‘Royal Flush’: Artist Nina Chanel Abney Debuts in Los Angeles at Two Museums

 

IN A 2008 PAINTING, Nina Chanel Abney brought together the seemingly disparate images of her friend Randal, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a pack of dogs, and Michael Vick, the NFL player who was serving 21 months in prison for participating in dog fighting, when the work was made.

Titled “Randaleeza,” the work exemplifies Abney’s multifaceted approach to narrative figure painting. She draws on her own interests, the latest news, Google searches, and compelling text with multiple meanings to tell visual stories about the complex social dynamics of urban living.

None of her works are straight forward. She may have a fixed idea about a painting, but if it is going in “one direction, too much,” she says, “I’ll put a word in just to throw a viewer off in a different direction, or punctuation to guide the viewer in a certain way.” Regardless of her perspective, Abney hopes and assumes the viewer has their own interpretation.

None of her works are straight forward. She may have a fixed idea about a painting, but if it is going in “one direction, too much,” she says, “I’ll put a word in just to throw a viewer off in a different direction, or punctuation to guide the viewer in a certain way.”

This fall, museum goers in Los Angeles have the opportunity to engage with a broad selection of her work. A 10-year survey, “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” is her first-ever solo museum exhibition. It is also her first museum show in Los Angeles, where it is being presented jointly at the California African American Museum (CAAM) and the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (ICA LA) through Jan. 20, 2019.

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Untitled (Yo 123),” 2015 (unique ultrachrome pigmented print, spray paint, and acrylic on canvas, 56 × 56 inches / 142.24 × 142.24 cm). | Private collection. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 

ABNEY WAS BORN IN CHICAGO and lives and works in New York. “Royal Flush” features 30 paintings, watercolors, and collages dating from her last year at Parsons, where she earned her MFA, through 2017. Her early works, such as “Randaleeza,” were executed in a painterly style. In recent years, her work has transformed, becoming much more graphic, defined by an onslaught of shapes and symbols, reflecting the fast-paced, media-driven reality of contemporary life. Throughout her oeuvre, which conjures both Robert Colescott and Stuart Davis, bold color has been a constant.

Today, Saturday, Sept. 29, Abney is in conversation with Naima Keith, deputy director and chief curator of CAAM, and Jamillah James, curator at ICA LA. The artist and curators are discussing “Royal Flush” and the themes that emerge in Abney’s work. The 1 p.m. talk is at CAAM.

In the catalog published to accompany the exhibition, James conducts a lengthy, wide-rangng interview with Abney. They discuss how she navigated her MFA program, how the composition of her paintings comes together, her desire to do more black-and-white paintings, and the importance of ambiguity and not being boxed into one area or topic, such as police brutality.

“My goal for every painting, no matter what subject, is to keep it neutral enough where all perspectives could be brought in and represented,” the artist said. “That’s why I started creating the figures in a way where you might not tell if it’s a man or a woman, or you couldn’t really place one label on a figure, and the painting wouldn’t give you a definite story. I would start to combine male with female, black and white, you couldn’t just say it was one thing specifically.”

Abney talked about “Randaleeza,” which is on view at ICA LA. She said: “It was kind of fun for me to create—to pull from all these sources and make one painting that seems to have a cohesive narrative. But when you dismantle it, it’s coming from a bunch of different sources.”

In her follow up response, James captured the essence of Abney’s body of work at-large. She said, “There’s a timeliness and a timelessness, which I think is something that art contends with in order to escape a feeling of datedness.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Randaleeza,” 2008 (acrylic on canvas, 90 × 94 inches / 228.6 × 238.76 cm). | Private collection. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 

READ MORE about Nina Chanel Abney’s storied painting “Class of 2007” on Culture Type

 

BOOKSHELF
“Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” accompanies the artist’s 10-year survey organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The fully illustrated catalog features written contributions by Marshall N. Price, Richard J. Powell, Natalie Y. Moore, Sarah Schroth, and a conversation with Abney conducted by Jamillah James.

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Mad 51st,” 2012 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches / 101.6 x 76.2 cm). | Collection of Jeanne Williams and Jason Greenman. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Thieves Guild in Oblivion,” 2009 (acrylic on canvas, 55.5 x 67 inches / 140.97 x 170.18 cm). | Private collection. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Null and Void,” 2009 (acrylic on canvas, 77.5 × 45 inches / 196.85 × 114.3 cm). | Collection of Harris Mehos (T’82). Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Untitled (FUCK T*E *OP),” 2014 (acrylic on canvas, 72 × 108 inches / 182.88 × 274.32 cm). | Collection of Kamaal Fareed. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Forbidden Fruit,” 2009 (acrylic on canvas, 67 × 77.5 inches / 170.2 × 196.9 cm). | Collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Warren Brandt and anonymous gift, by exchange. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 


NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “First and Last,” 2012 (acrylic and cut paper collage on paper, 38 × 51 inches / 96.52 × 129.54 cm). | Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Anonymous gift. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion. © Nina Chanel Abney

 


From left, Installation view of NINA CHANEL ABNEY’s Untitled (IXI Black)” (2015) and “Catfish” (2017). | Courtesy Nasher Museum of Art

 

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