Nina Chanel Abney’s paintings are engineered to elicit response. Combining representation and abstraction, filled with elaborate and fraught subject matter, and loaded with ambiguous symbols—some recognizable, some inscrutable—Abney’s work captures the complex, frenetic, and often coded nature of contemporary culture. Even her figures are abstracted and flattened according to her own distinct style, placed among an erratic symphony of colors, shapes, metaphor, humor, and allegory. This element of her work, which she calls “information overload,” reflects not only her interest in multiple subjects but also her experience with the increasingly decentralized, daily stimuli of our environment, especially complicated by social media.
Nonetheless, Abney insists there are no judgments embedded in her paintings, or at least, she refuses to share them. Abney says, "Part of what my work does is mirror back to the world what seems to have become a way of life. It’s also a way for me to process what I’m sometimes complicit in or allow myself to engage in." She further explains that,
I don’t want to be prescriptive or inform someone how they should think, and that’s part of why I veer towards abstraction. I’ve been called a political artist, even to the extent of articles claiming I’m spearheading the Black Lives Matter movement through painting. These issues matter to me, of course, but what that does is put an expectation on me as an artist to create certain types of work when I’d rather just paint about the issues that interest me, whether that’s about race and politics, or just about Black people enjoying nature.1
Abney is more interested in starting conversations through her work, not dictating them. She presents packed compositions rife with ambiguity yet without bias, aiming to show multiple perspectives open to viewer interpretation.
1. Enuma Okoro, “Nina Chanel Abney Reflects on 15 Years of Honing Her Dynamic Painting Practice.” Artsy, December 14, 2020.