Late one afternoon this past March, the 40-year-old Israeli-born artist Nir Hod was in his studio in New York’s Meatpacking District surrounded by works from his recent “Genius” series. The “Geniuses” are a collection of paintings of insolent children with dated hair and outfits, their lips curled up in distaste, and it is this precocious brood which will make up Hod’s solo exhibition at the Paul Kasmin Gallery this month. The portraits consist of lurid colors and calculated brushstrokes forged in a manner of high realism, depicting these kids with hauteur and disdain, many of whom are accessorized with a lit cigarette. “I call it ‘Genius’ almost as the opposite of what it rep- resents,” the artist explains. “Like when you see images from the ’70s or ’80s of people smoking in airplanes or with fucked- up haircuts, you say, ‘Look at that, it’s genius!’”
The series began as a side project but, over the course of the last three years, developed into a full-time obsession as Hod began to explore the pernicious side effects of privilege. “I wanted to take the expressions of the really sophisticated,” he says. “People like that always have something very bitter in their face because they have always been very spoiled.” Certainly the candor and discomforting humor of the portraits draws peo- ple in, but Hod is careful to make them as repellent as they are seductive. In a sense, the series is less about privilege than the isolation that tends to come with it. “When you are too sophis- ticated, you almost separate yourself from society because peo- ple don’t understand you,” Hod says. “It’s exactly the same with people with money or who are too beautiful. You become lonely because people are afraid of you.”
Hod—who started out as a video artist before turning to realist painting—discusses his “Genius” works in relation to the canon of portraiture stretching back to the Old Masters like El Greco, and is aiming for something similarly universal. “I don’t try to put my art in a specific time, because I think it works like magic,” he says. “And once something is magical, it doesn’t matter. It’s almost like in fashion—once it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful, I don’t care if it’s H&M or Hermès.”
Click here to see more work by Nir Hod.