Arcmanoro Niles: You Know I used to Love You but Now I Don’t Think I Can: There Ain’t No Right Way to Say Goodbye Again
November 9, 2022 – January 7, 2023
Arcmanoro Niles begins each work of art with a problem he wants to solve. His skill as a painter is technical, his intention deeply personal. In his exhibition, You Know I Used to Love You but Now I Don’t Think I Can: There Ain’t No Right Way to Say Goodbye Again, he presents his ongoing investigation into what might seem like a forgone question: how can one articulate feeling in place of meaning?
His inquiry is refreshing considering the sea of arts practitioners emphasizing the need for meaning to be anchored in constitutional foresight. Rather, Niles connects the dots between commentary and interpretation by presenting a collection of works that prioritize emotional intelligence. While the subject matters rendered are as commonplace as most of his peers, there is an authenticity to his work that cannot be relegated to politics or institutional appeasement. These pieces harness a quiet rupture in form and color.
Complex materiality coupled with the artist’s signature majestic palette activates the senses, thrusting forward themes of love and loss. Robust shades of pink, purple, and orange bounce around the gallery, starting and ending with a solitary entrant painting called I Don’t Keep Liquor Here (I’ve Been Learning How To Do It All The Hard Way) (all works 2022). Niles has embraced and disrupted the canonical still life with this work. In place of the traditional depiction of nature’s bounty, he has painted an assortment of processed foods on a magenta desk and serving tray. As the title suggests, there is no sign of alcohol, alluding to the artist’s recent abstinence from it. However, the symbolic trope of memento mori persists. The pantry items are open but carefully arranged, revealing a life lived, or at least, a journey through it.
Growing Up May Be The Hardest Thing I Do (Healing Doesn’t Happen In A Straight Line) carries on the exploration of life in shades of fuchsia. It echoes the artist’s ongoing investigation into an identity paradox: how and why people become who they are. Here, the artist has positioned a figure hunched over, shirtless, on a modest couch. He looks older than his years. His glittered hair and illuminated gold frame become the focal point of this contemplative moment, where notes of masculinity and vulnerability overcome the subject itself.
Inherent intimacy perpetuates a heightened sense of awareness within Niles’s portraits. The two small paintings of women in the exhibition are no exception. In a style much like Egon Schiele, the figures are fragmented; the only thing illustrated to perfection is their skin. All other aspects are sketched or merely implied; a sort of improvisation that highlights the artist’s hand to a degree not felt elsewhere in this body of work.
Niles demonstrates it is possible to impart impressions of melancholia with vibrant hues in his monumental landscape, Always Had Me Under Your Spell (Some Things Ain’t Meant To Stay The Same). Rather than designating a distant memory to muted tones, the painting borrows the color story of a Rothko with a cast of pinks cutting across a cobalt harbor and sky. Even though the work mirrors a very real place, the location actually matters little. It is an invitation to share feelings of separation and reflection. This paradigm is further underscored by its title. Its reference to change is mounted by the fact that nature never looks the same way twice.
Idolisms over change and the reflexiveness of time seem fortuitous in many paintings. The artist has created environments that foster these as collective emotions and thoughts. However, fate feels finite and solitary in the portrait Living With a Broken Heart Made It Difficult When I was Young and Bullet Proof (It’s Easier To Miss You Than It Is To Let You Down). It is a painting of Niles’s father in the final years of his life: a wheelchair bound man holds his face in his hands, purple glittered eyebrows poke through his fingers. He is situated outside a hospital room, wearing blues and greens.
The works in You Know I Used to Love You... suggest a significant evolution for the artist. The landscape and still life are infrequent subject matter, his notorious seeker characters are absent, and the titles are more explicit. There is less focus on the actualities of everyday life and a greater emphasis on quotidian emotion. Further, Living With a Broken Heart, stands apart from the others on view. While bold in color, it is exceptional in its simplistic realism. It doesn’t have many flourishes, but its intensity is palpable. This is reinforced by the title, which alludes to the multiplicity of emotions had whilst living through the passing of his father. The work honestly points to the artist’s interest in exploring those critical identity defining moments; it reflects the questions he asks at the onset of a new work, a study of love and loss.