Nicholas Harper has the power to make erotica author Anais Nin look as wholesome as a Midwestern housewife and make porn stars downright divine. It’s enough to make you question your instincts.
And that, said Harper, is exactly the point.
Born and raised locally in a house full of women, he spent his childhood largely in church while his mother worked as a choir director. Harper now pays homage to what he refers to as “the divine spirit of the feminine” through haunting portraits that beckon viewers closer and divulge Harper’s true talent and genuine reverence of the feminine—and humanity in general.
“Whatever anybody’s done, we all have the same divine spirit and the same worldly nature,” Harper says.
And so when an adult film star peers out at you from the canvas, lips parted slightly, a church peeking out of the dome of her hair like a halo, “It’s really to point out that they still have the divine in them,” he says.
Harper’s fondness for painting exaggerated long necks and sometimes disjointed limbs in his portraits gives his works an eery or fantastical quality, but he says he does it with a purpose.
“When I paint women with the long necks, the head represents the divine and the hands represent the worldly,” Harper said. “The long neck also kind of acts like a pedestal, and things that are on pedestals are important, so it’s the divine spirit of the feminine.”
Subjects in his new show at , titled “Le Femme Noir,” range from notable figures to adult film stars, friends and an ex-girlfriend–all given equal weight and legitimacy within their ornate frames.
“Typically I’ve painted people that are not icons or known, and I did that deliberately to elevate the ordinary and to show that everybody has this divine or this potential,” Harper said.
His works reference Byzantine and Russian iconography with saturated colors, hovering halos, and showcased figures with an air of melancholy. Thoughtful and deliberate, the works of oil on panel bring a classical style and pattern to the present day and play well with another of Harper’s central influences, magical realism. He credits the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie with what led to his distorting elements of the human form in his paintings.
Harper said he is also interested in “hidden histories” – with conspiracy theories serving as artistic inspiration as well. His curiosity comes through in the work and transfers to the viewer, as each figure in “Le Femme Noir” looks as though she’s the keeper of a great secret.
In addition to his current show at Gallery 360, which runs through February 26, you can find Harper’s work at his own Northeast Minneapolis gallery Rogue Buddha, the Northeast Social, and the soon-to-open Eat Street Social at 26th and Nicollet.