Seeing an animal gutted can instill life-changing visuals in a young child’s mind. At least that seems to be the case for Nychos, a street artist who grew up in the south of Austria to a family of hunters. Nychos famously paints canvases and murals in which the main characters are dissected, transparent or melting with their insides on display for all to see. Speaking of animals, he also established the Rabbit Eye Movement (REM) to connect and promote artists and illustrators that push the boundaries of creativity. His most recent exhibit, IKON at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery (through July 23) in New York City, saw Nychos apply his signature style to such iconic characters as Lady Liberty, Batman, Darth Vader, Barbie, Spock and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, among others. PRØHBTD spoke with Nychos to learn more.
Yoda and Darth Vader are among the characters in your new exhibit. Was there a particular reason that Star Wars landed multiple characters in Ikon?
I grew up with Star Wars. I love the movies, and they had an impact on me from a young age. Darth Vader and Yoda are two of the most important characters in the story, and they both deserved to be honored.
How do you define a modern day icon? And what would you consider a false icon?
I would say every time has its icon, and it’s a very personal matter. It depends on where you stand in life. A modern day icon for me is a person who has his or her finger on the pulse. An icon represents a certain mindset. It can be found in fashion, music, art and also politics. It’s a person whom people can identify with and who stands for something that is important to them. False icons these days disappear as quickly as they jumped into the spotlight in the first place. They always get called out on being one pretty quickly.
I found the Disney characters like Goofy especially interesting since he seemed to be transparent rather than cut open. I noticed you did something similar with the Statue of Liberty. Do you see the X-Ray images as having a different conceptual meaning compared to the dissected ones?
Goofy, as well as Mickey and Donald, are all painted translucent. It’s one of the effects I use these days. Others would be X-ray, meltdown and dissection/cross section. They are all different styles of showing the anatomy of the characters I paint. Translucent allows me to have different compositions. For example, the Statue of Liberty stays intact in one piece, compared with my dissections where I cut them apart in order to see inside.
What murals did you do in NYC while you were there?
I started off with a collab with Lauren YS in Bushwick called Dragon Girl, did the Explosion of Ronald WackDonald at Coney Art Walls and Translucent Heart Attack on Randolph Street and Gardner Avenue in Bushwick. I was very busy during my time in New York. I also got to do two pieces in New Jersey, the Marshmallow Man and a big one called The Anatomy of the Empires Eagle. Thanks again to Mana Contemporary and Jonathan LeVine Gallery for keeping me so busy. (Laughs)
My understanding is that Rabbit Eye Movement as a name stemmed from an encounter you had with a white rabbit. Is this true, and what was the significance
Yeah, that’s true. The name itself came from a dream I had about a rabbit that looked pretty much straight out of the film Watership Down. Mashed together with the term “rapid eye movement” the name was born, and I still find it very fitting. And it stuck for the past 11 years. Last year, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary. Crazy how long it has been.
I am also talking a bit more about the significance of the rabbit in the documentary The Deepest Depths of the Burrow. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.
San Francisco artist Jeremy Fish has Silly Pink Bunnies. Do bunnies and rabbits have a special significance in the art community, such as going down the rabbit hole?
Well, have you asked Jeremy Fish about it?
In a way a rabbit is an animal that hides most of its life in “the deepest depths of the burrow.” As an artist, I spend a lot of time in studios, rabbit holes, where I create. This might be also a reason why the art community identifies with that type of animal.
Also, in many mythologies, the lepus is an evil creature. Looking cute, being dangerous. I like that idea. Rabbits have to be smart because the whole world is their enemy, and they don’t have to fight back. Rabbits can only run fast and hide to survive. You can transfer this to the Urban Art Movement as well. We have to be clever not to get busted. Hit the spot and disappear. As you can see, that leads us to the idea behind the REM. Free your mind and follow the White Rabbit!
Can you tell me about the Dissection of Sigmund Freud sculpture that you created and what you wanted to communicate about the famed Austrian?
As you might have noticed already, I am interested in dreams, the subconscious and unconscious acts, so I found it really fitting to bring him to New York. He is one of the most well-known people that Austria has to offer besides Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You also did a Freud street art dissection. You do not seem to paint a lot of real people. Why Freud, and why not more real-life characters like, say, Donald Trump
It’s about being an icon. Although he is dead now, Freud was a very real person. Through his life, he did great things, and I really wanted to honor that. I don’t want to give Donald Trump that much credit. Dissection of Sigmund Freud and my exhibition IKON at Jonathan LeVine Gallery showed that I will also set a focus on human anatomy in the future.
You first learned about anatomy from your father and grandfather, who were both hunters. What about the animal’s interiors appealed to you aesthetically?
Being confronted with the insides of an animal at such early age had a profound effect on me visually. It fascinated me to see how living organisms are built and how different layers make up their body. To me, this has a certain aesthetic value which I like to show with my art.
Do you remember the first piece of art you made in your dissection style?
Skeleton motifs have always been present in my artwork. When I look at my sketches from 10 years ago, I already see similarities. It was a slow process, and still is. In 2011, I concentrated more on dissections, starting with the First Skin Skeleton. Then it transitioned into cross sections, and after that I experimented a bit more with the translucent style. My style, and me as well, constantly develops and evolves, so who knows what’s coming next.
I imagine people have extreme reactions to your art, either positive or negative. What do you think the difference in reactions says about that person’s views on life, death, faith and similar issues?
The reactions from people to my art vary. Some people consider what I do scary, but if I watch a kid looking at my art, they are not frightened but really interested in it. That is kinda my approach. What I can see on my social media feeds is that if people like it, they really love it.
Of course, I respect other people’s views on life and faith. Once I painted a shark on a wall in Hawaii, which got mixed reactions. There was kind of a misunderstanding. I always honor the creatures that I dissect, but people didn’t feel the same way and weren’t too happy about it since sharks are considered holy there. That means they painted over it pretty quickly. Such kinds of decisions I do understand and respect.
I heard that you were commissioned to do a SpongeBob image and told not to include a penis or testicles. Have you included something like that in the past?
Of course. Show me one person who doesn’t like to draw dicks. You can’t say happiness without penis.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.