Dimensions: 8 x 5 1/2 in
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.