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Whitewall recently met with artist Nir Hod to walk through his current exhibition “Once Everything Was Much Better Even the Future” at the Paul Kasmin Gallery. For his latest works, Hod uses new subject matter and materials to address themes such as beauty and destruction and the pursuit of sinful desire and the sublime. Here, he answers some questions about sources of inspiration and new artistic methods.
WHITEWALL: The title of your exhibition, “Once Everything Was Much Better Even the Future,” seems almost nostalgic to me. What was the thought process behind this title and how does it relate to the pieces in the show?
NIR HOD: The title is based on what everyone is always saying, “Oh, everything used to be so much better.” It usually refers to something specific like people, the economy, values, or relationships. But I think the problem is more about life in general; it’s when we desire something, but when we get it we realize it was so much better in our mind.
I was watching a video explaining how everything was much better in regards to communication and what life could offer you. I wrote the sentence “Once everything was much better” with a brush on the wall and I liked the look of this sentence because the wall was a bit dirty and there was something very nostalgic about it. Two days later, I was working and I heard some song from the 90s and I thought, I want to be young again. When you are young, the future always looks better. After I had this thought, I added the phrase “even the future” and it changes this sentiment of “Once everything was much better” from something nostalgic into something intellectual, cynical, and problematic.
WW: The paintings in the series “I Want Always to be Remembered in Your Heart” are similar to one of your previous exhibitions “Genius” in the way they convey this menacing, yet alluring and beautiful subject matter. Could you elaborate on your choice in subject matter with the flowers and the flames?
NH: “Genius” and “Mother” take something very ordinary and twist it to give it a new perspective. Flowers represent something very simple, but they make such a strong statement in terms of life and death. I really liked the idea of flames—it’s a form of vandalism. It’s so powerful to see something so impressive become so fragile. I wanted to combine this into one piece. On one hand, the flowers depict how something very beautiful can be destroyed, but also how destruction can become something beautiful.
WW: You mentioned some events in recent history that influenced you, are there other specific historical moments that influenced your art?
NH: Definitely. The Holocaust, the Arab Spring, and September 11 are all moments that resonated with me. What I noticed is that there is so much compassion that comes out of this destruction; people put flowers on memorials and light candles in remembrance of people they have lost. Even through this destruction a light shines through, there is still this beauty and compassion. When I was working on the paintings I would look at other depictions of flames in art and they were always so destructive. While there is something very rough and masculine about my flames they are also very soft. They don’t overwhelm the flower—they live in a balance.
WW: In the series “The Back Room” you continue to play with the idea of light shining through darkness. What was your idea behind these paintings?
NH: I think everyone has this dark, backroom of sorts that they are drawn towards. Everyone wants to go into this backroom and some people are taken by it, but underneath this desire there is still a light that shines through. There is an underlying goodness in people.
WW: Right, and you can really see how you express that in this series by your use of materials and subject matter. Could you explain your experiences working with the chrome canvases?
NH: I had always included specific subject matter in my paintings, but I felt it just no longer worked for what I wanted to convey. These paintings are much less about depicting a particular subject and more about highlighting the audience of the paintings. I used stretched canvases that underwent a chroming process and then I painted them with a layer of matte black acrylic. I really like how viewers can see their reflection in the chromatic finish of the painting; it transforms the viewer into the subject matter.
WW: The centerpiece and namesake of the show is this huge snow globe containing an oil pump. What inspired this sculpture?
NH: I saw a documentary on CNN about current events going on in the world related to oil. I went to Holland and the minute I held a very simple snow globe, I said, “it would be so beautiful to put an oil pump in this.” It was an instinct. When I started to work on it, I thought the sentence “Once everything was much better even the future” was so beautiful for the snow globe because it represents everything. It’s about peaceful perfection; it’s something so beautiful you almost want to be there. It’s about fantasy, God, everything we can dream about, but at the same time it’s very untouchable and problematic.
WW: The series “All We Wish For, Let It Be” includes paintings of different subject matter. Could you begin by explaining the concept behind the painting of the shattered window?
NH: I like broken windows because they always create a story. It all started while I was working on a project in Brooklyn; I used to go to this industrial area and there were so many buildings with broken windows. I thought that it was so beautiful; I liked the vandalism behind it, like it could be some teenager breaking windows just for the noise or sight of it.
WW: How does the painting of the clouds next to the window work in juxtaposition to it?
NH: For me the clouds represent eternity. I was in Texas and I saw all this perfect life, and I thought it was so beautiful to have these two ways to look at life: one is this sublime sky and another is this destructive view through broken windows. I like these works together because the clouds become something completely different next to the window. I would never put the clouds just by themselves. I need them to be in contrast with everything—the snow globe, the flowers, the window—they’re all layers that build together to create this title and narrative.
“Once Everything Was Much Better Even the Future” at the Paul Kasmin Gallery through October 25.