Gladys Nilsson Exhibition

Overjoyed as I was to see Gladys Nilsson’s show at Parker Gallery for the first time, I was even more so the second time around. The artist is a heavy-hitting world builder with chops developed over several decades. This is the type of work that is new every time you look at it. The figures in her paintings are exuberantly aloof as they twist and weave, at once becoming the landscape while influencing and shaping it in their own image. The perverted little cherubs are all curves, boobs and buttcheeks, and more often than not, their constituent parts merge at infinite crotches in the shape of a “Y”. Why? Because that convergence is where funny and endearing happen, because we all have those convergences and none of us really know why. 


Gladys Nilsson, A Cold Hand, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California


Gladys Nilsson, Spark, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California

The artist has bestowed the gift of a glimpse of life lived in a world in a perpetual mode of self discovery. The figures exist in the endless space of the very moment of their own inception, undistracted, unatomized and whole. They are participants in the pure act of discovery made possible by the artist who has been doing it her whole life.  You can see the spark of recognition in the aptly titled, Spark. There is most definitely love here and I think those little spies in the background would bemusingly agree with me. I believe those two creatures on the surface of the picture plane were made for eachother. What they see in one another’s eyes is as deep and new and mysterious as the picture space they inhabit. The right figure has a sky blue arm that indicates the moment of physical impact, the type of intimacy that only happens skin to skin, all physical, lightyears and mutiverses away from the enforced, digitally mediated ecosystem all too familiar to everyone. 


Gladys Nilsson, Boobwings, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California

The artist revels in a pitch-perfect mode of restraint, sharpened and perfected over decades of making. Nilsson is a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a member of the Hairy Who, a group of six SAIC graduates: Jim Falconer, Art Green, Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum, Suellen Rocca and, of course, Nilsson herself. Their legendary shows at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago during the 60’s continue to influence just about every student that spends any time at SAIC. The antecedents of The Hairy Who were a group of artists called The Monster Roster, several of whom served in World War 2 then proceeded to art school on the G.I. Bill. A few of the notable members included Leon Golub, Nancy Spero and H.C. Westerman.


Gladys Nilsson, SO FUN, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California

Nilsson’s work is formally masterful and keyed into what really matters: relationships with each other and the ecosystem within which we thrive. It’s as if I'm picking up on the radio signal of that secret as a viewer watching a species created in the image of our own, yet as distant from us as an octopus’ consciousness is as distant from mine. I somehow totally get it, yet when I really, really think about it, it kind of freaks me out in ways that I enjoy and absolutely need. While looking at her work, I’m reminded that I'm not the center of the universe and neither is anyone. Life is an infinite, relational thing and it comes as a great relief knowing that whatever the given conditions are, there is always difference and always an opportunity to use the given conditions to worldbuild and imagine a different configuration, because we definitely need it.  Her world is a weird, immaculately restrained space telling me just enough so that I understand everything. She’s just passing through and I’m reminded that you are, too. The boobs and bushes, the penis-punctuated tree tops giggle at their own existence with a psycho-sexual awareness of the absurdity and beauty of it all, Gladys’ work is inward-looking and it seems that the figures portrayed are hyper aware of the fact that they have a large, multigenerational audience, yet they don’t seem to care either way. They’re just going about their business and it’s an incredible thing to watch.


Gladys Nilsson, Blue 10: Birdboy, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California


Gladys Nilsson, Heat, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California


Gladys Nilsson, Waterplay, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California


Gladys Nilsson, Shooing, 2023; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles, California

Throughout her career, Nilsson has exhibited widely both in the United States and abroad, gaining recognition for her unique and innovative approach to painting. Her work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and can be found in the collections of major museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Nilsson's distinctive style and imaginative vision have cemented her reputation as one of the leading figures in the Chicago Imagist movement, influencing generations of artists with her bold and exuberant creations.

Parker Gallery is based in Los Angeles, California and champions under-recognized artists, presenting a multigenerational program of solo and historically-minded group exhibitions, with a focus on Northern California. Past exhibitions have included: Marley Freeman, Joan Brown, Nancy Shaver and Roy De Forest.