Natalie Westbrook, Founding Editor, Lookie-Lookie
A virtuoso with color and a seemingly effortless application of thick paint using both brush and oil stick, painter Nikki Maloof also steers evocative and emotive subject matter. Whether animals or figures in landscape, or domestic still life tableau, theatrical lighting and careful composing invite mystery and intrigue to the otherwise familiar.
We recently spent an afternoon together on the beach, where I was fortunate to meet her beautiful new four month old daughter, and shoot the breeze about painting, studio life and motherhood, and Nikki’s upcoming solo debut at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York City.
Natalie Westbrook: Congratulations on your upcoming show at Jack Hanley Gallery. In the past, you've showcased the touch of your hand through an overt painterly style, creating images of quiet solitude, often inhabited by sympathetic characters, and contemplative moments in the every day. Can you tell us about the subjects and themes you’ll be exploring for this show?
Nikki Maloof: For this show I’ve been focusing on animal subjects. I got hooked on the animals at first as an effort to find a new way of dealing with the figure. They demand different color and mark-making choices, which excited me. Animals have fascinated me all my life. There are so many amazing creatures out there! I am fascinated by our desire to project meaning and symbolism onto them. They slowly became symbols of my own experiences and so it made sense that they become the messengers of my paintings.
I also became interested in creating binary experiences within the works. The bright color is at odds with the lonesomeness found in the subjects. These dualities seem to speak to the existential turmoil that I think we are all drawn to.
NW: How do you consider your work’s relationship to other contemporary painters working with related imagery- say Alex Katz, or even Karen Kilimnik, or Allison Schulnik?
NM: I relate to them most directly in the way they handle paint. They are all painters I've been drawn to for their exceptional facility of mark making. I would look at their paintings trying to decipher what brushes they used or how they achieved a certain mark. That sort of thing really excites me. They also have a tendency to locate subjects that have a real directness and iconic feeling. Especially Katz and Kilimnic. That aspect of their work has had a big influence. I am always looking for subjects that carry that kind of visual strength that sticks in your head for days after.
NW: There’s a freshness and breath to your work that appears as though you’re working 'wet into wet’- starting and finishing a painting in one single session rather than over the course of multiple sessions. Katz for example talks about resting up and storing energy as preparation to ‘perform’ on the day he makes a large painting- likening his one shot process to live theater. Is this the case for you, and how long does it take for you to make a painting typically? How much do you rely on preparatory research, studies or drawings?
NM: I definitely relate to Alex Katz in that respect. Learning about how he makes his work really changed the way I thought about how a painting could be made. It opened up a completely new way of working for me. For a long time I held the belief that a painting needed to be toiled on and discovered through a long process of changes. I came to realize my natural tendency is to paint quickly with a lot of ferocity. I typically make a series of quick small-scale paintings and drawings and then taking the most successful and using them as a blue print. The large works can then be made in only a few quick sessions. I definitely feel like I have to prepare for making the big works. They require a lot of physicality and I have to have my mind clear and ready to do it. I love thinking about this experience relating to performance. It definitely feels that way to me. I love preparing for the painting event, getting all my supplies ready, and of course a good playlist. I take my studio rituals very seriously! And yet even if I have the blueprint ready and my rituals all in place, the painting has a mind of its own and you have to listen to it.
I also work a lot with collage and drawing. They are a place for me to slow down. I can be very meditative in a drawing and I often need that change in pace to discover new ideas. Paper gives me the chance to cut and paste, erase and move around elements until they are just right. The original photoshop!
NW: You made most of the work for your upcoming solo show while you were pregnant. How did pregnancy affect your process or thinking in the studio, if at all?
NM: It definitely affected me! I had to tap into my ferocious painting self and really work quickly since I had a lot to do to prepare for the baby. I also had to change my materials around for safety. Which was the only process change that happened.
Having her growing while I worked on the show was really very amazing. It was very empowering to feel like I was creating two things at once. Pregnancy is so strange and miraculous. It was hard to conceive that my body could do this all on its own. I found myself thinking a lot about our human relation to animals as I spent my hours painting creatures. Having a baby is the most animal thing we do. There is something very uncanny about that notion and I think it crept into the works for sure.
NW: Congratulations on the new addition to your family— you and your husband just welcomed your first baby into the world in June. You’re only a month into this new adventure, but do you have any inclinations yet as to how motherhood might influence you in the studio moving forward?
NM: No doubt it will have an affect on my studio although this early in the game, its hard for me to say logistically how things will change other than having to divide my time. For now I am getting used to working with significantly less sleep! I think for all the challenges motherhood might pose there are two sides to the coin. Like any life experience, my daughter will undoubtedly generate a lot of creative input for me. I’m definitely looking forward to funneling that into many paintings to come.
Nikki Maloof received her BFA in 2008 from Indiana University, and an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from the Yale School of Art in 2011. Recent exhibitions include The Great Figure Two at The Journal Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; 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; Immediate Female at Judith Charles Gallery, New York; and Imagine at Brand New Gallery, Milan. The artist has also recently participated in Buying Friends: The Kortman Collection at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI; Dont Look Now at Zach Feuer, New York; and Do The Yale Thing at the N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit, MI.
All images courtesy Nikki Maloof