The New Contemporary Art Magazine

Author: Elizabeth Maskasky

From NYC’s blighted metropolis of the 1970s to São Paulo, Brazil today, graffiti has served as a powerful visual tool for acknowledging, reclaiming and beautifying neglected urban spaces. In "Life as It Is," an exhibit at San Francisco's Ian Ross Gallery that opened last Wednesday, Brazilian artist Zezão brings that abandoned world into the gallery environment.
The use of multiple-exposure techniques to create eerie, ghostlike effects in photography and film is a trope that most of us are familiar with. The work of photographer David Samuel Stern, however, stands out in that he eschews both the usual analog and digital means of achieving such effects. Instead, in his "Woven Portrait" series, Stern physically weaves together two prints of the same subject. The resulting portraits are intriguing and ghostly multi-perspective studies of Stern’s subjects, all of whom are representatives of the creative fields – artists, musicians, choreographers and poets, to name a few.
American artists — from the painters of the Hudson River School to the influential Andrew Wyeth — have long depicted this country’s vast landscape as simultaneously a place of lonely desolation and of awe-inspiring grandeur. Following in this tradition, Andrea Kowch creates gorgeous and eerie acrylic paintings of open-skied pastoral landscapes. Inspired by a deep fascination with the natural world, Kowch’s works also tap into a common feeling of uneasiness many of us have toward the American rural – a place that is iconic for its beauty but that is also often associated with tedium, isolation and a clinging to negative aspects of the country's past.
Working in the tradition of Italian Renaissance masters, the Milan-based artist Giuseppe Ciracì creates careful renderings of human anatomy, using pencil, oil and acrylic. Many of his pieces have an unfinished feel; often the faces of his human subjects appear half rendered in a detailed chiaroscuro, while the other half is left in white silhouette, as though the artist got distracted halfway through or were merely creating preparatory sketches.
Mexican artist José Luis López Galván works with oil paint to create dark and unsettling scenes that can be simultaneously erotic and grotesque. His paintings further estrange the viewer by calling to mind wildly different artistic styles, from the quietly dramatic chiaroscuro of Rembrandt to the surrealism of Dali. López Galván maximizes the dramatic potential of oils, creating lush and eerie tableaux that are populated by enigmatic characters, such as anthropomorphic and lavishly attired rabbits, disembodied limbs and half-human robots. As in paintings by the Old Masters, López Galván’s storybook-like scenes often feel like allegories for a larger narrative. In this case though, the background story resembles the logic of a nightmare or a hallucination more than the workings of the divine.
German-born collage artist Thomas Spieler creates intriguing multimedia works that play with the dualism that exists between the human and natural worlds. Spieler juxtaposes vintage black-and-white photographs of human figures with brightly colored photographs of more abstract forms. Many of the black-and-white photos look like they could be ads or pictures of movie stars lifted from old magazines, while others appear to be photographs of classical sculptures from antiquity. Meanwhile, the colorful photos are of objects found in nature, such as minerals, geological formations, butterfly wings and flower petals.
Surrealist art is often highly cryptic and the odd juxtapositions and ambiguous narratives can sometimes feel unnerving. This is understandable given the contradictory space between the subconscious and reality that surrealist artists navigate in their creative process. In the hands of self-proclaimed surrealist Daniel Merriam, however, the results of this process are entirely different. Merriam draws inspiration from both his fantasies and surrounding reality to create works that are both deeply pleasurable and immediately enticing. His imaginative paintings depict fantastical worlds filled with bubbles, flying fish, instrument-playing animals and tree-house castles, all rendered in dreamy watercolors.
Photographer Shinichi Maruyama employs cutting-edge technologies to capture elegant and abstract images of liquid and human forms in motion. In a series entitled “Kusho,” which is part performance and part image making, Maruyama throws black ink and water into the air and records the moment the two separate mediums collide. Although these images could only have been captured using brand new strobe light technologies, Maruyama still draws his inspiration from timeless artistic practices and preoccupations. In his artist statement, he writes about memories of writing Chinese characters in sumi ink as a young student: “Once your brush touches paper, you must finish the character, you have one chance. It can never be repeated or duplicated. You must commit your full attention and being to each stroke.” Like the brushes of ink on paper, each depiction of the ink’s flight through the sky represents a fleeting moment that can never be recreated.
Born in Hong Kong, raised in Vancouver, educated in Denmark, and currently residing in Berlin – Andrea Wan is an artist with a diverse and culturally rich background to draw upon. Inspired by her relationships with the various people and places she has encountered throughout her journeys, Wan’s illustrations and ink paintings seek to communicate narratives that seem influenced by folktales and children’s stories. Indeed, the surrealistic and whimsical scenes that Wan creates could be illustrations straight out of a trippy children’s book, à la Dr. Seuss, Lewis Carroll or Shel Siverstein.
Fantastic architectural settings, statuesque-like human figures staged in dramatic poses and a prevailing mood of impending catastrophe; it should come as no surprise that printmaker Victoria Goro-Rapoport began her career in the theater. The recipient of an MFA in set design, Goro-Rapoport was once professionally employed creating backdrops for theatrical dramas. Eventually the artist decided to devote herself fully to her two-dimensional artwork in order to give her imagination completely free reign. In her intricate engravings and etchings, this theatrical background translates into an often dark and moody ambience. Lone figures are silhouetted against tempestuous and overwhelming skies or are caught in the midst of impossible feats, calling to mind Biblical figures, as well as both the heroes and victims of Greek mythology. As with the stage, where the illusions of a play have the power to transport us, so do Goro-Rapoport’s prints create an imaginary universe where the possibilities are seemingly infinite and the actors larger-than-life.
Artist Bryan Holland creates intriguing paintings and collage works by juxtaposing styles from various eras. Many of his works have a retro quality that reminds one of the bygone days of billboard painting as an art form. Glossy images of apples, lipstick and other products that seem practically interchangeable hearken back to the days of Mad Men-era advertising. In other works, Holland depicts wild animals in staged-looking poses, reminiscent of the kind of tableaux one might find at a natural history museum. These depictions of ossified or at least domesticated-looking animals are set against faded text and backgrounds that could be inspired by vintage wallpaper designs, calling to mind old-timey circus posters. Meanwhile, the costumes and poses of Holland’s various human subjects often refer back to 15th-century Flemish portraiture. Taken as a whole or viewed individually, Holland’s work creates a dense tapestry of cultural associations that reveal a deep interest in commercial art of both the past and present.
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.
Last weekend, an eclectic group of 19 Bay Area artists convened at Oakland’s Loakal Art Gallery for an epic, 24-hour live painting show that commenced at 8 a.m. on Saturday and wrapped up the following Sunday morning. Each artist was given a 4’ by 8’ panel and, in the spirit of the show’s title, “Carpe Diem,” asked to “seize the day” by spending the next 24 hours engaging with the community through live art-making. Read more after the jump.
Over the past several years, Puerto Rican-born street artist Alexis Diaz has built an international presence, with giant murals covering everywhere from the side of a crumbling building in Bratislava, Slovakia to a makeshift billboard in the middle of the Arizona desert. The artist is known for his chimerical and dreamlike depictions of animals in a state of metamorphosis. Diaz often works collectively with friend and fellow street artist Juan Fernandez; when collaborating together, the group calls themselves “La Pandilla” (or “The Gang”). Both Diaz’s solo work and that of La Pandilla demonstrate a deep interest in transfiguration; animals morph into one another, human hands and skulls become wings and snail shells and creatures are transformed into ships and submarines to be used for the transport of other animal subjects. Diaz’s signature style is the use of tiny black brushstrokes on white to render his creatures, making them look like highly-detailed pen-and-ink drawings. These ‘drawings’ stand out all the more for being set against their bright teal, blue, and sunset-colored backdrops.
As anyone who grew up in the Rust Belt, surrounded by abandoned factories and homes, can attest, there is something deeply and perversely satisfying about the sight of buildings in a state of collapse. The Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Seth Clark seems to understand this feeling well. By meticulously building upon layers of scrap paper, various mixed media and drawing, Clark creates textured images of decadently crumbling edifices. These structures are simultaneously thrilling and frightening. Rather than appearing as merely passive victims to the dark forces behind their deterioration — political, social, and environmental — the buildings seem almost alive, feeding on their own collapse. This sense of a destructive energy, perhaps driven by our own unconscious death wish, may be what makes these ruins so compelling and strangely beautiful.
111 Minna Gallery in downtown San Francisco is currently presenting a show of new work by locals D Young V, Eddie Colla and Hugh Leeman. All three artists are well known within the Bay Area’s graffiti art scene and the vitality and effort at public engagement from their street art can be strongly felt in these gallery pieces. The show includes both collaborations between the artists, as well as individual works. Read more after the jump.
Illustrator Ben Tolman’s intricate and densely-layered ink drawings reflect a deep fascination with different levels of consciousness and perception. Some works depict fantastical landscapes that are populated by otherworldly creatures, suggesting a hallucinatory state. At the same time, Tolman also depicts what would otherwise be monotonous landscapes with such incredible detail that even the most mundane of scenes can become strange and fascinating. Read more after the jump.
Spontaneity, or simply being in the moment, is a key element in the practice of Haejung Lee, a Korean-born illustrator who is currently based in Toronto. Her playful portraits feel like brief, insightful glimpses of faces seen on a busy city street, on the subway, or, perhaps most of all, in a dream. Lee combines realistic renderings of facial features with fantastical and surrealistic details that often serve to reveal a subject’s psychological state or allude to a hidden narrative. Lee depicts a diverse set of emotions, ranging from the ecstatic to the deeply contemplative. At the same time, the inclusion of strings and disembodied hands that appear to manipulate many of the subjects raises questions as to the extent of their control over their own psyches.
In the field of contemporary glass art production, where many practitioners are creating large-scale and hypermodern-looking pieces, the work of the Philadelphia-based Amber Cowan stands out. Cowan digs through thrift stores to find old American glass objects from the 1940s through the 1980s, which she then re-fires and re-works into intricate, rococo designs. In addition to being extremely delicate and feminine, the pieces emanate a strong sense of history and nostalgia for American household artifacts. In some of the works, Cowan incorporates factory scraps and small knickknacks like glass kittens and horses. These serve to refer us back to the original discarded objects that Cowan salvaged, smashed up and recycled. Additionally, many of the works, such as Rosalind and Chocolate, are thematically based on a color that has its own specific history in the factory production of American glass.
The evocatively titled Above Prophecy and Grace is a recent work by Oakland-based illustrator Nicomi Nix Turner (previously seen here and here) that demonstrates a continued interest in depicting figures who are fully immersed in the natural world, and as part of that, in a continuous cycle of birth and decay. The subject is an intense-looking woman who is completely at one with nature. Her head is sprouting fungus, flowers, and beetles in a kind of living headdress; dead leaves fall from her temple, and from out of a cut in her cheek, mushrooms are blooming. Along with insects, animals and contemplative female figures, fungus, skulls, and ominous titles are recurring themes across Turner’s mostly black-and-white graphite illustrations, which both celebrate nature and acknowledge its darker side.
"Pencil vs. Camera" is a series by Belgian multidisciplinary artist Ben Heine that combines photography and drawing to infuse ordinary scenes with new surreal, visionary, or romanticized narratives. Of his work, Heine says “I just make art for people. I want them to dream and forget their daily troubles… each new creation should tell a story and generate an intense emotion, like a poem, like a melody.” The scenes Heine chooses to depict display a passion for nature, for human interactions, and, above all, for ability of the imagination to create new fantastic possibilities. In some of the pieces, Heine’s hand can be seen holding up an illustration to a photo, while in other works his whole body appears. Either way, the presence of the artist is always strongly felt in the work.
Claire Rosen’s photographic practice is deeply rooted in the landscape and experiences of childhood; that is, in a magical world of fairy tales, visions and play-acting. In her "Nostalgia: A Study in Color" series, Rosen assembled and photographed tableaux, organized by color, of personal belongings from her childhood. In these lushly colored scenes, ordinary objects, such as dolls' heads and playing cards, are placed next to articles less familiar to the realm of childhood, including an opium pipe, bird skeletons, a lobster and a teeth mold, to name a few. Such juxtapositions render even the commonplace items strange, exotic and emotionally charged. The photographs thus draw us into the imagination and perspective of a child, for whom the most ordinary of objects can become the material of fantasy, and at the same time conjure the very adult feeling of nostalgia, of longing for a romanticized past.
In his bold appropriations of 18th and 19th century Western paintings, Titus Kaphar presents the iconic ghosts of our art historic past as if they were characters in a novel, as images that progress and interact with one another across a continuum of time. Kaphar copies works from the classic American and European portrait canon — think Thomas Gainsborough — and then stages direct interventions on the canvas by way of slashing, cutting, pasting and whitewashing. In some portraits, whole figures have been "deleted" and appear only in white silhouette, while in others, Kaphar has covered their bodies with bunched up canvas so that they appear mummified, dead, silenced. The materials Kaphar employs to alter or add to existing narratives — for example, the black tar that’s smudged across the surface of otherwise tranquil landscapes — are highly evocative with a complex history of their own. Titus Kaphar's work will be exhibited with Catherine Clark Gallery at Miami Project this upcoming Basel Week, December 3-8. See more after the jump.

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