Nino Mier Gallery is pleased to announce Coclopie, an exhibition of oil paintings and graphite drawings by Antwerp-based artist Nel Aerts. A series of paintings and drawings will on view in Brussels, Belgium from January 14 – February 17, 2023.
Coclopie – a word conjoining “oculus”, “cyclops”, and the bioluminescent deep sea creature “copepod” – names the one-eyed creatures emerging from Aerts’ new compositions. Each painting features a pared-down creature embedded within a striped pictorial plane. Aerts’ coclopie comprise only one eye, which cartoonishly peers to one side, and sometimes a torso or a single limb. Despite their painterly reduction, the artist still imbues some of her figures with charged emotionality, like the forlorn downward gaze of Self-doubt or the vacant stare of Camouflaging The Dark Clouds. Others are mute, both verbally and affectively. “The moment you think you glide into a sentimentality,” says Aerts, “you see that some figures have an erect penis coming out of their heads, assertively dancing in the sky.” Her humor and irreverence rears its head even within this newly economical approach.
Describing her process for Coclopie, Aerts said she felt the works becoming “something more like science fiction: how the world would look in an ancient future, when nothing is left, and we are reduced and obliged to become one with nature again.” The exhibition is therefore not only formally reductive, but also speculates around several other forms of reduction: the reduction of community, of lifeforms, and of personal agency.
A diminished sense of safety also pervades the works in the exhibition. Each figure is camouflaged with its environment, the picture plane. Camouflage is a tool of survival, and its omnipresence in Coclopie gives the works a sense of imminent danger, as lighthearted as the figures might otherwise seem. The camouflage makes the foreground and background of each work disappear into each other, leading viewers’ eyes back to the works’ minimal surfaces.
The series of graphite drawings featured in Coclopie are self-portraits of Aerts in front of her paintings. She depicts herself in a state of physical and emotional extremity: her limbs extend abundantly, her hands vibrate, her body twists and turns, and she yells, falls, pleads, and cries. “The drawings bring the exhibition back to me,” explains Aerts, “they’re self-deprecating, which is a necessity. They are a way for me to deal with my own vulnerability and the nightmare that is the painting process.” But through darkness comes a light. Like the self-generating light of the copepod, it imparts a spontaneous luminosity to Aerts’ paintings and a nimble humor to her fallen world.
Nel Aerts (b. 1987, lives and works in Antwerp, BE) studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium from 2005-2009. She has had solo shows at museums and galleries worldwide, including at Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles; Eleni Koroneou Gallery, Athens, GR; Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate, UK; Museum M, Leuven, BE; Kunsthalle Lingen, Lingen, DE; Westflischer Kunstverein, Münster, DE; De Warande, Turnhout, BE; Plus One Gallery, Antwerp, BE; Kunsthalle Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, DK; and Vincent van Gogh Huis Galerie, Zundert, NL, among many others.