Growing up, the artist’s parents worked for the Brazilian embassy in Argentina. They were ardent communists in a time where many individuals were punished with death for such beliefs. During our studio visit, he shared the story of how his parents drove to the water with their trunk of their car filled with books that had been deemed as contraband. Under the guise of a couple driving to spend time alone near the picturesque scenery, in actuality his parents unloaded the books into the river and hid their communist leanings as the pages washed away.
This story gives an influential look into what caused Nicholás Romero, known also as Siempre or Ever in English, to create paintings that intermingle communist imagery with clouds of abstractions. Born in Argentina, the country’s political history plays a central role in the imagery behind his color-saturated paintings. From the initial layout of his paintings, Romero infuses his style with hints of his communist past. Playing with elements such as typeface, intersecting horizontal lines, or the addition of red highlights, evokes the characteristics of communist propaganda posters.
While appropriating stylistically from a political past, the artist intermingles portraits of figures with which he has a deep connection. Of the individuals recreated on his canvases, former dictator Mao Zedong is perhaps the most recognizable, with his characteristic haircut and expressionless gaze. A symbol of his life experiences with communism, Mao’s head appears throughout Ever’s compositions in a series of saturated fiery hues and watery backgrounds. However, rather than staring off into the distance blankly, kaleidoscopic clouds of abstracted shapes flow from inside each figure that Ever depicts, Mao included.
When questioned about the meaning of these forms, which dominate compositions throughout the artist’s body of work, Romero quickly responded with simple, “Whatever you want.” I admitted to the artist, part of my reasoning for this question was that I was having trouble linguistically encapsulating the movement and complications of these forms. Resembling clouds, lasers, a kaleidoscope, or stained glass, the artist says that some people view these as referencing the soul. By limiting the expressiveness of these forms to abstraction, rather than a more pictorial image, these clustered shapes are open to the audience’s interpretation, leaving the realistically depicted central figures to ground viewers in reality.
Aside from the appearance of Mao, a majority of the figures that Ever depicts are those with whom he is connected in his daily life. For his most recent group show, Graffitimundo held in Washington, D.C., two female figures take center stage alongside the former communist dictator, one a near life-sized painting of a headless woman reclining and the other revealing an emotive face screaming in ecstasy. The paintings represent a composite of individuals; the shapely body seen arching backward represents a close friend of Romero’s who works in the arts. Because of her career path it was necessary to obscure her face; this requirement led the artist to depict the figure headless, as a mask and kaleidoscopic effect that obfuscates any facial characteristics.
Seemingly paired with the previously mentioned painting is a small cropped portrait of a woman whose face is half exposed while the other half is obscured with repeating abstractions. The inspiration for this piece is one of a few that are not directly linked to his life or personal biography, but instead illuminates a less apparent overarching theme. The portrait represents the face of an anonymous porn star, in the throes of a sexual encounter. The artist jokingly said that his studio mate, artist Jaz, would come to work only to heave an exasperated sigh as he realized the artist was looking through graphic film after another searching for that perfect image. However, after this lighthearted anecdote about our mutual friend, the Romero’s expression became very focused, and he said, “They are just more honest. You don’t care what your face looks like when you are fucking.”
If one theme can be taken away from his work, it is the honesty behind each image. Whether it is the face of a woman enthralled with her partner, the curves of an unknown figure, or communist politics, the artist strives to create images that are both abstracted as they are wholly honest.
(All images: Ever, photos courtesy of the author)