Nathalie Karg Gallery is pleased to present Who’s That Girl?, an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by the Franco-American artist Nina Childress. This will be Childress’ first exhibition with the gallery and her first solo exhibition in the United States. The highly expressive and shockingly colorful works on view explore the nature of celebrity, nostalgia, and the often-troubled relationship between youth and beauty; particularly as these things pertain to women known for their image or pop cultural impact. Some of the faces gracing the gallery’s walls are easily recognizable, others are less obvious and therefore beg the question: who’s that girl?
Childress has always been drawn to faces. This is particularly true at this moment in the context of the pandemic, an era defined by feature obscuring mask wearing. The visages represented in this exhibition are mainly those of B-list celebrities of the 1970’s, perhaps not known to many now, but iconic to Childress in her youth. Chosen not for their celebrity, or perhaps lack thereof, but rather for their expressions and the moods they elicit, Childress’ work creates a snapshot of another time, brimming with feelings of warm nostalgia for the faces of her past that have now become altered due to the inevitable passage of time or perhaps some surgical intervention.
Apart from the monumentally scaled, and aptly named, Big Phillis, 2021 and the suite of lovingly crafted, wide-eyed elder actresses, the remainder of the paintings in Who’s That Girl? are rendered in phosphorescent paint. Childress has been using this medium since the 1980’s, inspired by the decade’s over-the-top club scene and the popularity of Day-Glo paint and fabrics. Now, Childress uses phosphorescent pigments to give a magical, transformative effect to her paintings. The phosphorescent paintings create a double image, an enduring theme throughout Childress’ venerated oeuvre. The first image the viewer sees is what the artist calls a “day” image, a first impression. However, once the lights are turned off and day turns to night, the phosphorescent pigments transform and bring forth the second heretofore hidden “night” scene. The paintings on view in this exhibition, such as Behind, 2021 and Pink Marcia, 2021 are rendered mostly in green and red phosphorescent pigment. Uniquely, The Australiens (phospho), 2021 makes strategic use of blue phosphorescent in the crotch of one man’s jeans. “The blue shines all night long” says Childress.
This kind of wry humor and the mixing of high and low are important aspects of Childress’ work. The latter is perhaps most evident in the bronze busts that populate the center of the gallery. Traditionally, the sculptural bust has been used to connote someone’s historical or cultural significance. Here, and with a sly play on words, Childress immortalizes more “lowbrow” figures such as pop stars and porn actresses, some with their own busts exposed, in this lofty sculptural format. As with the paintings on view, Childress’ bronzes explore the sometimes fine line between caricature and interpretive tribute to the women who have inspired her.
Nina Childress (b. 1961 in Pasadena, CA) is one of the most renowned and celebrated French painters of her generation, but before there was Nina Childress, there was Nina Kuss, muse of the French punk band Lucrate Milk. From 1985 to 1989 she joined the street artist collective Les Frères Ripoulin (1984-1988); significant members also included artists such as Pierre Huyghe and Claude Closky. Since the 1980s, Childress has dedicated herself to painting and to painting alone. Always reinventing herself and embracing all modes of representation Childress has explored painting in abstraction and hyperrealism, magnified everyday objects, and created introspective self-portraits. It is therefore not surprising to find a sincere and frank energy in her paintings, which often combine humor and provocation. Whatever their motif and size, her paintings are immediately identifiable by a seductive quality of color and the frequent use of fluorescent or phosphorescent pigments. Childress’ work has been shown nationally and internationally, most notably at MAMCO (Geneva), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Centre Régional d'Art Contemporain (Sète), Fondation d’entreprise Ricard (Paris), FRAC Limousin-Artothèque (Limoges), and Frac Nouvelle-Aquitaine MÉCA (Bordeaux), where she has a major retrospective on view through August 2022. In 2021, Nina Childress was nominated for the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her career in the arts.
Also in 2021, Childress released her monograph, 1081 Peintures, a chronological account of her entire body of work to date (1980-2021). The book is accompanied by a biography of Nina Childress written by Fabienne Radi. An English translation of Radi’s text is forthcoming.