Working in a limited colour palette of black, white, blue and 24-karat gold, Lina Iris Viktor’s figurative and geometric compositions combine elements of the mythical, archaic, cosmic and divine. Her artworks are like rare artefacts excavated from ancient Egyptian tombs set before us to unlock what Viktor describes as ‘our residual DNA – information passed down through generations that is dormant within us until something ignites it’.
From a young age, Viktor immersed herself in a wide range of thought streams. Born to Liberian parents living in exile in the UK, she grew up between the UK and the US, including a stint in Johannesburg in her teens when her parents were based in the city. She moved to New York in 2003 and has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence within the fine art industry and broader popular culture ever since. Her art, Viktor says, employs an ‘intuitive feeling language that speaks beyond this dimension’.
The patterns that form the intricate backdrop to her portraits reference African tribal designs from across the continent, reminiscent of those found in traditional block-printed fabrics, body scarification and ceremonial costumes. ‘I see the interconnectedness of everything, from mythology to the applied sciences, mathematics and the visual arts,’ she says. ‘They are essentially all seeking answers for the phenomena of the universe around us. We think that they are very different languages, but at their core there are more similarities than differences.’
Viktor is the subject of all her figurative works, and her beautiful and regal image is part-fashion model, part-archetypal empress. But the artist rejects the notion that her art is personal and instead describes it as performative, an apt reference considering that Viktor found her way to painting by way of performance and theatre. Likening herself to a vessel that is part of a cosmic whole, she sees herself in her paintings as a representation of the human form, and through her form she embodies every woman.
The artist is known for her extensive use of pure gold and believes that the precious metal holds the key to unlocking divine knowledge and sacred consciousness. ‘It is an immortal metal created during the death of a star that has travelled across space and time to somehow be deposited on our tiny planet over millions of years,’ she says. Throughout history, gold has been idolised across cultures for its sacred properties and link to the celestial, and Viktor says ‘it is as close as we may ever come to a godly material.’ By liberally applying gold to her canvases, the artist transforms a superficial surface into a tapestry for the divine. ‘We are composed of the same literal, philosophical and spiritual qualities that gold is made up ,’ she says, and so she sees her work as a visual representation of that fact.
Her opulent-meets-metaphysical art has not gone unnoticed. Viktor has been commissioned by hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan and, closer to home, Cape Town-based artist Petite Noir, with whom she’s collaborated extensively. She’s caught the eye of curators, too, and her art has shown alongside work by US art legends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, as well as at the group exhibition Hyperion at Frieze New York in Manhattan last year.
With her recent representation by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Washington, Viktor is working towards her first solo museum exhibition that is set to take place in 2018. Her art will continue to explore the same metaphysical themes, which are ‘essentially the questions you’ve been asking since you were born that you have yet to resolve,’ she says.
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