Naomi Devil (Noémi Ördög)
“I wanted to be a fashion designer. I had the opportunity to study fashion design in Salzburg, but there I fell in love with painting,”(1) said Naomi Devil about her secondary school years. “Once I cut out a picture from a Japanese fashion magazine, made a copy of it, and it turned out that I and painting were pretty good friends. From that time onwards, I wanted to be a painter.” She completed her higher education in Vienna and earned a degree in painting and graphic design, but she also studied architecture.
She definitively turned towards autonomous fine art after a London exhibition: she saw works by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and the YBA(2) generation at the Saatchi Gallery. Not much later she came across a Gottfried Helnwein catalogue in Vienna, which aroused her interest in photorealism. At the same time, she has remained faithful to fashion ever since. The trends in clothes, demeanours and objects of everyday use representing characteristics of the different periods, generations and subcultures are deeply anchored self-images, which, either contrasted or melded together, are frequent themes in Naomi Devil’s art.
Being a member of generation Y, she is a digital native. Included among the primary art sources she uses are the high-definition reproductions published in the Google Art Project, as well as the avatars and virtual worlds created in Second Life, an online role-playing game. Her creative use of Photoshop is matched by her talent with the paintbrush. The computer and the internet, however, are mainly important for her in modelling, especially in constructing the composition of her works, and the visual implementation of her sprawling fantasies.
Her early works were inspired by the behavioural culture of her teenage peers. Underlying her pictures with a striking palette were the fashion trends of punks, postpunks, emos and goths, i.e. the visual worlds of the consumer generation, as well their problems, such as media dependence, drug addiction, the isolating effect of social media, and virtual relationships.
Naomi Devil has treated her themes in series since the early stage of her career. The roughly two-year-cycles of her oeuvre can be called periods, since they are connected both in regard to their themes and, in most cases, their artistic techniques. The protagonists in the paintings of Avatars, marked by a cold atmosphere and based on the virtual, futuristic world of Second Life, are fashion dummies and hybrid beings. The neon lights of deserted shopping centres and luxury shops imbue even the warmer tones of these compositions with a peculiarly chilly air.
In contrast, warm brown tones are used in the self-portraits of the Rembrandt series, composed of digitally manipulated photos – ‘selfies’ – made with Rembrandt’s digitalised brushstrokes and printed on alu-plexiglass.
The ensemble titled Hedonati is the result of another technical experiment: the combination of digital print and oil painting, during which the artist printed digitally composed 3D collages of existing artworks on canvas and subsequently modified them with oil paint. These pictures are saturated with Baroque pomp, period costumes are mixed with gold skeletons and typical objects of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and the themes of hedonism and transience are treated with obvious irony.
The ‘traditional’ oil on canvas series that preceded Hedonati is named Wonderfools, captivating viewers with cluttered, surreal visions. Reminiscences of past eras are revisited here too along with contemporary fashion accessories, classical kimonos and the new Japanese fashion craze of maid costumes. The most striking characteristic of the series, however, is the lush vegetation: the canvases are teeming with mushrooms, fruit, vegetables, butterflies and larvae. Strange, translucent and spiky larvae are crawling over magnified exotic pieces of fruit – they are actually real creatures: the larvae of a South American moth species called the Acraga hamata of the Dalceridae family, also known as the jewel caterpillar, which, as features in Naomi Devil’s pictures, simultaneously evoke associations of both beauty, ugliness, pleasure, decay, transience, metamorphosis and rebirth.
As if providing a counterpoint to the surreal images of Wonderfools and the Baroque pomp of Hedonati, the Dolce far niente (2017) series contains paraphrases of the female figures of French Classicism and academic painting set in minimalist and monochrome environments. For example, parts of a bikini are swiming in a pool in the paraphrase of The Source by Ingres, while a mobile phone appears in The Valpinçon Bather, anchoring the work in the twenty-first century, and Cabanel’s Venus is depicted sunbathing on the deck of a sleek white yacht. The series is dominated by the nudes of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, once the celebrated star of French salons, mainly seen in environments evocative of luxury voyages and wellness hotels.
In her most recent pictures, Naomi Devil apparently returned to the visual world of her Hedonati although this time applying a clearer pictorial idiom. She dressed the female portraits of Vigée Le Brun, Vespronck, Greuze and other artists in bizarre hats, glasses and role-play masks with an almost mannerist sensuality, providing a new summary of her time travel across centuries.
Zoltán Rockenbauer, curator of the exhibition
(2) Young British Artists