I feel that this episode is primarily about the importance, and beneficial aspects of staying honest with one’s self. My guest Nihil shares his journey as an artist, depicting a story of personal growth, and staying true to his own path. He is truly a contrarian, always going against the grain, and maintaining integrity in his processes as a creative.
WIth zero hesitation, we dove right into his creative roots – which, as it turns out, is writing. I immediately found out that not only was he a writer first, he also has an academic background as a biologist. I love this because I am a firm believer that art should not be firmly tied to academia.
I find that the journey of an artist is always insightful, and NIhil’s honesty about his influences at a young age, and how it developed into what it is today, is motivational. There is a recurring theme of staying true to his self here; he followed his own ideas, and what he was drawn to explore. This is in stark contrast to many who create work based on current trends, and the expectations of art circles.
There is a freedom that comes with working outside of echo chambers, and this is apparent to me in really good dark art, like Nihil’s body of work. The dystopian sub currents in his visual work appear to have started a long, long time ago, and not without the input of others. In fact there is a history of collaboration with his creative endeavors.
We do a little geek out about web design, and how things were back then compared to how they are now. I fucking absolutely love his take on how he just wanted to build an “ugly” website, and I have to say he really did do that. LOL. The collaborative writing project in question is called La Zone, and it’s amazing to me that a community and website like this has stuck around for over 2 decades. I love to see it.
From a long term collaborative website for writers, to his work with models and other creators, there are lessons here for anybody that appreciates the importance of building communities. And for those building on newer technologies like web3, it’s important to note that this isn’t something new. On the contrary, we’ve all been doing this long before social media networks and online forums.
Now while Nihil’s creative process has some influence from painting and literature, the technical aspect purely involves photography, and time spent in Photoshop. His concept formulation is very organic – I love his approach of just starting.
Seeking concepts, ideas, and mythologies appear to follow an open minded approach to exposing himself to environments and art. It’s very fluid, and sounds liberating to approach things with less planning, and allowing natural flow to inform his decision making along the way.
There is a calmness that is apparent in his personality, and in his work, and it is also reflected in what he breaks down as a gradual evolution his work has gone through. Instead of very sudden or drastic shifts, he’s experienced a steady amount of progression, while the core themes have stayed consistent.
Even his extensive experiences with exhibitions reflect the recurring theme in his approach of just engaging organically, without doing some sort of roadmap. He just started doing shows, and it feels like he just keeps finding himself doing things that bring him contentedness (making art).
I love it when he says, “art changed my life in all the good ways.” This is very heartening. He even moved to Norway through the folks he met through art. Again, he is frank and honest about these events in his life as well; he exhibits a very relatable kind of realism about the ups and downs of any place one inhabits, as is apparent with the the balance he has found in moving to Norway.
He jokes that he wishes he was more gloomy and depressed, so he can make better art, but there is truth to it. This is a flavor of honesty that resonates with me a lot. Some of the best stuff we create as artists historically have come from painful times.
I also think it’s super cool we have some folks we have shared space with over the years; we both need models and people to work with, for different reasons and outcomes, and yet our community is very similar. His casual approach and requirements for his collaborations is humble and realistic. I love his lack of ego in this part of his process. I especially relate to his disdain for “industry leaders.” Art is for the people, not just for generating products for industries.
On the topic of marketing and social media, the discussion is simple, and to the point: he just doesn’t. He shares his work, and folks like it, and that’s it. It’s so healthy. Even his approach to NFTs is healthier than anybody who has been around for a while now: the NFT train was passing by, he hopped on, and then he hopped off when he decided it was time to get off. He’s an artist, not an NFT salesperson.
He touches on the challenges of being an artist, especially one that is developing standards for their own work. We visit the thing most artists go through at some point: “my art sucks.” Mechanisms that don’t force things yield good results, and it serves us well to find ways to disconnect and come back naturally. Griff talks about this as well, with a corner of his studio dedicated to just chilling, reading comics, listening to music, etc. We all have our ways of stepping away to regroup.
Nihil does clarify that he’s okay with most of his work, which is in stark contrast to how I feel about most of my work, so I had a good laugh about it when listening to our discussion again. I especially loved him tying back his point about being a contrarian in such a subtle way – fuck what people think. “Parasites in your brain” is a great metaphor for the opinions of others.
I wanted to know if he has some pieces he was very happy with, and he mentioned two projects. The first is his series; “Atma I, II, III.” These are a reflection of years of reading Indian philosophies, and he managed to capture an aesthetic that stood out to him. He poured a lot of time and energy into these, and one of them is actually in the provenance of Cryptopathic, my first collector on Ethereum (It’s Atma II below).
The second work he mentions, is what he considers a self portrait of sorts, titled, “Imago.” He says it is much less “veiled” than his other pieces, and is a representation of his struggle to hold everything together. This is a piece that I (not just for the obvious reasons) personally resonate with strongly.
There’s so much we go over in an hour, I hope you can uncompress it a bit as you listen. He has a book he’s been working on that’s coming out soon, and apparently an exhibition here in the US coming up next month as well. Very exciting stuff, and I am hoping to connect with him in person at some point, sooner than later. I hope that you also find something to connect to in our discussion, which I greatly enjoyed.