For the 2023 iteration of West Bund, Perrotin Shanghai is pleased to present a solo booth of new works by American artist Nikki Maloof, marking her first presentation within the gallery program in Asia. For Nikki Maloof, painting is a way to convey the experience of existing in the world—the light, the dark, and all the shadows in between. Her language is figuration: she started out with portraits of individual animals, progressing onto still lifes and, most recently, domestic interiors and landscapes populated with a mix of creatures—human and non-human; alive, dead, and inanimate.
The paintings begin simply, often catalyzed by a basic formal painting idea. Maloof upsets familiarity and dodges clichés by treating areas of the canvas disparately, allowing patterns and textures to exist side by side. Her painting process is a search for and then encouragement of the points where paint overwhelms subject. When this happens, time falls away and unexpected things are unearthed, things that are necessarily unplanned and unnamable, and that seem intrinsic to the material itself.
The subjects in Maloof’s painting, on one level, have an everyday familiarity. Indeed, they are in many instances collected from Maloof’s immediate environment: for the past few years, her house and studio in rural Massachusetts. But the resulting depictions, however vivid, never feel quite real. The colors are bright, the shapes cartoonish, the compositions often implausible. Everything is emotionally charged. Looking at these canvases is like looking at a series of dreams, governed by a mysterious logic, their characters and events freighted with ambiguous symbolism.
Whether taking the form of conventional still lifes or more expansive house-and-garden scenes, Maloof’s coded pictures make clear reference to the conventions of Western religious vanitas painting, with its representations of physical objects—flowers, food, skulls—to symbolize the transience of earthly pleasures. The idea for Maloof’s recent paintings hatched last spring, when one morning the artist stumbled upon the birth of a fawn near her home, and later that day witnessed the body of a recently deceased neighbor being removed from his home. She decided that she wanted to capture the weight of being made simultaneously aware of the beginning and the end of life, as well as the tension between the mundane and extraordinary. In such moments it becomes clear that, despite the universality of their themes, Maloof’s paintings are a vision of the world as seen through the eyes of a singular artist.
Born in 1985 in Peoria, Illinois, USA
Lives and works in South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA
Nikki Maloof’s paintings depict the world hidden within the mind. Imagined interiors and animals become proxies for the human experience. Her subjects convey existential loneliness, but that loneliness is buoyed by humor, capricious paint handling, and the use of a saturated palette. A squiggle depicting ground meat, a cat’s meow being mistaken for a howl, or a comically disillusioned fish being filleted before our eyes, all draw the viewer’s attention to the melancholic and at times brutal tone of the imagery. At the same time, the paint handling and colors attempt to undermine the dark nature of these images altogether. This self-defeating melodrama points to an ambivalent view of existence, a need to laugh and cry even at once.
The paintings begin simply, often catalyzed by a basic formal painting idea. Maloof upsets familiarity and dodges cliché by treating areas of the canvas disparately, and by allowing patterns and textures to exist side by side. Her painting process is a search for and then encouragement of the points where paint overwhelms subject. When this happens, time falls away and unexpected things are unearthed, things that are necessarily unplanned and unnamable, and that seem intrinsic to the material itself.