Art has the power to breathe life into us. When I first ran across the awe-inspiring work of Lina Iris Viktor I saw something that I didn’t know I needed: a reflection. Lina Iris Viktor is an accomplished conceptual artist and painter, whose work was showcased alongside Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tom Sachs, Ryan McGinley, & Peter Beard. Viktor’s work is loud, striking, and unapologetic. It is ornate and minimalist; realistic yet mythical; and she strictly adheres to a color palate of royal blue, black, white, and 24 karat gold. She is her own muse, and many of her paintings and performance art pieces are centered on her own body acting as a canvas, sheathed in rich fabric, or dripping in black and gold paint. She places a great importance on photographing herself with her work: she aims to create an ongoing record of her world and the way she interacts with it. Often, these self-portraits feature Viktor posing and voguing alongside of her completed paintings. On her website, she wrote of her self-portraits:
There is often a certain abstraction – an otherworldliness – to her photographed work which moves between the real and the imagined, the concrete and the geometric. Viktor approaches her photographs with a compulsive perfection, and with a very succinct vision.
She encourages her own myth, reinforcing the impression of a perfectly sealed off cycle of existence in which elements of the work and her life become virtually interchangeable. This myth has been so fostered by Viktor in the way she lives and works, arranges her workspace – through her choice of attire, and the concepts she conveys in her paintings.
Her deeply held philosophies and her essence resides in her paintings, but her photographs offer a clear picture of how Viktor experiences her work and the world she creates. Her goals extend beyond a simple documentation of her paintings – her real ambition is to create a visual record, a time capsule, a memory of her own experience of it – of a period, a body of work, a time. She provides an account of her life and her art, which is inseparable from life itself as she lives it.
Lina Viktor’s work is so striking to me not only because of her pure talent for capturing her image and imagination, but because I see myself in her work. A certain quote by art critic Jon Updike comes to mind when I try to articulate what Viktor’s pieces do for me, “What art offers is space — a certain breathing room for the spirit.” There is something magical about Viktor’s presence in her work: as a black woman, she unapologetically takes up space and her energy is magnetic. Viktor’s work captures my gaze and engulfs me in her graphic, elaborate creations. In her self-portraits, Viktor peers back at me expectantly.
Viktor’s work appeals to my secret aesthetic. Anyone who knows me well knows that I adore toeing the line between classy and gaudy; I like extravagant textures, loud patterns and bold colors with classic shapes. I do not show this woman to the world often. I am aware of the way others perceive me and carefully curate my outward appearance so as to not attract too much attention. As a black woman often occupying spaces where modesty is highly valued, I have to scale back, especially since my blackness and womanness garner enough attention alone. However, I refuse to hold myself back fully: I cannot resist fur scarves and coats; my royal blue and gold-studded trench coat; huge statement necklaces and earrings; richly patterned headscarves and pants; and high heels. In contrast, I am deliberately silent; observing the people and world around me carefully. When I do adorn my body boldly, I am comfortable in others’ gazes. Experiencing Lina Viktor’s work is seeing her living in her truth, and it’s a beautiful sight to see. I feel at home when I see her world, and it inspires me to want to live unapologetically in my own truth.
You can experience more of Lina Iris Victor’s work on her website, here.