When Marika Thunder Nuss started drawing, she only drew animals. Her main subjects were hyenas and (later) cats. She never had any interest in drawing humans before she turned 7 or 8. In fact, she wasn’t even interested in being a human back then—she wanted to be a hyena or a wolf or (later) a cat. Her early work mostly consisted of line drawings: big on narrative, heavy on color. Markers in hand, she worked quickly, focused on getting the characters down, and was seemingly indifferent to shading between the lines. After her animal period, Nuss collaborated with school friends on a drawing project called The Spirits. New characters were added daily and comic book–style stories were made of their adventures. To make a little extra money, Nuss started giving five-dollar Sharpie tattoos at parties or in restaurants to the select few who could get their arms out fast enough. The side job was a huge success, and she eventually collected enough cash to afford her dream: a silver necklace with a MUNNY pendant from Kidrobot. But a year and a half ago Nuss’s art really took off. Influenced first by delicate emo-culture imagery (she drew ghostly figures and broken hearts) and more recently by Japanese animation, Nuss started producing a phenomenal backlog of new work (she’s even dashing them out on her iPod touch). No more waiting. Nuss is 10 years old and in the fourth grade. It was time for a solo show.
The beautiful, stylish, incredibly smart preteen may be a creative prodigy, but she has some insanely talented parents to thank. Her mother is mixed-media artist Rita Ackermann; her father musician (and No-Neck Blues Band member) Dave Nuss. You can often find Marika dressed in bright prints and wild colors alongside her mother at art openings. And when she’s not checking out New York culture, she’s watching hilarious videos on YouTube, taking acting classes, window-shopping at Trash and Vaudeville, hanging with friends, or, of course, going to school and being a typical kid. Her solo show opened last month at Half Gallery on the Lower East Side. Menswear designer and fellow New Yorker by birth Adam Kimmel took Marika to Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side for ice cream and advice about what’s cool and what isn’t. If the art world has a future, all eyes look to Marika.
ADAM KIMMEL: [to cab driver] 60th and Third, sir. [to Marika] How was school today?
MARIKA THUNDER NUSS: Uh, same as usual. Actually one thing was different. Tonight we have our winter concert. I’m kinda nervous because there will be all the kids and all the parents and you have to sing and dress up really nice. [laughs] It can get embarrassing. Anyway, today we had a rehearsal for it.
AK: Weren’t you in a play recently?
MTN: Oh yeah, I was in one last year that my school put on called Daniel and the Lions. Actually I’ve been in a couple. I was in one a few months ago called The Doctor in Spite of Himself by Molière. That one was at my acting school, not my school school. It was really fun.
AK: And you’ve also always made art.
MTN: Art is a fun word. Aaaarrrrt. Now let me say it fast: Art, art, art, art, art . . .
AK: What do you like about art?
Marika Thunder: Randomness In The Form of Art at Half Gallery, NY.
MTN: It’s entertaining. Not like movies. You have to stare at it for a while. It’s just special, too, because there are so many different kinds. Sometimes it represents what people think and it lets you look into their brains. Like, if a person thinks something, they can make it into an artwork. If, say, you’re thinking about a fish, you can make one. You can draw or sculpt one. And there’s a fish.
AK: How often do you get to work on art?
MTN: Not every day. It depends what I’m making, because I do different kinds of art. I have a sketchbook, which I draw a lot of my art in. I have paint, which is at my mom’s house. I’m at my dad’s house this week, but not for long because I have to go to Hungary with my mom, where my grandparents live.
AK: Are you excited about going to Hungary?
MTN: Yeah. The only thing that doesn’t make me happy is that it’s so cold over there. I’m not insane about cold weather. There’s, like, three feet of snow, so it’s snowing but nothing is really happening.
AK: [laughs] I saw pictures of you in Hungary on your last trip. You were riding bareback on a horse. What was that like?
MTN: It was very bumpy.
AK: Do you have a camera?
MTN: Yeah, but I don’t use it that much. I take most of my pictures on my phone, which I take everywhere with me. I like my camera. It can do a lot of cool things. The problem is that they go and invent thousands of other cameras that can do even cooler things. [They arrive at Serendipity 3 and grab a table.]
AK: What’s it gonna be, Marika? I say you go for the Oreo. You want to split an Oreo shake?
MTN: I’m not sure. I have to see. I can’t say no to a sundae, but at the same time I want the frozen hot chocolate . . . But at the same time I don’t really want the humble pie—it’s weird.
AK: Humble pie is weird.
MTN: I’m just going to get the frozen hot chocolate.
AK: Are you excited to grow up? Or do you like where you’re at right now?
MTN: A little bit of both, actually. I don’t want to grow up really fast.
AK: When you look ahead and picture your life, what’s the best age to be? What age are you looking most forward to?
MTN: I’m going to have to say 18, because that’s when you graduate and get to do whatever you want.
AK: Yeah, I agree. Eighteen is cool. But then when you turn 18 . . .
MTN: You miss school.
AK: And you turn 21 before you know it, and then you’re really excited. Twenty-one is just the best.
MTN: Right. Eighteen or 21 are probably the ages I’d want to be for my whole life. Except the only problem is that you don’t get to see your friends as much. So maybe . . . let me think . . . maybe I’d like to be 16, because you still get to see your friends all the time too.
AK: Beautiful menu, huh?
MTN: Yeah, I like this menu. It’s so pretty. All the pictures on it!
AK: I had my third-grade party here, and the kids in my class were so misbehaved we damaged the painting upstairs. They caused such a ruckus that, because of us, my school was never allowed to have a birthday party here again.
MTN: Are you serious?
AK: [laughs] Yeah.
MTN: That’s insane!
AK: Are there bad kids in your class?
MTN: Yeah, there are a couple, but it’s not as bad this year. I think everyone’s starting to grow up.
AK: So what kind of work are you doing for your solo art show?
MTN: Lots of things. I’m doing some spray painting. I only have a couple of sculptures. Gosh, and I really like doing this kind of drawing called anime—you know, like Japanese comic books.
AK: Like manga?
MTN: Yeah, like manga. But it’s anime. Manga is like any cartoon. I can already draw hundreds and hundreds of things that way. My mom said that maybe if we made these big posters out of it, I could show those and we could sell it . . . You know, if you look at everyone around us in this restaurant, everyone is having frozen hot chocolate. Everyone.
AK: Do you collect anything?
MTN: We have a lot of guitar picks but I don’t collect those. I have a lot of books—so many books. I have the whole Twilight series, which is really popular right now because of that movie. I recommend reading the books before you see it. Turns out they skipped a lot of good chapters. But, still, the movie is very good.
AK: Is it one of your favorite films?
MTN: Yeah. Me, my friend, and my dad just went berzerk about it. We loved it so much. Now that I saw Twilight I realize they didn’t do such a good job with Across the Universe . Especially also now that I listen to the Beatles more . . .
AK: Do other kids in your class listen to the Beatles?
MTN: Yeah, but they don’t know as many bands as I do. Or they’re just not into music like I am. Right now I’m into a band called Paramore. They did a song for the Twilight movie, but it was the third song in the ending credits, so I was really bummed. I was like, Eh? But still it was a good song.
AK: What do you think of Britney Spears?
MTN: Uh, she’s doing better, I have to say, but she still kinda freaks me out. I’m not going to say her music is horrible, but I’m not crazy about her.
AK: Well, who’s cool for your generation? Who’s the cool musician?
MTN: That’s why I like Paramore. They’re not some fake band. They’ve got good music and lyrics.
AK: Do you want to order food too, or just -desserts? Want to split a dog?
MTN: I’m a vegetarian.
AK: I didn’t know that. So third grade is really young for things, but fourth grade isn’t. You’re in fourth grade. I remember in fourth grade I was finally allowed to walk around New York by myself.
MTN: Me too! A few of my classmates still aren’t allowed, and they think I’m insane . . .
AK: Why, because you walk around by yourself?
MTN: Yeah, but I’m more used to things that they’re not, and I know things that maybe they don’t. It’s weird. My friend can go around by herself, too, now that she’s in fifth grade, and we can talk about it. But when I go to school in the mornings I take the bus from my dad’s house. It’s just a couple of blocks but it’s so fun to walk by myself, and that’s why I have my phone. When I stay with my mom, she takes me, because she’s down in the South Street Seaport. I take the train all the way to 79th Street.
MTN: No, of course not. I’m not old enough for that . . .
AK: What else do you want to inform the world about?
MTN: If I were president, I’d create world peace and make the White House a different color, ’cause it’s just plain boring.
AK: Do you think the president could do that if she wanted?
MTN: Why not? I would.
Adam Kimmel is a New York–based menswear designer. Above: Marika Thunder Nuss in New York, January 2009. Kaftan DRESS: Missoni. Cardigan: Marc Jacobs. Cosmetics: Covergirl, including Lipslicks Lipgloss. Hair Products: Pantene Pro-V. Fragrance: Missoni Rosa by Missoni. Styling: Laetitia De L’Escaille. Hair: Andre Gunn. Makeup: Stevie Huynh. Manicure: Roseann Singleton/Art Department. Special Thanks: Fast Ashleys.