Nikki Maloof’s drawings and oil paintings reward on multiple levels. At first blush, the connective tissue between them seems to be the reoccurrence of domestic animals and sumptuous, colorful patterns. But upon closer investigation, one sees that her anthropomorphized creatures—a dog, a cat, birds, and lots of dead fish—feel as terror-stricken as the rest of us.
In the painting Fresh Cuts, 2018, a skeptical feline gazes up from a Navajo-style rug, its body warped by a clear vase resting beside a pair of cartoonish scissors, open and limp, implying some oafish narrative. The bottom of a birdcage is lined with the front page of the New York Times in the canvas Cry Whenever You Need To, 2018. The work’s title is torn from the paper’s headline, which hovers above some generic picture of a war. Inside the cage, a depressed parrot appears as if he’s spent the last week thinking about the Mueller report, Brett Kavanaugh, or any other part of the American shitshow that’s been assaulting us over the last few years. Anxiety, 2018, is a painting depicting three long, thin fish, straight from the market and resting on another Times spread. We know they’re deceased, but their abject, dread-filled stares suggest otherwise. “Maintaining a Sense of Hope Proves Increasingly Difficult,” reads a header from the broadsheet beneath them. Beside the fish, a lemon has slithered out of its peel.
Bouillabaisse, 2019, is like an utterly modern Dutch still life. The assorted crustaceans of this image rendered in oil are scattered about a tiled kitchen counter—its design power-clashes with a cross section of salmon flesh. A despondent red snapper looks up, its big dumb mouth agape. Its large round eyes are either all-knowing or entirely vacant.