Discovery: Nils Dunkel

Published November 7, 2013

Twenty-three-year-old Nils Dunkel arrives unassumingly at Soho House New York on a balmy mid-September evening, fresh off an Air Berlin flight from Germany, D&G jeans beat to hell, hair pushed forward in a curated mess. What’s immediately apparent is his distinct yet subtle confidence: he’s a dreamer, but sharp as a knife, and slight, but sculpted-cheekbone attractive (he kind of looks like a male version of the actress Kaya Scodelario).

It’s also quickly obvious that Dunkel retains a rare, hyper-informed databank of child-of-the-’90s sensibilities and current creative industry proclivities, easily able to rattle off the entire Spice Girls oeuvre, for example, whilst also recalling the type of fur used on a DSquared2 parka last season. It’s exactly this bond to all things pop and fashion that informs Dunkel’s paintings, which concern society’s endless lightening of beauty (look no further than his Legalize Successseries, produced earlier this year between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, which depicts a sunny and superficial brand of washed-out So-Cal, glitter absolutely included). Here, after a monthlong residency in New York to work on new material, Dunkel details pyrotechnics in Athens, Manhattan’s wellsprings of inspiration, and why the best thing about Berlin is also its worst.  

HOMETOWN: Berlin, Germany   AGE: 23   THE DRIVE: I would say being an artist—there was never any other choice. It has always been about creating something beautiful, forever.   GO-GO GOTHAM: In New York, I remember an inspiring moment at an opening at Gagosian Gallery, with all the powerful and colorful looking women talking to Larry. The next morning I started something called “The Housewives of Madison Avenue”— powerful and colorful, of course! Also inspiring and absolutely addictive has been New York’s morning light. It’s so intense.   CALIFORNIA DREAMING: The Legalize Success” exhibition was all about the airiness of California, featuring Beverly Hills, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara. I mainly chose motives that you could immediately connect with Los Angeles clichés—swimming pools, palm trees. It felt right to do this, as their colors and shapes are exactly what I personally like the most. The show’s main series consists of huge paper prints extended with acrylic paintings—3D, but not too heavy, just like a 2013 Hollywood movie.   NEXT STOPS: Athens. Fireworks over the Acropolis on New Year’s Eve. Can it get more pop?! Amazing! And come spring, it’s time to explore Asia.   …BUT BERLIN IS WHERE THE HEART IS: Berlin allows for the freedom of nearly anything—but this might be the saddest thing about it, as well.   ART POP: During my stay in New York I was closely studying the works of contemporary American artists Ed Ruscha and Richard Prince. Their diversities impressed me a lot. Cy Twombly, Jeff Koons, and Paul McCarthy are some of my favorite Americans as well—I admire them for the universes they have created. Color-wise, I have my European heroes, Matisse and David Hockney. And the one who was able to mix it all on the highest level: Picasso!

A LEGALIZE SUCCESS MONOGRAPH WILL BE RELEASED DECEMBER 3 ON NILS DUNKEL’S WEBSITE. DUNKEL ALSO HAS AN EXHIBITION, “SHOWTIME,” OPENING AT STUDIO KURFUERSTENDAMM, BERLIN, GERMANY, DECEMBER 3, WHICH RUNS THROUGH DECEMBER 29.