Nicolas Holiber’s first solo exhibition with Unit London is an exploration of physicality, in form, subject and medium. Shape-Shifter aligns Holiber’s artmaking process with his work’s visceral content. Features and colours morph and mutate through changing perspectives within these sculptural works on canvas.
Comprising portraits, self-portraits and multi-figurative pieces, Shape-Shifter deals primarily with the human form. The abstract visual language always gives way to moments of figuration, constantly reminding us of the corporeal, of our own flesh and our own bodies that navigate the world. Oscillating on this boundary between the abstract and the representational, Shape-Shifter alludes not only to our physical selves, but to our interior selves. The explicit meaning of each piece may shift and elude us, but a raw sense of emotion can always be perceived as hands, eyes and, eventually, faces emerge from broad swathes of sculpted colour.
The physicality of Holiber’s work is perhaps most present in the medium itself. The stages of progression of each painting could be individual works in their own right, shifting between multiple states before reaching their end. Each painting is formed from a dense impasto body, made up of thickly layered acrylic medium. In a purely intuitive process, Holiber never works from drawings or other visual aids, but rather relies on his mind’s eye for guidance. The initial stages are akin to drawing in three dimensions; the artist pushes and pulls the medium, with every action of his body producing a tangible form. The process itself is physical and nearly aggressive, demanding of the artist’s bodily effort. Almost beholden to the material itself, Holiber must work at a pace to keep up with the medium before it dries. At last, the artist is able to resolve these actions, reaching an affinity with the medium to decipher what he has just created with the final layers of oil paint. At this point, the figurative aspects of each piece reveal themselves and the importance of colour comes into play. Holiber’s palette is almost deceiving in its vivid tones, conveying something bright that grows darker the longer it is observed. The viewer is drawn deep into these kaleidoscopic compositions inhabited by distorted figures that border on the grotesque but remain unmistakably human.
In a working process that allows the unconscious mind to steer the origins of each piece, Shape-Shifter demonstrates the artist’s growing reconciliation with the unknown. Holiber relinquishes any tendency to overwork, allowing breathing room for ambiguity and polyvalence. As such, these cubist-like compositions reveal multiple perspectives and viewpoints as meaning itself constantly shifts, encouraging us to return to these paintings over and over to uncover something different each time. For Holiber, Shape-Shifter demonstrates the comfort that can come from uncertainty and a profound trust in the artmaking process despite its many elusive and ever-changing forms.