Since the beginning of time, man has been interested in dissections. From those fascinated with uncovering how our bodies work, to school biology lessons forcing the squeamish to understand, the idea of unpacking the complicated blood and bone machines we occupy has long tickled both the science and art worlds. While countless artists have utilized the art of dissection, from KAWS to Jason Freeny, few have reached the specific and accurate renditions Nychos weaves with paint.
Born in the Austrian countryside two hours south of the country’s capital city Vienna, Nychos is the persona of the artist known only as Nicholas, or Nick Nychos, which in his own words sounds like a character in a novel’s name. Having been born into a family of woodsmen and builders, Nychos was exposed to the more brutal sides of life from a very young age. Working with his father while he would strip and clean the new trophy animals he’d hunted, it was like Nychos subconsciously knew where life would take him. Instead of getting grossed out by the flayed bodies, he began to understand the mechanics behind these creatures.
“I was watching my dad dissecting animals from early on, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” he says, adding that some part of him already knew the type of art he would later create. “I was observing, and he was explaining a lot of things, you know, like what everything is… I’m not sure if I could really say it was a traumatic experience. It was more like, ‘Oh, this is how animals work.’ And I already knew that we work the same way. ‘This is how it looks inside. Oh, interesting.’ And then later in school, you know, when you had these plastic figures for the lungs, and you can take everything out and stuff, and look at everything. And then you can open it also. I was like, ‘I know all this stuff already.’”
While painting wasn’t exactly a valid career choice according to his parents’ generation, his mother worked as an architect, so his creativity was fostered from a young age. Although he wasn’t sure the path life would take him, Nychos was acutely aware he would be an artist one day. He was always drawing and watching cartoons—which in the ’90s in Austria wasn’t the easiest to find considering this was before the internet.
“It’s just a weird spot for an artist in general… I was like, ‘Oh, at some point, I’m gonna work for Disney one day or something like that,’ because I started to learn to draw cartoons like Disney stuff or the Saturday cartoons,” he says. “Eventually, I started to read Spawn, and I feel like that was one of the ones where I was first like, ‘Yeah, this is a sick style, sick story.’ And that was already when I was 17. Around the same time, I started to get into graffiti as well.”
While he went to art school, his passion for animation didn’t seem possible for a European artist. But that is where he realized he could have a real career as an artist, which was what he wanted to do, not what was expected of him. He explains that in the beginning, his drawing style was more cartoony.
“With that, you start reducing automatically; not everything fits,” he says. “I painted a lot of skeletons and other cartoon characters, and at some point, I was like, ‘What’s the next level?’ And it organically developed into the things where I started to peel off skin, you know, to play with zombies just losing their skin, and stuff where like, it’s also so fun to paint, especially on walls. When you start peeling the skin off, suddenly you’re breaking bones, and things are flying around.”
Nychos works hard to depict accuracy in his art.
“When you draw something, you need to understand the mechanism,” he explains. “It’s like if you look at the Terminator skeleton, you know, it’s a metal skeleton, and it needs to fucking work, somehow the hydraulics need to work, other cables need to make sense. So same with anatomy; it’s the same thing. Like, I need to know how the mechanism works, and what every organ does and what it’s good for, and where it’s placed. And why is it placed there and everything.”
Eventually, his anatomy studies for his art opened his mind.
“At the time when I started, I didn’t even realize how much this study was actually going to affect everything, everything creative, everything I do, how much I will actually learn about life or this perfect machine the universe has created for our soul to sit in,” he says.
Discovering the Artist
In 2004, Nychos moved to Vienna and began to double down on his graffiti career. It was there that he started his project the Rabbit Eye Movement. His business and team remain there to this day, despite now largely working around the world. He recalls that during this time, he received his first check for painting and how proud his father was of him, despite not fully understanding what he was doing. But he hadn’t made it yet. In fact, he hadn’t even made it to a place where he could afford paint.
“The danger of running out [of paint] was present always, so I don’t know how many unfinished or fucked up pieces I painted it before it started to make sense,” he says. “I was, I don’t know, 17 back then, and I decided to completely skip alcohol because it was at some point just fucking retarded to me… I remember I looked at this bottle of vodka. And I’m like, ‘I could have bought like five spray cans, and I’m not even drunk, and I killed this whole bottle. This is stupid.’”
With the focus always squarely on his art, he says he “clearly also started to smoke weed.” Then he realized he could buy more paint cans if he sold weed. Bags for Cans, if you will. From there, he moved to Australia—almost the complete opposite side of the world—to really dive into a more hardcore graffiti scene.
“It was good times, crazy times, really high times,” he jokes.
An out-of-body experience directed him towards a focus on painting graffiti.
“I feel like whatever path you’re going [on], like, some of it you’re supposed to go, and the universe is just waiting until you get there,” he says. “Literally the day after [I stopped drinking], I was like, ‘Fuck this, I want to paint graffiti. I want to do this, and I want to build that.’ I didn’t know what that even meant at this point. But I had a pretty clear idea. And I didn’t know if that would ever work.”
The next day he had a blackout.
“Suddenly, I faded into absolute blackness,” he says. “And I woke up a few hours later in the hospital. My girlfriend from back then was there, my parents [were there] and everyone was shocked. And I was like, ‘What the fuck is happening here? What are you guys doing here?’ And that was a little trippy. Because they told me I had a seizure at this point, too. I didn’t really understand what that was about.”
That year, he had seven more seizures.
“I went through a bunch of brain tests, and nobody could find anything,” he says. “And it only happened while I was driving. So I had like, seven out-of-body experiences. I had five car accidents and never even had a scratch.”
Although having totaled a few cars by now, doctors couldn’t put a reason to the rhyme.
“They never figured out what happened… everything was fine. People couldn’t explain what the hell was going on.”
Nychos explains that he didn’t know what was happening with his body and began having intense dreams.
“I didn’t even smoke weed, didn’t drink alcohol,” he says. “At this point, I was just so depressed, and I felt like I was a danger to other people. Like ‘What the fuck is happening?’ You know, You’re just kind of like through puberty, and now you’re [once] again completely fucking lost in the world. Like [when] I was 19, I had a dream of this half-rotten, white rabbit. He was literally telling me what I’m here to do. He told me that I’m supposed to do exactly what I was trying to do, that I’m here to be an artist, and that I’m here to paint. That this is my sole purpose.”
While confused about the dream’s origins, he understood it as a message.
“I only knew that something was communicating with me, and I think maybe my perception of reality was already coming more from a spiritual side than I even understood,” he says. “I never said, ‘Oh, I’m super spiritual.’ Like, you really didn’t give a shit. The only religion was graffiti.”
After this experience, his work began to get much darker. He had just had a bad breakup that rekindled his love of hardcore and metal music, and things were seeming to spiral a bit for him.
“I was thriving and bathing in this rage,” Nychos says. “And using that energy, I completely transformed into a research nerd. A world of my own existence, and also, just like freeing myself of everything I thought graffiti was supposed to be in the first place, completely. I got loose, you know, I didn’t give a shit about anything anymore… I learned a lot about how graffiti was supposed to work. And I was like, ‘Alright, I learned those rules. Now fuck it… I paint how I want to paint.’”
His art evolved, and he really started using color.
“Before, I was just experimenting, thinking I have to, to paint the best piece. And then, at some point, I didn’t give a shit about it anymore. And that is when I freed myself, that’s when pieces became really, really sick. You know? Because all that bullshit we like we fall into, especially in a place like the graffiti scene, you have to look the same as the other one because they are the real deal. But if you look the same as the other one, you are a biter or a copycat. It’s this hypocritical bullshit.”
It was a shift.
“That’s when I started to paint and not just render pieces,” he says. “In 2010, I got sponsored by Montana [Colors].”
In 2013, after sorting out his paint needs and following a strong desire to reach the next level, Nychos moved to San Francisco.
“It’s been years of just fucking graffiti madness every day, like murals,” he says. “Pieces every day, every night. I had those years where I don’t think I did anything else than that, doesn’t matter if it’s like another dissection piece or a fucking blockbuster (a graffiti style featuring large murals of letters) on the truck side. It’s just like, go, go, go! But if you do not address exactly what’s already brewing, on the surface, it doesn’t matter how much you paint.”
In 2015, he premiered a documentary The Deepest Depths of the Burrow to huge success in Vienna, Austria. But the very next day after the premiere, he was in a bicycle accident that injured his shoulder and neck. Although he thought he had rapidly healed from this accident thanks to an injection and went back on the road, it quickly became clear that things weren’t alright.
“I used to paint any inner pain away, but graffiti didn’t really help anymore,” he says. “So in 2018, I was ready to die. I did 5-MeO-DMT. [I thought] ‘Seems like I’m gonna die, what am I afraid of?’ I had already started to go to a shrink. I thought maybe I have some mental issue. She helped me a lot with distress, but eventually, I got this message from a shaman, and I was like, ‘I have nothing to lose, man. I’m gonna die.’ 5-MeO-DMT was explained to me as a death/rebirth experience, and I’m reminded of the out-of-body experiences I had when I was 19.”
Two hits in, he was feeling amazing, but on the third, he truly blasted off.
“I was like, ‘I want to heal.’ I didn’t even know what that was asking for at this point,” he says. “I meant, like physically heal. All of a sudden, I’m on the journey as a blood vessel, like floating through your whole being. I already saw my whole anatomy, and I was like, I see how the muscles are like connecting things, little traumas in my muscles system was like, letting go, and I was like, ‘This is wild’… I was gone. I was out. First, I was in my brain, and all the neurons connected, and then all lit up. I was just this tiny creature floating in there. And then it all disappeared, and the neurons became stars, so suddenly, I was in outer space and kind of floated through that. And then everything started to turn, and the white of the stars, and the blackness from the dark matter, became the most intense, psychedelic kaleidoscope vision I’ve ever seen or experienced. There was an interconnectedness of shapes that you cannot copy…
“My soul was sucked out of my eyeballs and my mouth. Just like it was dragging me there. And I’m like, ‘Alright, I guess this is how I die,’ and you could feel how it comes up from your tummy and then the next moment like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, no, no, no, I’m going to die.’ Then the nice control system of the ego comes in. Fear, right? And the fear of losing control and you start screaming like a motherfucker for your life. Until you realize there’s no point in resisting. That was the ultimate last thing I remember, like, ‘This is fucking it. No goodbye.’ You literally have to make the decision to let go of your body to break through the matrix. As soon as my ego left, my true self was on the other side of the matrix, in the void in complete blackness. I realized, ‘Wait a second, this is more than dying.’”
Nychos says his belly cracked open, and he could feel energy emerging.
“The light was hitting me, and then I realize, no, no, no, I am the light. I am the fucking universe. Just feeling the superpower of the universe rising inside me, having an understanding that this is our core life energy in us.”
Then he hit a dimension filled with Hindu and Buddhist entities.
“They were like, ‘You were chosen. Now you know what you were chosen for! You finally fucking made it. This kind of happiness or feeling of being free is what the universe is made out of. I think a lot of people [play these types of] experiences down because they get back into their fear and their control system, and their mind starts lying to them again because that’s what ego does. I felt like I went home for 10,000 years, and I came back 25 minutes later.”
Next, he saw his existence as a book, and pages inside him began to be ripped out.
“It started to be that everything important was ripped out, and it started to be more painful and magical,” he says. “And it’s crazy how when you reach the point of complete happiness, how painful it is to be fully, fully happy. And that is something I will definitely not forget.”
Experiencing the trauma he had in life and reaching the dissolution of his ego sent him further on the artistic path.
“Creating art is not only your therapy, it’s also a message for others; you’re doing it for others,” he says. “You’re triggering, subconsciously, their trauma so they can heal. It’s what music has always done for me. I started to understand that there is a thing called imagination. I have understood that reincarnation is a real thing. It is a part of life and death, and consciousness. It is what we are doing. We’re going in a circle. Life is not linear. It’s also not a circle. It’s a fucking spiral. With more awareness and self-awareness, you get it’s like, damn, imagination. It’s nothing. That’s our explanation for something which does not exist. But I understood that it is just a memory from the past. So what a creative person does, who really paints from his soul, is he paints his trauma and the experiences he has had, which are still deeply rooted in his genetics.”
This collective experience was captured in one of Nychos’s recent shows in Downtown Los Angeles, which ran between February and May. Called The Awakening, it was an expansive show that walked the user through this transcendent experience. The show was built to illustrate the journey from the physical world to the matrix. You saw his more anatomical work before journeying into the darker, deeper elements of self—it was a must-see for fans of any era of his art.
“I’m here to do this to heal myself. And I can also only heal when I heal others,” Nychos explains. “The goal is to open the throat chakra to speak my truth, my primal truth or whatever, even more to know who I am. And also, I can actually create from a pure place of love. And I feel like this is the place where people are really going to vibrate toward because they are already vibrating to this because it’s their trauma. If it comes from love, that is the place you want to be. Well, the work of it. This show is an introduction.”
This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.