Studio Visits: Manik Nakra

On a tarp-covered wall in a studio on Burnet Road, there lurk Tigers ...

Manik Nakra in front of a work in progress
Manik Nakra in front of a work in progress (Photo by Andy Campbell)

This self-taught artist mixes a love for ancient history with ambitious studio practice.

With a floor covered in cut bamboo branches, Manik Nakra made good on his defacement of the West Austin Studio Tour sign hanging outside of his pier-and-beam, north Burnet Road house: "Badass Jungle Show" was scrawled in thick Sharpie enlivening the design-y Big Medium signage. Such emendation is typical of Nakra's artwork and ethos. Never having taken a studio art class or formally trained as an artist, Nakra makes work that springs from "a love of ancient civilizations, mostly the architecture, which is quite figurative." While Nakra's paintings are big, ambitious, and brightly colored, his drawings have the preciousness of Marcel Dzama's figurative work. He snipes from Southeast Asian sources, like Mughal miniature painting, and reconfigures stylistic norms to fit a postmodern sensibility. An example is Nakra's recent drive to render all 400-plus kills attributed to the Champawat Tiger, a series he's titled (and verbified) "THE TIGERING!" Leaning against his studio wall is a silver painting of a leaping tiger. The awkward and magnificent creature's stripes are made of disparate words and phrases: "Supercreep," "Acts R 4 actors," and "I understand your mother is having an affair."

Austin Chronicle: That painting was up at Cheer Up Charlie's, right?

Manik Nakra: Yeah!

AC: I remember it from a year or two ago ...

MN: It was two summers ago; I hung it up for the summer. At the time, Tamara Hoover [owner of Cheer Up Charlie's] had the inside stage built as a kind of jungle out of the cardboard, and she asked if I would hang up something jungle-themed. I actually just sold that one, during WEST!

AC: Oh, congrats! Well, talk to me about your studio.

MN: I don't work well out of the environment I'm used to. I love being around other creative people ... who come by to visit my studio [laughs]. I paint my canvas paintings on this wall, and it's covered in a tarp. One side is paper and one side is plastic; it's actually really great for oil paints. Nothing matches the density of oil paint – I love smelling it, I love squeezing it out of the tube, I love seeing the brushstrokes. I mix and test colors directly on the tarp-covered wall, and it dries quickly because the paper absorbs the oil. I prefer it over having a palette. Sometimes I paint in the shed in my backyard – I call that my [Julian] "Schnabel Room." Schnabel's a real Romantic painter; his studio in Montauk doesn't even have a roof! So I imagine him, and that helps me get messy. I'm starting to not care so much about being messy in this studio.

AC: Were you fastidious about this space at any point?

MN: Oh yes. And at one point, there was a computer desk and a couch in this room, if you can believe it.

AC: You use a lot of gold leafing. That's a really difficult material!

MN: The leafing takes me just as much time as the actual paintwork. Gold leafing, silver leafing, copper leafing, yeah. I just started recently using gold paint, but it's not shiny enough. I want it to be bling-ed out. Because the leafing reflects light, my paintings are often a pain to photograph. And I often try to "age" the leafing. I accidentally discovered this technique of aging the leafing, after I spilled turpentine on some gold leaf. My initial thought was: "Shit! This stuff is expensive!" and I just set it aside. I came back to the material maybe two weeks later, and in the intervening time a chemical reaction had taken place and the gold leaf oxidized. All these blues and greens started to come out. Even now, the stuff is still changing colors.

More of Manik Nakra's work can be found at

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Manik Nakra, Austin visual art, West Austin Studio Tour, Cheer Up Charlie's, Tamara Hoover

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