Nychos has been revealing artworks from his latest exhibition, the 100-piece-plus “The Awakening,” in posts on his Instagram account since New Year’s Eve 2020. These posts —works-in-progress and finished pieces— have been piquing curiosity and building excitement as the date of the opening approached. But nothing compares to the artist himself taking you through the prepped exhibition at the newly-opened Mirus Gallery, ahead of its opening on February 22nd.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
The Austria-born and -bred, Los Angeles-based artist is instantly identifiable by his signature dissection paintings, which reveal the insides of his subjects, cross-section style. Nychos’s work is as familiar as diagrams in an anatomy textbook and as alien as the depths of his mind. “The Awakening” is the artistic self-dissection—a documented journey from pain and illness to mental and physical breakthroughs and into rebirth.
Despite its museum-style expanse, “The Awakening” is not a retrospective. Except for a handful of paintings, most of the works on show are recent. With its defined sections, the winding exhibition starts with Nychos’s cartoon dissections of classic Disney and video game characters. It moves to an illustration series, done on iPad. This series, which could be a stand-alone exhibition, is where many of the paintings in “The Awakening” started.
WHAT: NYCHOS: The Awakening
WHEN: February 22—May 1, 2022
WHERE: Mirus Gallery, 1922 E. 7th Place, Los Angeles, CA.
Standing in front of this wall, Nychos speaks matter-of-factly about the hellish six years he went through. His serenity is that which comes from having it in his rearview. “My digestive system didn’t work anymore, I was fatigued all the time, my immune system broke down completely, I was constantly sick,” says Nychos.
“For two years, I tried to find doctors in Western medicine who could help me, and they couldn’t help at all,” he continues. “Then I started doing acupuncture, but that didn’t completely do the job. Then I got into even more alternative healing stuff and psychedelics. In 2018 I did 5-MeO-DMT, the toad medicine they call it. It’s also called the death-rebirth experience. You go through ego death, upload to the higher consciousness, die and come back. I feel like that experience opened me up to what was really going on. Then I started to meditate, and this is what came out of it.”
A dark section of the exhibition is filled with complex and detailed paintings that glow and push out from their canvases, giving the illusion of being three-dimensional. Every one of them is a representation of Nychos — a vision during meditation or a psychedelic trip, a memory resurfaced, possibly, from a past life.
The symbolism of the artworks’ imagery is wide-ranging —from an embryo circled by curled up skeletons, representing incarnations, to William Blake’s Great Red Dragon, to the fateful toad of his breakthrough DMT experience, to a realist-style artist’s self-portrait bursting through the body of a rabbit. The rabbit, from Nychos’s long-time brand image, Rabbit Eye Movement, is depicted with the tools of the artist’s trade: roller, spray can, knife, pencil, flying out of his hands.
Nychos painted another version of this painting a decade ago. He revisited in 2016 and finally realized it the way it was meant to be for “The Awakening” recently. It also exists as an NFT, which can be purchased as a limited-edition collectible NFT ticket to the exhibition.
“I had no idea what I was actually drawing back then,” he says. “It only came to me in the last couple of years. I illustrated my spiritual awakening a long time ago, shedding the rabbit and going as deep as possible.”
Nychos started Rabbit Eye Movement in the mid-2000s while living in Vienna, Austria. After years of graffitiing the Danube Canal, it was a way for him to formally bring urban and street art to the city and create a legitimate scene around the style. He also used Rabbit Eye Movement to connect with artists around the globe, which he documented in the 2015 film, “The Deepest Depths of the Burrow.” While Nychos has broken free of “The Rabbit,” it shows up many times in “The Awakening,” and Rabbit Eye Movement hosts the gift shop for the exhibition at Mirus Gallery.
There are distinct factors that have shaped Nychos’ style. His family’s hunting practices and being surrounded by animal skeletons growing up. His exposure to perspectives and standing up for his work in art courses while earning his graphic design degree. His extensive experience with graffiti. His love of heavy metal music. All of which feeds into the artworks at “The Awakening.”
He points to skeletons in rainbow colors describing how they were originally painted in two shades of gray on a black background, then sprayed, airbrushed, and dusted with his mix of rainbow colors, so softly that the colors become a gradient. “Cutting, fading, cutting, fading, this is how I build my paintings, the techniques I learned while spray painting,’ says Nychos.
“I used to paint graffiti like a madman,” he continues. “At some point, you become one: your finger, your mind, everything. You can feel when the paint comes up. You know exactly how much pressure you need to put on the cap, the angle of the spray, what movements to create. Fading, cutting, it looks like you’re dancing.”
Continuing into the further depths of the exhibition, transitioning out of the super-dark into the semi-dark sections are Nychos’s depictions of the seven chakras. Working in the colors of the chakras, he has given each one a personality and picked up the same motifs in each painting. This wall is so absorbing it requires a separate visit.
This leads to the rebirth room, filled with images of wolves and humans, embryos of both and of a woman, clearly in agony, gestating a wolf skeleton. A great deal of pain is released in these paintings, but so are resolution and peace.“There were bad intentions manifested through her [the gestating woman’s] quality of life. They gave her a lot of pain. It was executed and let go of me last year. It took me a long time to get over this.”
Around the corner from the rebirth room is an immersive room with five digital frames of naked, multi-cultural, dissected Barbies, their innards jiggling as they walk toward you. Here, you can play with an interactive dinosaur and dance with a reactive rabbit who can imitate your dance moves to your song of choice.
The end of the exhibition has an entirely different tone. There is a combination of paintings here, some reminiscent of tarot cards, others skeletons of humans, animals, and even the California state bear, both as paintings and sculptures.
“You have to be brave enough to let it let yourself go through the pain,” says Nychos. “I think I was able to deal with all this stuff because humor is a very big part of it. It’s super-funny.”