For his first solo show at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 40-year-old Israeli artist Nir Hod created a fantasy collection for an imaginary estate. In “Genius,” his portraits of seductive, sexually ambivalent cigarette-smoking heirs hung salon style on the gallery walls, which were painted a foggy gray reminiscent of drawing rooms from a lost century in the English countryside. (I asked myself more than once if I was at Hogwarts or The Frick.) His anachronistic aristocrats painted with a deft hand evoke classic portraiture. Lush lavender, gray and purple brushstrokes saturate the canvas. Hod’s ability to pay homage to the masters while poking fun at popular culture is his genius, and I recently sat down with the part camp philosopher to try to get to the bottom of his irksome beings.
Your show is titled “Genius.” Does “creepy kid” define your notion of genius? NIR HOD: For me genius refers to anything extreme and extravagant. When you are standing at the Met in front of the most incredible painting by Vermeer and you see the way he uses light, you say that is “genius.” You also use the word “genius” to describe the utterly ridiculous like Donald Trump’s hair or something so fabulous like the perfect Hermès ashtray from the seventies. The great fashion icons also inspire my geniuses. Yves St. Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford and especially Valentino. My geniuses gaze at the viewer, lip snarled in disgust. It is as if Valentino is saying to you, ”How could you come here dressed like that to look at me?”
Why the cigarettes? NH: The cigarettes are not a provocation—they are about entitlement and a nostalgia I have for a lost world. All the great thinkers, bohemians, philosophers and artists were always seen pondering the bigger questions with a cigarette in hand. The cigarettes are about entitlement. My geniuses are so genius they can do what they want. The rules and conventions of the modern world do not apply.
Your geniuses also bear a striking resemblance to you. NH: Of course. I am the star of my art. This is not about my ego. It’s about my instinct. I like attention and I like to be in front. I know myself better than I know anyone so it is easier for me to work with that. I also like the image of myself better in my art. I can work through things that are bothering me in my personal life when I put myself on the canvas.