“Some of the paintings,” Arcmanoro Niles says, “come from me being up at night thinking about something and trying to figure out why I did what I did, or why did that person do that, like what was that really about?” We’ve all had this experience, right? But Niles takes these dark nights of the soul and spins them into grand, metaphysical figurative paintings that make visible his subjects’ psychologies. He paints his family, his friends, his friends’ kids and himself, but knowing who’s who isn’t so important. What he’s really interested in is expressing how those hard-to-understand moments feel—and doing so in a somewhat unexpected way. These are psychedelically rendered pictures of everyday black life with a twist.
Niles comes from Washington DC and graduated from New York’s Academy of Art in 2015. That same year, he paid a visit to the Brooklyn Museum and sat down to draw an Egyptian fertility sculpture. He’d never drawn anything like it before (Niles’s other major influences are Caravaggio and Rembrandt), but it was from these drawings that he developed a set of characters he now calls “seekers”: the magical beings that roam his otherwise realist paintings and surprise those who notice them. Niles’s seekers are pictorial manifestations of our various desires, like devils on our shoulders. He paints them as two distinct kinds: his see-through, red line drawing seekers are bawdy and sexual, while his more fleshly seekers are agents of chaos and often pictured harming themselves. “Seekers,” says Niles, “are more impulsive, chasing whatever they think will make them happy in that moment, with no fear of consequence, while the human subjects are more vulnerable and open with their feelings.” But all of these different characters are just trying to figure out how to feel good, how to get through the day; and, of course, they’re all interconnected and a part of one another.
Niles makes honest paintings about how it feels to be alive. He shows us more than we can see with our own eyes. He tells us stories about what lies beneath: how we feel in the moment, and how we replay those moments again and again in our heads and our hearts and in the things that we make.