The ways in which humans interact with animals are far-reaching. From beloved pets to filtering additives for beer to grilled steaks on our dinner plates, we have deep, dependent relationships with the animals in our ecosystem.
Illustrator Niky Motekallem displays her love for nature in her art, which is filled with colorful, kaleidoscopic renderings of flora and fauna.
“I think about animals all the time,” Niky says. “I absolutely love them, especially animals that don’t get the admiration they deserve, like possums, raccoons, and muskrats. Animals seem fragile and resilient at the same time. I cannot help but be drawn to that.”
A white-speckled fawn sleeping amidst fuchsia fungi. A bright indigo robin entwined in blooming, powder-blue anemone as well as its own tubular innards. A lavender ermine ensnaring a mouse as blush-pink and mauve magnolias jut through the predator’s body. Niky doesn’t shy away from any stage of life—including death—weaving a hauntingly alluring portrait of a state many of us tend to recoil from.
“I often joke and say my aesthetic is ‘cute dead things,’” she says. “It’s about decay and rebirth with the very atoms that make up living things as much as it is about how those animals live and interact with their surroundings. Death isn’t an easy subject to swallow. I want people to see that while death can be sad, it can be beautiful too.”
The beauty of biology has always fascinated Niky. In fact, the 27-year-old never intended to have a career in art—she planned to study biology while at the University of Dayton in Ohio. “I had my whole life planned out and suddenly I had no idea what I was doing,” Niky recalls. Her path in the medical field was supplanted by a fine arts degree in painting and printmaking, followed by a masters in illustration from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “I knew [the change] made me feel like the person I wanted to be,” she says.
A self-proclaimed shy person who likes to collect bones, taxidermy, and strange knickknacks, Niky’s illustrations use a gouache paint with an acrylic binder to provide a matte and water-resistant finish, in tandem with detailed lines and vibrant hues.
“The most important part of being an artist, for me, is the making. The actual act of it. Holding the pencil, planning, sketching, composing, and painting,” Niky says. “I used to draw the human figure a lot. But it never felt right. Animals, on the other hand, they felt right.”
Her work has attracted a wide array of clients, from making posters for Pizza Lucé and Excelsior Brewing Company to creating editorial illustrations, enamel pins, and book and album covers. Be it for commissions or personal projects, our ecosystem consistently births endless, aesthetic appeal for Niky.
“Nature is always transforming from one thing to another. And I want to depict that transformation,” she says. “Each piece has me researching and learning more. While drawing the piece for this cover, I learned that hens will cluck and purr to their eggs before they hatch. When the chicks are developed enough, they can chirp back from inside their egg. How precious is that?”
Growth and decay, beauty and imperfection, life and death, all interwoven with awe and appreciation: this is essence of Niky’s art—pieces that focus on reverence rather than revolt, and embody the complex, natural progression of this thing we call life.
Name: Niky Motekallem
Hometown: Dayton, OH
Currently Resides: Minneapolis, MN
Medium: Gouache and pencil