Often depicted as bored, restless youngsters, Hebru Brantley’s solitary heroes exist between two worlds: their mundane realities and their boisterous imaginations, which Brantley depicts as a cacophony of black-and-white characters and scribbled text. Sometimes the imaginary layer of the work is kept to a quiet whisper, and other times it takes over the entire canvas and we know we are in the land of make-believe. There is a sense of naïveté in Brantley’s characters that evokes the child-like beings of Yoshitomo Nara. Like Nara, Brantley’s work appears flat at a first glance, but is executed with painterly, thick brushstrokes that add a sense of depth and dimension. Having exhibited extensively throughout the US, the artist recently unveiled his UK debut, “Everyone’s Everything” at Mead Carney Fine Art in London. At their core, the paintings in the exhibition are a love letter to the imagination, and an invitation for the viewers to tap into a childlike sense of wonder in themselves.
The dynamic of an artist duo is always an interesting one to observe. Of all the reasons two people choose to merge their artistic identities, Chinese art collective Tamen, composed of Lai Shengyu and Yang Xiaogang, chose a political one. In 2002, they became known by one name as a soft protest against the individualistic mindset that pervades today’s globalized society. As a result, their painting practice resembles that of conjoined twins: Each detail is executed as a seamless collaboration. Lai and Yang were born a year apart (1978 and 1979), completed the same post-graduate program in printmaking at Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2004 and both currently work in the Department of New Media Art in the Beihang University. Their nearly-parallel life paths converge with Tamen.
Israeli artist Roy Nachum creates oil paintings that feature fantastical settings and creatures alike. In his recent series, “Blind,” Nachum takes interest in juxtaposing images and words; the words are not legible to just anyone, however. Nachum chooses to lay out poems (written by the artist and inspired by the paintings) in Braille over the canvas, enabling the blind to appreciate his work just as a seeing spectator would. “My hope is that I can strike a variety of emotional chords with blind readers that is similar, but not identical, to what different people with sight take away from a painting,” he said in his artist statement.
The work of Italian contemporary artist Livio Scarpella turns good and evil into delicacy. This group of sculptures, named “Ghosts Underground”, depicts lost souls anguishing beneath the effect of a thin veil. Scarpella’s interest in this subject was inspired by a trip to the Sansevero Chapel in Naples, home to Antonio Corradini’s “Veiled Christ”. Before that time, he mostly exhibited paintings for a decade. By mixing influences of Rococo sculptors like Corradini with modern iconography, Scarpella explores a struggle with religious faith.
Though the core of Benjamin Constantine’s work is illustration, his use of ink with brushes instead of pens or markers gives it an ethereal, painterly quality. The Brisbane-based artist often mixes traditional and digital techniques, laying out a composition with ink and adding color in Photoshop. Traditional paintings exist in his repertoire, as well. His work is textured and chaotic: Even when a central figure is present, Constantine floods in the backgrounds with minutiae that occupy his environments. Often, though, the scenes are organized like the Dutch genre paintings of the Northern Renaissance, where multitudes of figures are depicted on an equal plane, each person engaged in his or her own activity. Constantine’s work pulses with action, with every crevice filled with texture and line work — so much so that the eye doesn’t know where to stop.
In his portrait series, the Austrian artist Aldo Tolino deconstructs, folds, reassembles and weaves printed photographs in order to create origami-like sculptural pieces. Tolino then re-photographs the works, converting the pieces back into two-dimensional objects. The disturbing quality of the images may not just be due to the fact that the folded faces appear distorted, disproportional and almost entirely stripped of identity. In their conversion back to a photographic object, these pieces also suggest a cycle of infinite reprocessing and deformation, wherein the portrait will only continue to move further away from the original “true” image. This perhaps serves to remind us of the precarious nature of photography itself; the lack of control we have over photographic images, the instability of their meaning and function, which can be both liberating and unsettling.