Artist Nicholas Hlobo’s work has long explored the potentials for using various material sources and referential systems, using a range of elements like metal piping and fabric stitching to create elegant, arcing forms and figures that operate as self-contaned metaphors of sorts. Free-flowing and adventurous, the artist’s work allows him to work instinctively while drawing his forms directly onto canvas from his subconscious, a mode that invites both critical participation and quick impulse at the same time. His work is presented in some sense as a catharsis or exorcism, purging from himself the indoctrination of cultural dichotomies that set boundaries of either/or, where Hlobo wishes to portray the multitude.
For his most recent exhibition at Lehmann Maupin’s West 22nd Street location in New York, Hlobo’s work returns to the same materiality; ribbon, leather, wood, and rubber employed with conceptual specificity to address complex issues of identity. His works draw on specific interpretations and references to interplays of the masculine and feminine, using elements like leather or fabric to explore looping, swirling forms as a stirring metaphor for the ever fluid interactions between social and cultural mores.
The twists and movements of Hlobo’s of the ribbon stitching, and more free-flowing compositions like Phantsi Komngcunube (2017), where a density of black leather and white ribbons spill from the canvas onto the floor, repeat throughout. His pieces present themselves as a series of twists and interpretations on the same concept, as if his repeated visits into the subconscious sphere produced a range of varied interpretations and explorations of these intertwined forces. Sexual and political undertones twist throughout the work, mimicking the movements of the fabric in varied interpretations. The artist’s interest in sexual interplay, and the distinct qualities of the work as a series of organs and bodily positions lends a subtle undertone to the work as well, Hlobo’s work turning into a series of exaggerated reinterpretations of sexual acts and encounters, or to the body as map.
Drawing from these notes on the artist’s work, one can see a subtle internal universe emerge from Hlobo’s interpretive practice, an act of repopulating and reworking the subtle forces and iconographies of human interrelation and contact as a sort of surreal landscape. His work could even be examined as bodies in their own right, attended with their unique physical traits and memories. Rather than delve directly into references and specific scenes, Hlobo’s pieces here offer an endlessly evolving set of encounters, much in the same way that the act of love, or perhaps the act of existence, contains a multitude of emotions, states and attitudes.
Hlobo’s work is on view through August 24th.
— D. Creahan
Nicholas Hlobo: Ulwamkelo [Lehmann Maupin]