Nina Chanel Abney: A Punch of Color, Politics and Heat

Nina and I in her Jersey City studio.  All photos by Peter Koloff

Nina and I in her Jersey City studio.  All photos by Peter Koloff

When I first saw in person the work of Nina Chanel Abney at the Untitled Art Fair in 2013, I was stunned, not only because of how compelling is the work itself, but also because I had never seen it before. How did I miss this extraordinary artist who fearlessly uses the most daring color combinations and explores race, politics, morality and sex so beautifully?  Well, in part the mystery was solved when I learned that her gallery, Kravets Wehby, had represented Nina since 2007 but that was their first year ever attending a Miami fair.  The second part of the mystery came to a resolution when a few months after, I realized that I had put a post-it on the page featuring Nina in the Vitamin P Book published by Phaidon in 2011 – I had noticed her work years ago and somehow got sidetracked- luckily that’s not the case anymore.   

While Nina’s paintings have a lot of to do with things that are happening currently, whereas it is racial conflict or social tension, she never really tells much.  She prefers that the audience gets pulled in by her work, and people should figure it out and create their own interpretations.  She’s an intuitive painter who doesn't think much before starting a new work, and magically she layers fluid compositions that incorporate geometry, typography, portraits and symbols in the coolest way.

Her house in Jersey City also serves as a studio, and she has plenty of room all over the house to work in big and small canvases at the same time.  I loved seeing that just like her paintings, she also lives surrounded by colorful, quirky things. 

And she has had very busy seasons that are about to get even more hectic starting with two group shows coming up: one at Danese Corey Gallery opening on February 13, a second one at Friedman Benda that opens on February 26.  She also will travel to Brazil for a month-long residency supported by Galeria Rabieh, which will culminate with a solo show at the gallery around mid-April. After her return, her work will be shown at a benefit exhibition curated by Wangechi Mutu at Gladstone Gallery and in the fall, she will have a group show of large paintings at Kravets Wehby.

Visiting Nina in the middle of the winter is like having an Indian Summer, or a heat wave in January: a very welcomed, pleasant and vibrant boost of energy in a much needed moment.  And I'm excited to see everything that 2016 will bring for Nina.