Psychedelia and Surrealism Meet Aboriginal Art in Nick Fedaeff’s Trippy Paintings

With a body of work that simultaneously recalls 1960s psychedelia, Surrealism, contemporary street art, and traditional Australian aboriginal art, Russian-born, Auckland-based artist Nick Fedaeff’s oil-and-acrylic paintings span generations and cultures. Recently on view at Sydney’s Wentworth Galleries—which deals in both contemporary and aboriginal art—Fedaeff’s work includes trippy patterning, lucidly dreamy allegorical scenes, caricature, and precise naturalistic rendering.

Fedaeff’s striking abstract work, Indiscipline (2013-14), is a cacophony of multicolored swirls, roiling with tendrils and eddies. The hallucinogenic mass of the painting ripples with dense patterns, similar to those found in aboriginal paintings. Such imagery has been a source for several Australian luminaries like Barbara Weir and Yinarupa Ningala, who are both also represented by Wentworth. The strong colors, spiral forms, and all-over compositional style used by Fedaeff are similar to those artists, though he updates and translates the mode, incorporating the sort of graphic refinement found in street art by Kenny Scharf, or the sardonic Abstract Expressionism of Sue Williams

Other works in Fedaeff’s oeuvre include both figurative elements rendered in an Art Nouveau style with Baroque framing devices. In Flora, a painting in oil on canvas, Fedaeff presents a girl with classically beautiful features: full lips, large eyes, soft skin. The ornate, floral headdress she wears dissolves into a mass of hallucinogenic patterning, as does the mossy covering she appears to be wearing, giving her a mythical, dream-like quality. Other paintings, such as Moon Touch, are more straightforwardly surreal. Here, a young girl standing on top of a small colonial-style house reaches into the sky. She is able to grasp the moon, which hangs as a glowing sliver that illuminates the thick, cloudy atmosphere around her. With its blend of mysticism and cute, graphic imagery, Fedaeff captures the feeling of wonder and placidity.

Fedaeff explores the divergence between naturalistic painting and hypnagogic imagery, and between traditional art and contemporary fantasy. As a former musician and creative director, he has a great deal of experience connecting disparate ideas. And, as Fedaeff explains, his major source of inspiration is the same one that drives much of mankind. “My dreams add a feeling to my paintings,” he says. “I must say I have very peculiar dreams and they seem to come alive on my canvas.”

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—Noah Dillon

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