Romare Bearden once said, “You don’t paint what you see, you paint what you feel. Art is the soul of a people.” In vibrant lively colors depicting scenes of daily life, Arcmanoro Niles captures the essence of his close friends and family in painstaking detail. His latest works, produced over the course of the past year and now on view at Lehmann Maupin in Hey Tomorrow, Do You Have Some Room For Me: Failure Is A Part Of Being Alive, reflect on life amid a pandemic. Figurative paintings, still lifes, and a single landscape painting draw our attention to ordinary everyday moments.
In “We Knew Sometimes This Is How Love Goes (If My Wish Came True It Would’ve Been You)” (2021), a lone woman sits on a couch in a desolate domestic setting, her green sweater blending almost seamlessly into the furniture. Expertly painted folds and cushion creases illuminate the separation. Like many of the figures in Niles’s works on view, the woman stares back at the viewer — quiet, somber, and reflective, with eyes full of intensity. The title, suggestive of emotional loss, builds on the overarching themes present in Niles’s latest works. The banal realities of daily life — grieving lovers, the unexpected birth of a child, and subsequently, the joys of fatherhood — are all depicted. Here, the artist shares intimate, autobiographical experiences, creating a visual archive of his life by painting friends and family. From depictions of his mother to his closest friends, Niles’s works illustrate a willful vulnerability to ruminate on the profound relationships in his life.
The titular landscape painting — Niles’s first since his college years — is rendered in his signature electric palette. Searing magentas and rich blues fill the canvas. Drawing on numerous influences — Dutch baroque painting, Color Field painting, ancient Egyptian sculpture, Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, to name a few — Niles has created a style all his own. His works portray almost exclusively men, women, and children of color, rendering their skin in glimmering, contrasting tones of gold and brown. With elegant brush strokes, Niles articulates flesh subtly, painting layer by thin layer. Skin tones take on a gem-like quality while clear varnish saturates canvases with a glossy finish. Quiet moments of reflection are rendered with glitter and bright, flashy colors, lending a striking, fantastical quality to each figure. Niles prompts the viewer to reflect on significant questions of love, loss and failure, and the innately human emotions we all experience.
Arcmanoro Niles: Hey Tomorrow, Do You Have Some Room For Me: Failure Is A Part Of Being Alive continues at Lehmann Maupin (501 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through August 28.