Amy Bernays: Reality TV

“Wait, so let me get this straight, you were born in a tree house, in Hawaii, during a hurricane?”

The big, blue, stuck-on eyelashes fluttered at me,

“Do you think that was the best place for a woman in labor to be?” I asked.

“Well, they were on drugs,” she blinked back with a perfectly reasonable explanation. Mimi had just finished telling us all about her self-portraits.

“Well, let’s move on to our next challenge.” The Host burst into the no-man’s land between the contestants, a bunch of surprisingly attractive artists standing awkwardly in a semi-circle. The six easels and the camera crew were stacked in front of us, holding aloft the selection of Mimi’s painting for this Show-and-Tell segment of the show.

The camera darted to cover the host, followed by the sound man on a leash. It hovered on the host’s face like a bee to a burger on a hot day.

“Thank you, Mimi, for showing us your next work,” the gruff Bulldog of a presenter nailed out to the leering camera. “Next up, we have Amy Bernays,” he gestured to his right with the grace of a buffalo.   

Mimi tottered around in her high heels collecting perched canvases and setting them in a neat little row in the corner of the room. She bent to stroke her miniature hairless Chinese crested dog who was loitering at the back of the studio like a teenager’s pompom dangling on the end of a pencil.

Mimi was wearing what my sister calls ‘knock me over and fuck me’ high heels. The bubblegum pink mini dress that she was wearing was exactly the same size and shape as the five other dresses that she wore each time she emerged from the make-up room. It was a feat of textile engineering and some bending of the laws of physics that she didn’t flash her G-string each time she moved.

The PAs removed the five extra easels that I didn’t need for my presentation and I positioned my lone painting of a tree.

“And what do we have here?” the Buffalo asked with his back to me, looking down the barrel of the wafting camera lens

“That’s a question to you, Amy” the Director piped in,

“It’s a painting of a tree.” (I thought that this was fairly obvious.)


Expectant looks from the director, his hands held together in pained prayer, his eyebrows up in his hairline.

“It is not pretending to be anything other than a painting of a tree,” I continued. “I used to do more literal, more rigidly representational work like Mimi’s lovely paintings of herself, but that is not what I want out of painting. We have cameras or magazines for that and I don’t see that as the aim of painting.”

“I found that what I admired in other people’s paintings was mood, color, atmosphere, texture. I like it when painting reminds us of a thing or moment when we were happy. When I closed my eyes and followed my heart, I was led in this direction. It is about light and paint and atmosphere, an ideal, freedom. And I love this tree, I love its thick buttery paint, it makes me want to lick the paint right off the canvas. The end result is much more satisfying.”

“Right. Yeah. Amy, next time, short, snappy sentences. This is TV. OK”

Later that day, in a new dress, Mimi places a beautifully manicured hand on my arm. “You know that I’m not really like this,” she said earnestly, “this is TV and I want this show to be picked up so I can be famous … you know, they want us to create drama.” She knew this game.

She teetered over to her easel and perched her barely covered butt cheek on the stool. She kept talking to me as she continued to paint her Marilyn Monroe portrait with the letters HOLLYWOOD printed over the top. “Anything that I said in the personal interview about your art is not meant personally, I love your painting in real life.”

What had she said about my painting?

At that moment the Line Producer called me into the living room. “So this is going to be a gossip scene with your ‘best bud’ Janna.” Janna was sitting on a sofa looking terrified. She had confided in me earlier that day that she too almost didn’t turn up for day two of the taping. We had wanted it to be an inspiring experience; a ‘let’s-get-the-world-painting’ kind of show that would creatively engage a nation. Scripted gossiping scenes were not what either of us had signed up for.

“So, if you could say something like, “I hate Mimi, her work is crap,” and then you, Janna, say ‘Isn’t she a stripper!’ that would be great.” He smiled at us for a split second and then, with a look of concern at the shine the lights were leaving on my nose, he yelled, “Can we get make-up in here?”

Ah, the joys of Reality TV. The final day of shooting for the pilot is yet to come, the elimination. My question to you all is: “Should I go?”

—Amy Bernays