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Inside the mind of Nina Chanel Abney

Exploring the creative processes of artists featured in Vitamin P2
Portrait of the artist Nina Chanel Abney (left) and her work Randaleeza (2008), Acrylic on canvas, 228.5 x 233.5 cm (right)
Portrait of the artist Nina Chanel Abney (left) and her work Randaleeza (2008), Acrylic on canvas, 228.5 x 233.5 cm (right)


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Young American artist Nina Chanel Abney's brightly coloured canvases reassert the potential of figure painting in contemporary art.

Abney's figures often have a cartoon-like appearance and frequently seem to be frozen in various stages of bodily-transformations. She tackles complex issues including race and gender through a combination of autobiography, pop reference and storytelling.

In Randaleeza (2008) Abney brings together the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her friend in a dramatic narrative. Rice is pictured in a white bikini and army helmet, while Randal (the artist's friend) is set upon by a pack of fierce dogs; the two appear as part celebrity couple, part wartime antagonists.

Who are you?

A painter from Illinois, living in Jersey City and working in Manhattan.

What's on your mind right now?

A collage I just finished two minutes ago.  The mess I've made in my studio creating the collage. The 60 foot long painting that I'm currently working on. Sour Patch Kids. Masking figuration. Embracing Abstraction. Sleep.

Nina Chanel Abney, Ivy and the Janitor in January (2009), Acrylic on canvas, Diptych, 137 x 152.5 cm total
Nina Chanel Abney, Ivy and the Janitor in January (2009), Acrylic on canvas, Diptych, 137 x 152.5 cm total

How do you get this stuff out?

Each painting starts with a general idea that's usually sparked by a dream, conversation, or experience. From there I go straight to the canvas and start working, gathering reference material as needed. I work strictly from intuition. Nothing is planned.

How does it fit together?

I can't really explain it. There comes a point when I'm working where I just don't think there is anything else I can or should add. Then I leave the piece for a day or so, and come back to it one more time just to make sure there isn't something I've missed. At that point it's done.

What brought you to this point?

My rapid thoughts. I can't even tell you how many things run through my mind throughout the day.  I have to get them out somehow. Art is my release.

Nina Chanel Abney, Beauty in the Beast (2009), Acrylic on canvas, 139 x 169.5 cm
Nina Chanel Abney, Beauty in the Beast (2009), Acrylic on canvas, 139 x 169.5 cm

Can you control it?

As much as I would like to, no. When I try to control things, it never comes out as planned. And those are the paintings that I usually struggle with. The best work happens when I give in to my intuition and go with the flow.

What's next?

More painting, several shows, and a few surprises.

Get inside the mind of more artists from Vitamin P2 here:

Inside the mind of Stephen Bush 
Inside the mind of Glenn Sorensen
Inside the mind of Serban Savu
Inside the mind of Xylor Jane
Inside the mind of Ellen Altfest
Inside the mind of Antonio Ballester Moreno
Inside the mind of Milena Dragicevic
Inside the mind of Lesley Vance
Inside the mind of Li Shurui

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