Thursday 17 November, 6-8pm
Of Bronze–and Blaze–
So adequate–it forms–
So preconcerted with itself–
So distant to alarms—
And Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me–
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty–
Till I take vaster attitudes–
And strut upon my stem–
Disdaining men, and
For arrogance of them–
My splendors, are
But their Completeless
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An island in dishonored
Whom none but Beetles–
“Of Bronze and Blaze”
Emily Dickinson (1830–86)
There’s a comfort in Nikki Maloof’s paintings, like an oldies song that your grandparents used to play, but it resonates as a bittersweet memory because they have both passed away. The song is undeniably upbeat but when you hear it, it brings you back to summers picking weeds with your grandma in her backyard garden. There’s a vividness to these memories – smells and colors which may or may not have really existed, like a waking dream. You never fully appreciated those quiet moments with her and now that you can, you can’t tell her. This is what it feels like to be a person; human emotion is complicated and filled with dichotomies. The past, present and future coalesce and collapse into real and imagined feelings and expectations, and that uncanny human experience acts as a well of inspiration for Maloof’s semi-narrative world of magical realism.
The sweetness and familiarity of Maloof’s bright palette and cartoonish animal subject matter dodge cliché and a saccharine reading by way of their emotional introspection as well as vigorously dynamic painting techniques. The stylistic language of this work is the language of happiness, and yet the emotive tone of her characters thwarts a sense of ignorant bliss. While the cartoon world is generally a symbol of carefreeness and perhaps optimism, comedy or the cartoonishly implied are often devices to help us deal with the darkest sides of life. Here the bizarre, psychedelic tonality adds tension and that tension is the nuanced experience of life.
In the second room of the gallery, emotion is captured acutely within the artist’s sixteen small graphite drawings. These subjects arecontemplative and alone. The energetic transience of life captured in the dynamic process of drawing and an emotional register is perhaps distilled by their small and monochromatic format. Much like the paintings, in these works a human presence, if not explicit, is always alluded to. Maloof’s animal subjects force us to confront our own human animal-ness and once we cross through her uncanny mental threshold, the viewer can see that these animate beings are vessels for human experience.
In their reflective, sometimes disillusioned and melodramatic states, Maloof’s subjects exemplify the range of emotions that define the human experience. They are nuanced creatures, typically painted alone and often portrayed in an isolated outside world in opposition to interior warmth or from a distanced vantage point.
These imagined subjects dwell in psychological tension, which is enhanced or reinforced by the artist’s energetic and capricious paint handling. In order to preserve the energy and impulsiveness of the process, the works are often executed in a single setting with as much intensity as possible. These compositions are painted with one foot in a cartoon world and one foot heavily indebted to the traditional language of painting in technique and subject. “Loner” suggests clear homages to the symbolically-loaded devices of traditional Dutch and Flemish still life painting – a reminder that change and death are inescapable; a fish is rendered with specificity and exists alongside a more amorphous cartoonish skull. The disparate handling of the paint by the artist also jars the viewer by encouraging areas where competing textures exist side by side and enable points where the paint overwhelms the subject.The juxtaposition is a receptacle for a truer experience of the world. There’s a freedom or fluidity to different visual languages here, where all of these things can coexist, much like the subject matter at hand.
The disparate subject matter; a tiger and a still life for instance, can live together in Maloof’s world. This world is not quite fantasy and not quite reality, where everything is slightly distorted by its enhancement. Imagined portraits, landscapes and animals become proxies with the depth of melancholy, buoyed by humor. The ‘big questions’ are provoked and undermined simultaneously. Maloof’s self-defeating devices point to a need to laugh and cry all at once. The vanitas portrayed in the works, much like in Emily Dickinson’s poem, express the timelessness of this experience – the menagerie of emotion undermined by the ambivalent understanding of one’s inevitable mortality.
Nikki Maloof, (b.1985, Peoria, IL) lives and works in Brooklyn. Recent exhibitions include The Great Figure Two at The Journal Gallery, Brooklyn, Imagine at Brand New Gallery, Milan, Let's Get Figurative at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York, Tiger Tiger at Salon 94, New York, Undertonk and Friends at Undertonk, New York, Please Excuse Our Appearance at 247365, New York, and Immediate Female at Judith Charles Gallery, New York. The artist has also recently participated in Buying Friends: The Kortman Collection at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Dont Look Now at Zach Feuer, New York and Do The Yale Thing at the N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit. The artist has received several awards, most recently the Helen W. Winternitz Award in Painting and Printmaking and the Gloucester Landscape Prize. Maloof will participate in an upcoming exhibition at The Pit in Los Angeles.
Maloof received her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Indiana University in 2008 and Master’s degree from Yale University in 2011.
New York Times Review of Nikki Maloof's After Midnight Exhibition at Jack Hanley Gallery, 2016
New York Magazine Review of Nikki Maloof's After Midnight Exhibition at Jack Hanley Gallery, 2016
WMagazine on Nikki Maloof's After Midnight Exhibition at Jack Hanley Gallery, 2016