At just 21 years old, Nia has mastered the ability to use art as a powerful tool to relate to others. She spends her days making expressive surrealist oil paintings in her studio, located in her grandparent’s backyard in Compton, California. She paints for eight hours a day, five days a week with a lunch break to instill the habit of creating everyday. On her strikingly mature approach she says, “if I want this to be my career I have to treat it like one.”
What began as an attempt to manifest her truest self onto canvas eventually evolved into a desire to connect with others on a deeper level.
“Growing up in Ohio, the beauty standard leaned more towards women who looked closer to eurocentric standards, so a lot of times it was hard for me to find beauty within myself, which is why I started to paint myself, because it taught me to love myself…. Frida Kahlo inspired that in me. Her being able to paint herself even though she had a unibrow, she was hairy… It was very powerful to me. That was very much a driving force in me painting myself and it ended up transforming into me wanting to step outside of myself and paint other people and their experiences, and find the beauty within the pain,” she explains.
Despite what she describes as a complicated relationship with religion, she cites that as a heavy influence as well. Her first memories as an artist even have a spiritual undertone. Growing up in church, she recalls her mother seeing her drawings and calling them “monsters” until another woman in the church pointed them out to be what she perceived as biblical angels. An intimidating visual for a child to be fixated on, but one that acknowledges an almost ethereal influence that aligns with what is today her surrealistic style.
“I remember someone told me that my fascination with painting myself was really selfish and a sin because we’re supposed to create for God and that’s it. I couldn’t understand that and it drew me back, but I’ve also had many conversations with God. I pray a lot and I learn for myself and I maintain that connection for myself… All of my work has an element of that because it’s very heavy in my life,” she says.
Her perspective on religion is the first clue into her ability to pinpoint the duality that exists within profound concepts and bring that imagery to life.
Despite her following the guidelines of the 9-5 as a means towards self discipline, she acknowledges the effects of the system we are forced into throughout her works. Paintings like “Daydreaming” criticize the hustle culture most of us are forced to participate in, and manage to express an ugly feeling in a visually stunning way. Other works like, “Tryna Find Peace of Mind” shed insight into the survivalism many black men are forced to endure, likening growing up in an inner city neighborhood to trying to survive in a pre-existing warzone. In this painting she uses scenic imagery to represent the dichotomy of one’s mental health in such an environment. Despite the significance of the metaphor, the most impressive aspect of this piece is Nia’s ability to evoke the emotion of the subject into the viewer through the subject’s eyes.
Duality is a theme that shows up regularly in her art. Criticizing capitalism while working within it, acknowledging the pain and trauma the black community endures while also embracing the beauty within the culture, and enduring the pain of heartbreak alongside the allure of love are just a few of the topics she tackles. An artist, a woman, and a Gemini, she sees both sides of everything and pulls the most poignant parts out of each side to make something whole.
“There is not enough middle ground for people to relate to one another, which causes a lot of strife,” Nia says, and this has become a driving force behind her art. This empathy towards others manifests not just in her artistic expression but in the way she conducts her business. On her website (artbyniasimone.com) you can often find an explanation of how she came to the concept for a piece, or why she made certain imagery choices like color or background, thus allowing viewers access into her artistic process. Sometimes she will share a poem with a painting, giving you another chance to understand in a different way. Older, more elitist artists would often turn their nose up at artists who indulge the observer this way, but Nia is unbothered by any conventional precedents set before her, instead approaching her craft with the fresh eyes of someone who does not take herself too seriously, but instead takes the art seriously.
“It’s important for my viewer to know the intention behind what I’m creating and what they might put on their wall so that they can better understand it and connect it with themselves,” she answers when asked about her reasoning.
Nia also finds creative ways to allow the average person to gain access to the kind of original art she creates, too. On her Instagram you’ll find her offering raffles for her paintings, giving people the opportunity to enter to win a painting through small cash donations; a system that allows her to make a profit while also giving those who cannot normally afford high art the opportunity to have an original painting.
On this decision she says, “I wanted to do something like that because I think it’s important for people to have original art in their home- high quality art in their home.” The purpose of her art, in Nia’s words, is to “create space for empathy.” Purpose is something that she feels strongly about. Nia, who’s name also happens to mean purpose, says she believes all art has purpose. “When I create, it’s very intentional and very spiritual.” Her unique perspective is desperately needed, and not just in the art world. Luckily she shares it with us without qualms, evoking emotions one might normally ignore, igniting discussions one might normally not have, and focusing on the experience of a demographic that so often gets neglected – that of black women.
Nia Simone will keep painting; it is up to us to pay attention. Follow her on Instagram!