The San Francisco tourists who flock to Haight and Ashbury looking for evidence of the 1960s are met with smoke shops and T-shirt stores happy to sell them nostalgia. The street artist named Nychos gives them something different: a work that dissects the innards — bones, teeth, and tissue — of a living wolf. Nychos' animal, put up in April when the Austrian artist was here for his exhibit at Fifty24SF Gallery in the Lower Haight, is taxidermy in reverse. Instead of an outside view of a carcass, Nychos offers passers-by an inside look at what makes the animal breathe, eat, and hunt for prey.
“It doesn't really look like a wolf because it's so much into this motion of running,” says Nychos in an online video interview from his art studio in Vienna. “The back shape is up, its spine is overdone, and its tail is really long. I wanted to overdo the running process. I could have just done a stiff, standing wolf, which would have been really usual.”
X-rayed animals are Nychos' trademark. On walls and buildings throughout Europe, the United States, and Asia, Nychos has painted sharks, bears, cats, tigers, ducks — and, yes, people. Nychos, whose studio symbol is a rabbit skull and crossbones, grew up in a hunting family. At age 4, he saw his dad cut open an animal and pull out its body parts. The smell was overwhelming. Shocked and repulsed at first (“it was so disturbing”), Nychos quickly learned to appreciate the “behind the scenes” insight into the machinations of life and death. It changed the way he eventually drew art.
“The stuff I paint is not gross — it's not about death or killing; it shows how things work,” says Nychos, who's 31. “The skeleton is the base of a body. It tells you the expression of the body. For myself, it's really fun to paint. And it's really hard to paint. Putting my own style into it is like doing character design.”
In San Francisco, Nychos' work is also at 107 Shannon (by Geary) and 422 Haight (near Fillmore). Nychos' works can also been seen online, where he has 125,000 followers on Instagram, and increasingly in venues where other artists embrace his paintings. Last month, for the promotional poster of a huge Pearl Jam concert in Denver, promoters used Nychos' painting of a living skull with brain matter that was visible. The concert and the poster were big, big hits.