Nina Chanel Abney’s Neon exhibit
Nina Chanel Abney's art on view (Photo by Addiel Perera, WPB Magazine)

There were some kind of party going on at the New Norton‘s Neon exhibit by New Yorker Nina Chanel Abney, who depicts strip clubs and bikini bashes where wild graphics abound. Her characters, rendered in flat, geometric shapes, cavort and sprawl in scenes that become shockingly more bizarre the longer you look at them.

Nina Chanel Abney is no stranger to controversy, having once painted her classmates at art school as black inmates while she became the blonde-haired jailer.

The main large painting in the Neon exhibit —all the works are untitled— read almost like a graphic novel with five scenes strung together, separated by lurid yellow lines. Yes, those are strippers crawling on stages, giving lap dances and serving up cocktails in the new Norton gallery. Money signs float in the air and lay on tables, because that’s what makes the x-rated world go around.

Gender fluidity permeates another work that mixes black and white people’s body parts together for a confusing picnic as small American flags, phallic symbols, and maybe even a suspicious certain red trucker hat float around the outdoorsy scene. Riffing on French Impressionism, this updated scene is bizarrely joyful.

An adjacent painting is even more confusing as babes in orange bikinis sport mustaches and kick balls around against a black and white checkered floor while waving their arms in the air.

What is going on here?

Nina Chanel Abney’s Neon exhibit
Nina Chanel Abney’s art on view (Photo by Addiel Perera, WPB Magazine)

Abney may never tell, she addresses racial inequality, gender discrimination and injustices using representation and abstraction. Inspired by Romare Bearden, Stuart Davis and the sharp-edged cut outs of Henri Matisse, she provokes and confronts.

In a recent interview Abney says her inspirations comes from “so much information that comes at an individual during the course of a day… I may read the paper, get on the internet and browse through YouTube, my Facebook timeline, look at Twitter, watch the news, watch Bravo, VH1, read gossip blogs, listen to music, and do this all while talking on the phone and texting, so it’s ‪impossible for me not to cover a multitude of topics. I’m living in an age of information overload.”

A modern girl living in a post-modern world.

She says her visual language “kinda found me” as she speeds through the urban jungles of New York City and Brooklyn and her hometown of Chicago—all cities that deliver visual overload daily. She says she is “more interested in mixing disjointed narratives and abstraction and finding interesting ways to obscure any possible story that can be assumed when viewing my work. So, I don’t necessarily aim to send out a particular message, rather I want the work to provoke the viewer to come up with their own message.”

Abney treats the canvas “like a journal in that it’s a place where I can release any concerns, emotions, and just the different thoughts swirling around in my head in general.” If the images leave viewers confused, that’s okay.

Nina Chanel Abney’s Neon exhibit
Nina Chanel Abney’s art on view (Photo by Addiel Perera, WPB Magazine)

For Abney, each painting starts with a general idea that’s usually sparked by a dream, conversation, or experience. “From there,” says Abney, “I go straight to the canvas and start working, gathering reference material as needed. I work strictly from intuition. Nothing is planned. I knows it’s finished when there comes a point when I’m working where I just don’t think there is anything else I can or should add.”

Then it’s up to viewers to figure out the messages in this off-the-wall party.

Abney was born in the windy city of Chicago and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work is included in collections worldwide including the Brooklyn Museum, The Rubell Family Collection in Miami’s Wynwood,The Bronx Museum, and Hong Kong. The Neon exhibition at the Norton museum of Art is curated by Cheryl Brutvan, Director of Curatorial Affairs, and is accompanied by a publication.

To visit the museum for new exhibits, check their website www.norton.org/exhibitions for dates, hours and admission. Neon is the seventh exhibition of RAW—Recognition of Art by Women.