Chinese-born, London-based artist Jacky Tsai brings his fashion-world experience to his interdisciplinary art projects, which often fuse illustration, printmaking, sewing and sculpture. Tsai says that he is fueled by his contrasting experiences living in both Eastern and Western cultures. With his skull sculptures (or “Skullptures” as Tsai refers to them) and illustrations, the artist combines the morbid with the ornate. These symbols of death and decay become the sites of regeneration as flowers blossom on the skulls like moss — a juxtaposition Tsai uses as an antidote to his native culture’s superstitions about death.
In a 200 year old building in Mexico City’s central historic district, illustrator, graphic designer and street artist Smithe brings to life scenes from another world. Downstairs from his studio, there is a cantina that still houses a bullet fired from Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s gun. The street outside is on the route of the city’s largest civic demonstrations, which regularly block traffic to the area. Some 20 million people live their lives in the near vicinity. When Hi-Fructose visited his studio and showroom for the Tony Delfino clothing line, for which Smithe serves as creative director, the 26-year-old artist said his work is meant as an antidote, albeit temporary, to this urban madness.
Finnish artist Tapio Mömmö takes utilitarianism to the next level with his digital illustrations, where bodies are fused with the handy tools that enable our survival in the wild. While humans can’t spend too much time in open water, for instance, Mömmö presents a solution in the form of a person, dressed in a practical parka, whose head has been replaced by a fishing boat. Another headless person in snow gear, under Mömmö’s digital knife, has a sled annexed to their torso. Far from elegant cyborgs, these characters offer a comical answer to the fantasy of having superhuman capabilities.
Valentin Leonida (Valle) is a Bucharest-born 3D modeler and illustrator whose characters haunt imaginations. In his most recent series, “Heads,” Valle created five images revealing the interior of the human face as it makes emotional expressions. Titled “No.1 Rhinocerus (after Dürer),” “No.2 Melancholia,” “No. 3 Restless,” “No. 4 Concentration,” and “No. 5 Serpent Mind,” the drawings and their evocative labels prompt curiosity. One wonders if the furrowed tension in “Concentration” is revealed on one’s own face, or if the emotional state is only made visible when Valle’s golden medical contraption pulls back the skin like a veil.
Chinese artist Zhou Fan creates whimsical depictions of natural growths gone amuck: fungi, weeds and fluorescent drippings of alien goo stack upon characters’ heads and faces like strange, invasive species. Fan says that the inspiration for these colorful paintings came from a dream he had in which jellyfish fell from the sky and became mushrooms. The human characters appear to be overtaken by these extraterrestrial entities as they lodge themselves onto their faces and limbs. Fan’s paintings have a flat, illustrative quality that evokes Japanese Pop Art and animation (Miyazaki and Murakami come to mind when viewing his imaginative works). Fan described that in one piece, a little boy is crying because he doesn’t want his dream to end, perhaps a reflection of the artist’s own penchant for daydreaming and fantasizing.
Berlin-based artist Pierre Schmidt’s work floats freely between illustration and collage, traditional and digital. The artist splices vintage photographs of well-groomed ladies and gentlemen that evoke the standards of 20th-century propriety, turning them into bastions of surreal visions. In one piece, a cranium is cut open and in another, a face lifts off the head, implying a sort of out-of-body, psychedelic experience. Schmidt’s drawings flow as freely and impulsively as doodles, with lots of frenetic line work reigned in by the geometric organization of each piece. Each piece a veritable mind trip, his work speaks to the day dreamers among us.