When I met up with Philippines-born, Seattle-based artist Nikita Ares at her Specialist Gallery solo show Sugar Babies Only, she wore white pants, which is funny considering the oily, colorful nature of her work, which begs to stain. She told me that when she's in the process of creating, she wears a jumpsuit to protect whatever she's got on. Though it's probably far from the truth, I imagine Ares in a hazmat suit, drawing with these so-bright-they're-nuclear colors, constructing a landscape on paper with molten oil pastels. The paper catches on fire. But I shake myself out of this daydream—with her work it's easy for your imagination to get away from you.
Ares told me, with a laugh, that her least favorite color is purple—it reminds her of Barney—though it still shows up in her paintings. She's working through it though, playing with the color in combination with green, yellow, blue. You will be hard pressed to find a lot of neutral colors though—the browns, the grays, the beiges, the blacks. Bright, vivid, frenetic hues take precedence above all in her paintings, the oiliness of the pastels are rich, creamy, and dirty. They give off their own heat, resembling the energy she puts into it. There's no tedium to it nor perfection, just like her.
After color, the other noticeable thing about Ares's work are the titles she uses: “Sugar Babies Only,” “Can I Borrow Your Lighter,” “Addys or Daddys.” Other highlights from her body of work that aren’t in this collection include "I Wanna Date a Rapper,” “Sativa Slut,” “Glad I’m Not Pregnant,” “Same Shit, Different Dick.” They are things she likes to say and they solidify her ownership over her paintings. “My work is very abstract to the point where people have their own realities when they see it,” Ares told me. “For me to hold on [to my work], I put the things that I say, the things that resemble Nikita, to own it. This is still mine but it is open to interpretation.” The titles are also an embodiment of the artist—to be taken seriously but not too seriously. It’s abstraction with a loud laugh and vulgar name.
"Gotta Taste It!"—a reference to the Skittles tagline—is one of the biggest and most expansive pieces in the show. The painting sweeps across two panels. And though her work isn't explicitly figurative, Ares seems to depict something. At first glance, I saw a vibrant flock of flamingos around a waterhole in a melting mirage. But Ares emphasized to me that she's not depicting a landscape necessarily—which immediately brings to mind a distant horizon, trees, and a river snaking off into the sunset—but an environment. One that includes, suffuses, and surrounds you. "I try to make you not only see but experience and feel all these different things with different components: dimension, lines, and color," she tells me. "I’m trying to create a world."
This is the last week to catch Ares's work at Specialist Gallery. Check it before it goes away.