in outer space. In pigmen-tography I also often make use of the line - which I assemble from particles and points - in order to more accurately describe a condition, or to connect with the traces left behind by my own thoughts whenever they move across paintings. My pictures are »cosmic traces«, realistic portrayals of the precise moment they were created; »FIRST LETTER« (3 proofs pulled by hand, G 122/81), for example, or »SECOND NOTE« (3 proofs pulled by hand, G 122/81) - or »TRACES IN THE SKY« (3 proofs pulled by hand, G 206/85). I've used this perforation printing technique - which I call pigmentography - since 1967, and have been perfecting it steadily ever since, right up to realistic multicolor printing. For me, no other print medium allows data to be transferred »proof by proof«, sheet by sheet, in such an individual manner and with such spontaneity and gesture. With pigmentography I have created the opportunity for myself to commit to paper as something quite unique the actual traces and phenomena that surround an image and bring it to life, with all the accompanying spiritual and cosmic influences. This means that each of my pigmentographs is an original in its own right, a varying original trace from the 'phenomenon chain' of an image. An archetype. Dust in the thrall of cosmic forces as a counterpart to the icon of shadow.«
Cf. »THE FLORIDA BOOK OF PLATES« (G 2O1/85-1 ff.), or »CROMATICS« (G 199/85-1 ff.),or »A THEORY OF COLORS« (G 215/85-1 ff.), also Al Bernstein: »Codified Values«, 1996.
Among the many and varied forms of artistic expression, drawings are the most spontaneous. With their simplicity of line, material and method, the study and the preliminary drawing assist in the conception of a work. By possessing certain specific and distinctive qualities a drawing can also sometimes assume autonomous character (cf. »Autonomous Drawings«). The main characteristic of a drawing is always its immediacy, because the artistic message is determined not only by the intellectual content but also by the interpretation. The simpler this is and the more economical the means employed, the more penetrating the effect. Whatever the purpose of a drawing may be - to serve as a step towards finding beauty, a perfect location, a correct proportion, or even to express something in its own right - each of its lines captures a moment of the vision and intuition that went into it.
Several of Al Bernstein's early drawings - for instance the preliminary ones in 1979 for »THE KISS« (M 099/79) and »ABADDON - ANGER OF GOD« (P 100/79), or the various portraits and self-portraits - are based on biblical themes. His portrait drawings concentrate more on physiognomic studies of states of mind and facial expression, however, sometimes extending to the visionary, as in »A PERUVIAN SHAPESHIFTING« (D 177/85 ff.). Bernstein also values the profile portrait as an opportunity to more sharply characterise his subjects.
Bernstein did most of his genre drawings and drawings on profane subjects in Peru and the U.S.A.; the metropolitan areas of Lima and Miami provided plenty of opportunity in this respect, as did several rural areas of both North and South America and also the diversity of many regions of Europe.
Still lifes such as »PINEAPPLE« (D 142/84), drawn in the U.S.A. in 1984, and also »ORCHIDS« (D 143/84) provide an insight into the anatomy of Bern-stein's drawing techniques because the process of picture creation can be precisely reconstructed in them - all the way to the final watercolour additions. »ROSES« (D 321/87-1), drawn in Holland in 1987, again uses the pictorial language of the still life as one of several possible ways of expressing elementary trace systems (cf. »Techniques and Media«, page 32). The direct quality of depiction in a drawing can capture fleeting moments and preserve them, as is clear from Bernstein's portrayals of animals and landscapes: the sketches in »MONKEYS« (244/85 ff.), »WILD DUCK« (D 382/88-1) and »THE WILD DUCKS« (D 382/88-2) are classic animal studies and reductions. Al Bernstein's landscape drawings are even more complex, covering a broad spectrum from the ideals of Romanticism to Realism and Symbolism, and continuing on into abstraction via the codification of natural energy transmission.
The autonomous drawing is a work of art in its own right. It represents the direct achievement of a desired objective, and sometimes the ultimate opportunity for absolutely individual and genuine expression. In its precise and skilful rendition of detail, expressiveness and sureness of effect, the autonomous drawing can attain heights of supreme virtuosity. Al Bernstein frequently uses special materials and techniques to achieve these ends, and to make the drawing a self-contained work in its own right rather than merely a sketch or preliminary study. Examples include »SELF-PORTRAIT VANITAS« (silverpoint, D 332/87), »SOUTH-AMERICA« (quill pen and bistre, D 275/86), »LA PERUANA« (ballpoint, D 338/87), »HARDING STREET« (sepia wash, D 154/84) and »LIONS' PARK 11 PM« (brush drawing, D 155/84). cf. »Techniques and Media«, page 32, and also Al Bernstein: »Codified Values«, 1996.
AL BERNSTEIN Exhibition througout Germany 1997/98, in 4 custom remodelled railway- gallery-carriages in corporation with the »Deutsche Bahn AG«, showing Pigmentographs from the years 1980 to 1995, in 24 German cities: Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Osnabrück, Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden barrowing the Environment »MEMORY WEAVES EVERY MOMENT« in convoy (4th carriage) although about 80.000 people have been visiting the »rolling Gallery«