Interviews

Meet the NYC Art Community: Arcmanoro Niles Is Reveling in Uncertainty

An interview series spotlighting New York’s creative community. Hear directly from artists, curators, and art workers about their current projects and personal quirks.

Artist Arcmanoro Niles (image courtesy Lehman Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London)

Welcome to the 11th edition of Meet the NYC Art Community. With the weather starting to turn chillier again, the subject of domestic space has been top of mind for me. My internet search history is riddled with queries about home improvement and gardening, as I brace myself for a winter that will likely entail more time staring at my walls than usual.

For DC-born painter Arcmanoro Niles, such considerations of the mundane and domestic always sit front and center. His canvases reflect a deep interest in conveying the intimacy of private space and teasing out what their characteristics can reveal about their inhabitants. Rendered in his trademark palette of pinks, purples, and oranges, Niles’s sumptuous paintings of friends and family also nod to closely held desires, evinced through his inclusion of spindly, trickster-like figures he calls “seekers.” As Niles describes them, these figures “are more impulsive, chasing whatever they think will make them happy in that moment, with no fear of consequence, while the human subjects are more vulnerable and open with their feelings.” Positioned in frame but never quite part of the action, the seekers prompt the viewer to wonder what hidden desires we may not be seeing but are still contending with in some way.

Niles holds degrees from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the New York Academy of Art. His work has been presented in solo exhibitions at UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles; Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York; Long Gallery, New York; and Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY; and has been included in group exhibitions such as Young, Gifted, and Black, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art, Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY; and Afrocosmologies: American Reflections, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. Additionally, his work is in the collections of institutions including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY; the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona; and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.

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Arcmanoro Niles, “The Nights I Don’t Remember, the Nights I Can’t Forget” (2018), oil, acrylic, and glitter on canvas,
72 x 70 inches (image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London)

Where do you consider home?

I consider both New York and DC as home. Most of my family is in DC, where I was born, but now I have lived in New York longer than any other place.

What brought you to New York/what has made you stay?

I first moved to New York to attend grad school at the New York Academy of Art. I stayed here mostly for the art: the museums, the galleries… If it wasn’t for the art, I’d probably disappear and live in a small hillside town close to the woods — or at least that is what I tell myself.

Tell me about your first memory of art.

That’s a tough question for me. I grew up watching anime and Bob Ross and that was art for me. I was so fascinated at how someone could start with a straight line and eventually have something so complicated and lifelike. I would spend entire days drawing things like Dragon Ball Z, just trying to get it right — though I never could. But if we are talking about paintings, the first artist that captured my fascination the same way was Mark Rothko. I love how he could get so much emotion by using color.

Arcmanoro Niles, “Never Knew What Little Time We Had (I Lost The Nameless Things)” (2019), oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 57 x 78 inches (image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London)

How would you describe your practice?

A lot of it is pretty intuitive, especially when it comes to the color, the construction of the composition, and how I want it to feel. A lot of my references come from old family photos or pictures I take myself with my cell phone or a point and shoot camera. I’m always thinking about how the painting will come out to the viewer so I use quite a bit of reflective paints and shiny materials like glitter. But I think that, at the end of the day, I am a painter who is interested in color and stories that talk about who we are. Little moments that give us a glimpse into what life feels like.

What are you working on currently?

I am just at the beginning of a new group of paintings, for my next show in NYC at Lehmann Maupin, opening June 2021. In a lot of ways I don’t know quite what I’m doing yet, which is exciting for me, because right now it’s just me and it’s just mine for awhile and there is something beautiful and special about that to me.

Arcmanoro Niles, “I Guess By Now I’m Supposed To Be A Man (I’m Just Trying To Leave Behind Yesterday)” (2020), oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 60 x 72 inches (image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London)

Creatively speaking, what keeps you up at night and what makes you get out of bed in the morning?

It’s kind of funny the same thing that keeps me up at night is what gets me up in the morning. Once I start painting, I really don’t do anything else. But there have been a few TV shows lately that I watch at the end of the night that inspire me and that I think are really beautiful, complex, and try to be specific about an experience — and how that experience can affect a person, Lovecraft Country, 3%, and This Is Us to name a few.

What are you reading currently?

At the moment I’m not reading anything, but I have been listening to How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones on Audiobook.

What is your favorite way of experiencing art?

Typically, I like going to a museum or gallery alone, usually on a day and time when not many people are around. I like being able to go as slow or as fast as I need and not have to worry.

Favorite exhibition you’ve seen in the last year?

My favorite exhibition that I saw in 2019 was Tiona Nekkia McClodden‘s Hold on, let me take the safety off, at Company Gallery.

Arcmanoro Niles, “Show Me I’m Not Shattered (Try To Ignore The Elephant Somehow)” (2020), oil, acrylic, and glitter on canvas, 66 x 81 inches (image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London)

In the creative circles you’re part of, what questions do you want to see more people asking?

Honestly, I think everything is being questioned now and should be. I can’t think of anyone that I know personally that isn’t asking for things to change and asking how they can help and support others. To me, I think that is a real question, how can we be there for others in a real and helpful way, and not just what we assume is needed? Even in what just seems like the small stuff is being looked at differently, like a text or phone call.

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