Nikki Pelaez

About the work: 


Characteristic for Nikki Pelaez’ work is her extensive research for use of material. Videos, photos, but also ink, crayons and charcoal are being used to create work with a distinctive own identity around the theme innnocence (and losing it). By using several techniques she creates enigmatic work. Her work is full of contrasts - in content as well as in form and technique. Important themes are: attraction and rejection, tenderness and toughness, intimacy and estrangement.


Nikki gets inspired by her own photographs, and classic old paintings. She builds up her work on different layers, starting by combining and editing several pictures as in a collage. Subsequently she starts working with traditional media such as ink, watercolors, pastel, charcoal and crayons, looking for necessary and essential additions to complete her work. The linedrawings in white, black or red that are added as a final touch form a second layer over the picture, thereby creating a certain abstract estrangement. Thus she reaches an intense personal iconic language.


Nikki Pelaez’ work can alienate and at the same time become more intimate. Despite the abstract character of the original footage, the arrangement of layers and the editing, the tenderness of the original portrayal remains clearly visible in the final result. Making the human condition more extraordinary is crucial in her work. She magically turns around the ordinary into a special experience and thereby points out to us humans the special position we are in. Nikki seems to fit quite well into Lyotard’s poststructural body of thought; her completely autonomous style being a strong proof.

Nikki Pelaez (1969) studied at the academy of fine arts in Maastricht. Her work was nominated in 2002 for the "Gilbert de Bontridder-price". In 2003 she received a starters-stipend from the fund of fine arts and design in Amsterdam.


Nikki Pelaez grew up in Spain but now lives and works in Maastricht, the Netherlands.




Disturbing Beauty


There are some tasks in life which are a real challenge. For example, when your art gallery owner of choice calls you and says "There will be an exhibition of the works of Nikki Pelaez. Would you give the opening talk?" Right away your brain starts muttering: "Okay, I may have studied literature, but art is something completely different." But then the heart pipes up: "It's Nikki Pelaez." The brain continues muttering: "And now you own a wine shop, that has absolutely nothing to do with art." The heart persists, says "It's Nikki Pelaez." One last attempt on the part of the brain: "It is not even your mother tongue, how do hope to manage a talk like this in German?" But the heart says: "It is Nikki Pelaez, those are the works of Nikki Pelaez." And so I find myself standing here today.


The works of Nikki Pelaez fascinate me. They touch the deepest core of my being. That is the beginning. The question for me here today is: why? I am very grateful to Michael (the Gallery owner). Because I had to stand here today I spent a lot more time considering these works than I might have done otherwise. And it was worth it!

The more I studied the works of Nikki Pelaez, the more I thought about them, indeed the more I just let them impress themselves on me, the more I felt: these pictures are not from this world. These beings - and I use the word "beings" instead of "human being" on purpose - are not from this world. They come to us from other worlds, other spheres, perhaps other times.

In the world of Nikki Pelaez's works I sometimes find myself in the past, a past which is so far away that it is, in essence, a different world for us. These pictures from the past are clearly rural, they have nothing to do with our urban life. These beings know nothing about our 2.0 world. In this case, the main subjects seem to be a combination of icons (Russian images of saints), paintings of the Madonna, and the works of the Old Masters.

There is though another set of subjects which seem to find their way to us from the future. These are beings who are almost androgynous, whose body and head are covered with what looks like a wet suit. I am tempted to think of certain cold and sterile visions of the future such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or even the strange sterility which one finds at the heart of Star Trek. Here I see images which appear to be a curious mix of human and technology.


And then there are the figures who come to us from totally different worlds. They seem to be fantastic beings who belong neither to our past nor our future. The crouching child who is reminiscent of Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream; the woman with the head of a wolf who looks as if she comes to us from a fairy tale; the elf-like girl with a crow flying mysteriously past her, creating the impression that this image has some mythical significance. These figures all have something magical and enchanted about them, which has very little to do with our world.
What all three types have in common for me is their transcendence. They exist in a space between here and there, between now and "not now". They are not fully in our world, we only see them through a sort of veil. This impression has certainly something to do with the technique of Nikki Pelaez. The pictures are the result of many different steps, they are in the end the product of multiple layering. It starts with a image, which is then worked at and changed until it is almost no longer recognisable. This is then worked at again and changed again. This process goes on until the picture is done. And so, the original image sinks deeper and deeper, moves further and further away. As a result, the viewer has the feeling that these figures are always a few steps away from us. Try to catch hold of them, try to grasp them - it is like the attempt to grasp somebody who is lying under a surface of frozen ice on a pond.


They are not fully in our world - because they do not want to be fully in our world. They do not belong here. They only come so close to our world in order to call to us, they want us to follow them. They are like sirens, but they do not call with their voices - no, they call with their eyes. Take a close look at the eyes in Nikki Pelaez's pictures. They are like deep, dark pools into which we are supposed to dive, into which we want to dive. The eyes pull us in, invite us to immerse ourselves in them. And indeed, it is possible to lose yourself in these eyes.


Left at that, the pictures of Nikki Pelaez would be beautiful, indeed very beautiful. However, they would be "only beautiful". But they are not only beautiful - they are at the same time troubling. I am tempted to use here a German term which fits these works perfectly - these pictures are unheimlich schön, which can mean both "very beautiful" but also "uncannily or strangely beautiful," in the exact sense of uncanny or strange.


The pure and simple beauty is troubled in two different ways. First, an animal or an object - usually just as an outline - is painted over every finished subject. And this part of the picture changes everything. It makes each picture more complex, it is strange and troubling, with this addition both the beauty and the picture are rendered strange for us. It is also this part of the work which tells a story. Why is the Madonna-like figure holding a shrimp in her arms with such gentleness? Why is the one figure wearing a muzzle? Is the other figure trapped in her geometric form? And the women who have a fly or an ant on their forehead are surrounded by a scent of decay, perhaps even death I feel. I have my interpretation, and I think that every one of us must come to their own interpretation. Only in very rare cases - such as the Madonna with the outline of a dove before her - do the pictures with the addition remain simply beautiful. No, as a general rule they become troubling.

But the pure and simple beauty is disturbed in a second way. Take a look at these figures, at their expression. I search in vain for happiness. Sometimes I find a sense of calm, sometimes. But more often than not I see a pensiveness which usually drifts then towards sadness, perhaps even pain. While considering these faces I had to think about the poem Variation on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood in which she declares that in our dreams we travel to "the grief at the center of [our] dream, [...]the grief at the center" - in other words, the pain which resides in our deepest core. And here, at this point, I found my explanation for the pictures of Nikki Pelaez.

I claimed that these pictures come to us from another world. And for me this other world is the unconscious. Here everything comes together. The unconscious is past, future and worlds which do not exist. The unconscious is a world which appears to us as if though a layer of ice, which we reach for but which we can rarely fully grasp. The unconscious is a world which expresses itself in our dreams, in which the beautiful meets the uncanny and strange, where a woman may well hold a huge shrimp in her arms, where suddenly huge insects may crawl around on us, or the people we are speaking with all of a sudden have the face of a wolf or fox. These are images from the world of our dreams - and nightmares. The pictures of Nikki Pelaez make the unconscious visible for the moment we observe them. They bring "the grief at the center" for a moment almost to the surface - almost, but not quite. And it is in this moment that we then immerse ourselves - and that is uncannily beautiful.


I have not explained much to you today about the technique of Nikki Pelaez. I have also not told you about the relevance of these pictures within Dutch art history. I have only told you about the relevance of these pictures for one heart, for one person. But that is where art has to begin, without that art remains perhaps a dry, lifeless exercise. And so I invite you this evening to discover the works of Nikki Pelaez and perhaps even find out what their relevance is for you. Or to simply enjoy them.


For Nikki Pelaez, from Marc Colavincenzo, 13.06.2015 Wetzlar , Galerie Artherb