What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

March 12, 2020

Arcmanoro Niles
The Executive Condolence
UTA Artist Space
February 12 - March 14, 2020

Arcmanoro Niles

In Arcmanoro Niles' compelling exhibition, I Guess By Now I’m Supposed To Be A Man: I’m Just Trying To Leave Behind Yesterday, he presents beautifully painted quasi-representational narratives about the stages of life. When seen together, these lush and colorful works suggest a trajectory and the emotional journey from youth to adulthood. Most of the larger (three by six feet and up) paintings feature an African American male with pink, orange or green day-glow eyes and lips, and similarly toned eyebrows and hair, with glitter added. Never Knew What Little Time We Had (I Lost The Nameless Things), 2019, is a painting of a young boy, clothed in a plaid shirt and overalls, sitting in the center of model train set laid out on a living room floor on what appears to be Christmas morning. Everything in the realistically rendered painting has a blue-green cast except for the boy's nappy, florescent pink hair and eyebrows. This glow gives the work a surreal and other worldly aura. The title suggests the innocence of childhood and a longing for moments past, when there was ample time for imagination and play.

Niles often includes drawn linear elements he calls "seekers" layered over the painted scenes— cartoony line drawings define naked women in evocative and sexual positions. Niles' "seekers" disrupt the composition offering a counter narrative. These disruptions take two forms— outlined figures in violent or suggestive poses, in addition to stuffed animal toys that appear like sinister avatars. The pink toned painting, All Hero's Get Tired (I Should Have Took You Driving), 2019, depicts an elderly man seated on a chair in what appears to be a hospital-exam room next to an empty bed. This pensive man has raised eyebrows and short hair that are a combination of glitter and paint. He stares out into space, perhaps reminiscing about his past and all the things he should have done. The nondescript room, painted shades of red and pink has drawn vertical blinds, a bright pink back wall and a darker red-gray tiled floor with a naked seeker hunched over a prone body.

In Still Trying To Figure Out Forgiveness (So I Can Say This Is The Way That I Used To Be), 2020, a bearded man in his underwear and a bright pink tank-top slumps against a bathtub. A shower curtain, the same pink as his shirt in contrast with the yellow-green wall-tiles, is nested along the wall next to a bathroom vanity. The man's eyebrows, hair, mustache and beard are a lighter shade of pink and textured with glitter. A "seeker" in the form of a naked woman enters the frame on the lower left, although the man does not seem to notice her. On top of the vanity and extending beyond the left edge of the composition is a small cartoon-figure with long dreadlocks and a wide open mouth filled with glowing pink.

The layering of different styles and types of imagery creates an uncertain dialogue between real and imagined worlds. Niles' speaks about his "seekers" as impulsive creatures, doing whatever makes them happy in the moment, in contrast to the main figures who appear lost in thought, reflective and vulnerable. Not quite alter egos, the "seekers" infuse the paintings with an alternate narrative— suggesting hidden thoughts.

In addition to the narrative paintings, Niles also presents a series of small-scale portraits of friends and family members. Like the larger works, these are surreally colored and stylized. In each, the sitter's head fills the majority of the canvas. Their hair is a textured medley of pink or purple paint and glitter; their eyes and lips a contrasting tone of pink, green or orange. Niles' portraits convey a sense of trust as if each subject is at ease under Niles' scrutiny. Stylistically, these paintings are confrontational and charged, yet his subject matter is personal and intimate. These uncanny works have staying power and intrigue, resonating both formally and emotionally. They describe moments that could be, as well as have been, that stem from the heart and seemingly from personal experience.