By Juliana Dutcher Published Dec 30, 2021 at 2:01 PM

This article is in a series by emerging creatives at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) who explore the many forms of art in the Milwaukee area.

Being an artist means to challenge people’s understanding of the everyday and make them question things that they had never thought to question before. By pushing viewer’s boundaries and creating a narrative of life and how we view things around us, artists attempt to tear down boundaries that have been in place for centuries.

Nykoli Koslow is a great example of this type of artist, creating artwork that expands on their viewers' understanding of what it means to not only be an artist, but also a trans person living in an imperfect world.

Koslow is the 12th annual Artist in Residence at the Pfister Hotel, one of Miwaukee’s oldest and most prestigious hotels. Their artwork addresses broad topics and questions of trans identity and queerness, told through Koslow’s own world building and storytelling.

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“I like the idea of narrative abstraction, so it’s abstracted but there’s still a story and a myth behind it and there’s figures dismantled in the paintings. They’re all based on half my life and then half stories and real concepts that I find throughout history,” says Koslow. “They kind of weave together to make a new religion and new mythology, a new ecosystem that I can create that didn’t necessarily exist when I was a kid.”

Much of Koslow’s work can be described as abstract, using lots of color, shape, and gradients to portray fantastical scenes and figures. The layers and layers of these different aspects of their artwork help to share this history that they have created, the world being built stroke by stroke.

While they are slowly carving out this world from paint, Koslow is also enlightening those who view their artwork. Koslow describes their time being the Artist in Residence at the Pfister positively, mentioning how important it is to them that they are able to share their artwork and personal view of self with others who may be unfamiliar.

“I think it’s really beneficial to know how people from all walks of life view your work because as an artist, you can live in a little bubble and as a queer person, you live in another bubble,” says Koslow. “Understanding how people view my work, how they view queerness, and their understanding of it is really good to know as an artist because I know how to meet them where they’re at, or not if I don’t want to.”

Pictured below are the two paintings that first came to create Koslow’s world. “Hod” and “The Qlippoth of Hodare mirrors of each other, creating an inverted reality of one another.

“One is the actualization of becoming self and the other is the invert and dissemination of self or the shadow of self,” Koslow states on their website. The original inspiration for these two paintings originated from Hod which is an aspect of Kabbalah's tree of life, which is a map of consciousness, a symbol for the total universe.

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“Hod is the formation and the naming of a thing and that's what I was doing,” says Koslow. “My identity was coming to the surface and the qlippoth was the opposite of Hod, that dismantling.”

Similarly, one of Koslow’s goals is to share this world of trans myth with others who may not have access to this type of art or this sense of identity. When they were younger, they did not have much access to this sort of knowledge or recognition. Now, as an artist, Koslow is able to explore and expand this universe as much as they want to, and want to share it with others who also lack the resources for their own personal growth and development.

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“I’m creating my own world that wasn’t accessible to me in my culture or what I grew up in,” says Koslow. “I’m reimagining what it could have been based on what I've learned and what I’m learning now.”

While being the artist in residence of a very prestigious hotel must be very demanding on an artist, Koslow is able to reach new limits and push their creative process. Being able to have a space dedicated to your practice is a dream come true for all artists and Koslow uses this opportunity to its fullest potential to create new and exciting work, continuing to build these worlds of trans myth and share their story with the people of Milwaukee.