By Matt Cosper
January 6, 2019
Born in Vietnam but living in Charlotte’s West Side since infancy, 26-year-old visual artist HNin Nie creates visionary works in painting, sculpture and video. After a recent slew of successful gallery exhibitions, a residency with Goodyear Arts, Nie is emerging as a creator of real genius; she’s certainly an artist to watch. In conversation she is as playful as her work, performing uncertainty and spunk in equal measure while skipping from topic to topic and back again. And she is funny as hell. Over beers at Tip Top Market, HNin Nie shared her perspective on how she makes her work, how her work is connected to her experience of the world and what she hopes to see more of in Charlotte’s art scene.
Nie started off as a photographer in her teen years while attending West Mecklenburg High. While getting her Associates Degree in Fine Arts from CPCC she went pro, shooting portraits and events as a source of income. She attributes this to her eventually moving away from photography as an artistic medium. “That’s when I fell out of love with photography, when it became a job…you know you start shooting weddings and…” a roll of the eyes finishes the sentence for her.
Since setting the camera down Nie has worked primarily with paint, generating a body of work in traditional canvas as well as more conceptual, sculptural works including a large scale, immersive portrait of her recurring alter ego, Negative Nancy. Nancy is a figure who shows up in a lot of Nie’s work, a sort of cartoon version of Nie herself, always on the brink but staying one step ahead of disaster. One of the most exciting things about Nie’s art is this brinkmanship and how sneaky it all feels. Nie’s canvases are bright and graphic adventures featuring Negative Nancy and her friends. At first glance they communicate a childlike and naive sensibility. The longer you gaze into Nie’s painted worlds though, the more unsettling the experience becomes. Nie’s paintings are vulnerable, saturated with emotion as well as color. They reveal themselves as complex and sophisticated dialogues with a rich inner world. Nie says that her work and her brand, Post Feels, is informed by her sometimes chaotic inner life.
“Everything I make deals with emotions: negative emotions or positive emotions. Post Feels is about what you do after your negativity,” she says. “Because I am so emotional I think my work revolves around that.” Because her work is so often created in the throes of an emotional experience, as a means of processing that experience, the work tends to happen fast. For a highly critical perfectionist such as Nie, the tension between technique and immediacy can be tough. Nie calls her method “Organized Chaos” bemoaning the sloppiness that is the handmaiden of such a quick process. But ultimately it always seems to work and viewers are rewarded with a visceral and directly emotional experience. That’s what Post Feels (the name Nie has given to the universe her work exists in) is about: the work is that which remains after an emotional experience has been processed: “That’s the whole point: things happen but it’s how you can channel that negativity each time so that you’re not stuck.”
Using her artistic practice as a path towards personal growth seems key to HNin Nie’s particular alchemy. Her work is comical but scary, swirling with the longings and fears of the shadow self. She admits that much of her work of late has been fueled by rage and frustration, noting: “Nancy is a sad crybaby but also is pushing herself to show her fierce side and that is coming out in the new work.” But there is more than just darkness and misery at work here. Nie’s work has an infectiously bright color palette and often features inspirational text. Nie is invested in the full spectrum of the psychology of color and narrative, saying with a laugh during our conversation: “You can be happy and fierce too! Frolicking fiercely in the flowers!”
This essential optimism is evident in Nie’s vision for her future and the future of her Post Feels brand. She speaks of wanting to have a shop of her own, a place to sell her creations but which could also serve as a center of gravity for young creators. “It would be cool to have a place where other youngins want to come through and be inspired,” she says. “Just a way to get to know your community. That’s something I never had. So it’s something I’d like to create.”