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Nikki Küntzle: Vibrant and Unifying Public Art

Claire-Marine Beha


Written on

Visual artist Nikki Küntzle's favorite playground is public space, where she brings to life joyful and surreal murals and urban works that stand out due to their bright and saturated colors. Her work encompasses several themes dear to her: inclusivity, feminism, queer identity, and mental health.

For this creator, who lives with a chronic illness, it is essential to respect her limits without being held back by her condition. Playful and filled with surprising characters, her art invites us to take a moment for contemplation.

For the event of the Festival Fierté Montréal, Nikki Küntzle designed the installation Éphémère for Radio-Canada, a major partner of the festival. Éphémère is a 12-foot-tall butterfly-shaped structure displayed on the main site, the Olympic Park's Esplanade. This work, in front of which visitors can take a souvenir photo, is an invitation to grasp the entire symbolism of the butterfly: an insect that embodies perpetual transformation, complexity, but also diversity and curiosity.

To learn more about the artist, we asked her a few questions.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your encounter with art.

My name is Nikki, my pronouns are she/they, and I am Canadian-German. I have been living in Montreal for 10 years, but I am originally from the Canadian Prairies; I grew up in a rural area of Manitoba. I live with an autoimmune neuromuscular disease. I have always been creative, and art has been the best tool for me to express myself since childhood. When I moved to Montreal in 2014, I was immediately very attracted to urban art and the richness of the public art scene here.

I draw a lot of inspiration from illustration, graphic design, and popular culture to create my visual universe, and I love using vibrant colors that leave no one indifferent. My art can also strongly resemble the world of cartoons.

Tell us about your relationship with public art. What do you enjoy about creating outdoors, in contact with people?

What I love most about public art is its accessibility. There is no cost to observe and enjoy artworks. They are not displayed behind glass, reserved only for a privileged audience who can afford to see them. No, urban artworks exist in public spaces so that everyone can benefit from them.

Painting outdoors is amazing. I love working in the sun so much. It's a privilege to have this job. It's pleasant and enriching to talk with the people the pass by, especially the residents of a neighborhood. Generally, people are happy to welcome a new mural in their area, so it's a time when everyone is smiling and joyful. Unfortunately, when working outside as a woman, or as someone presenting in a more feminine way, one can experience harassment and even find themselves in dangerous situations.

What are your main inspirations?

I would say colors and nature, as well as my own mood. I love walking down the street and closely observing flowers and plants, which are so beautiful. They have very intense colors and sometimes unusual and bold shapes.

I also appreciate graffiti and urban art; I examine the contrast between the vibrant colors of the artworks and their personality in opposition to the more neutral, gray tones of city architecture. It's very inspiring. 

Tell us about the work you created for the Festival Fierté Montréal.

This piece was commissioned by Radio-Canada. The butterfly's wings carry the colors of the LGBTQIA+ communities' rainbow flag. It's funny because I recently created a very similar piece, a fabric bag that I illustrated for Reitmans for Pride Month, so I see a beautiful connection there. The shape of the wings also references the Radio-Canada logo. I also painted clouds, some of which are heart-shaped, representing love and support for the queer community.

Credit also goes to the Franchir agency for the design and the fabrication of the structure, which was done by Élément numéro six.

What is your favorite public artwork in Montreal?

My favorite mural was created this summer during the Mural Festival. It is a work by the artist Lauren YS, whom I admire. They have an absolutely remarkable style and expertise in colors. You can go see this beautiful mural with your own eyes; it is located near the intersection of Saint-Viateur and Saint-Laurent streets.

Don't miss Éphémère by Nikki Kuntzle at the Olympic Park's Esplanade during the Festival Fierté Montréal celebrations.