The artist Lina Viktor is every inch a living, breathing piece of art, from her gold-draped fingers, brown skin and blond hair to her skintight catsuit and platform sneakers. Some have called her the art world’s cross between M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, but she begs to disagree, and so does The Root.
Viktor is her own woman and has developed her own signature style in the art world. “This is my narrative now,” says the 27-year-old artist, whose first solo show is taking place at Gallery 151 in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. Word to the unwise: No one puts Viktor in a box.
“While society wants to put you in a box, I’ve always been drawn to those that exist outside the box and whose vision transcends all of that. That’s how I see myself,” says Viktor.
It’s clear her work is really an extension of herself. The art on the walls of Gallery 151 is best described as visual compositions made from mixed media. Viktor mixes layers of 24-karat-gold leaf sheets with black and white acrylic paint, and sometimes a regal blue, to form geometric images that she describes as complex, pattern-based works.
“I’m very much interested in very large concepts of the universe, mathematics, division, geometry, mythology and art history,” says Viktor. In fact, there is quite a bit of math involved. Victor says that each of the 10 paintings in her show uses a third more gold than the previous one, until the last in the series is completely full of the precious metal. She incorporates a modern form of water gilding to transfer the gold to her canvas.
“I used to paint with gold paint,” says Viktor, but she was influenced early on to switch to gold leaf. “There’s something that happens when people see gold. It’s like an emotional reaction, and you can’t replicate that with gold paint or fool’s gold,” says Viktor.
The exhibition is entitled “Arcadia,” which is a reference to a type of Greek utopia from the Golden Age. Not surprisingly, the prices of her pieces reflect not just the gold but also the work that goes into her art. Smaller pieces start at $12,000 and go as high as $70,000. One of the most striking works is a self-portrait photo collage that imagines Viktor as Queen Elizabeth I at her coronation, complete with a golden orb.
“A lot of my work is concept-based, and I use myself in my work a lot, “ says Viktor. Curator Laura O’Reilly says, “What makes Lina’s work so compelling is the way it integrates modern digital technology with this ancient craft of hand gilding the gold onto the canvas. The juxtaposition of the two creates this really uniquely timeless, yet very now, feeling when you look at it.” Certainly there is a visual density that hypnotizes people.
Victor, who lives and works on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is of Liberian descent but was born in Virginia. Her parents fled their home country after a coup in 1980, when the military overthrew the government. When Viktor was 5 months old, her parents moved the family to London, where she and her older sister grew up. Her mother owns an art gallery there, while her father works in African trade.
At age 16 Viktor came back to the U.S. to attend college at Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, N.Y. She then went on to study photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Later Viktor found herself exploring different forms of art, first working on a film with Spike Lee. “That was an interesting experience,” says Viktor with a laugh. She adds, “I found it such a long process that requires so many people to help you realize it, and I like working alone,” says Viktor.
From film it was on to design and photography, which led her to art. “I had this urge to create work that bridged all these things together and made sense of them. This is the realization of that,” says Viktor, who has no formal training as an artist.
Viktor says she wants to evolve into using more color in her work while keeping her foundation of black, white and, of course, gold. She also wants to create larger-scale pieces and take her works into 3-D form as well as sculpture. But for now “Arcadia” is on display through July 10 at Gallery 151.
Viktor’s next solo show will be in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in the fall. In September she will also be part of a group show in Los Angeles called “Wu Ha,” which is a Wu-Tang hybrid arts show, celebrating 20 years of the group, at the Japanese American National Museum.
Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.