The New Contemporary Art Magazine

Author: James Scarborough

Liu Guangguang was born in China’s Gansu province. He attended Lu Xun Academy of Fine Art. He lives and works in Shenyang and Beijing. He’s a member of the Beijing-based EDGE Creative Collective. His recent work is about scale. His figures (and animals) go about their normal activity. They check their phones. They play cards. They get ready for bed. The people smile without a care in the world. Despite the normalcy of each image, something’s unusual, if not wrong. Either the figures have miniature heads or else their bodies are gigantic. Their fingers and necks are elongated. A few have huge eyes. One woman has the floppy ears and trunk of an elephant.
Joaquin Jara is versatile. Born in Barcelona, he studied art at La Llotja, in Barcelona, and the Camberwell College of Arts in London. He finished neither. Why should he? He knew precisely what he was doing.
Sarah A. Smith has a particular set of drawings that merit notice for their expressive qualities. Her subject is the natural world. The compositions are dynamic and fluid, coiled in mid-strike. If you didn’t know they were drawings, you might think they were dioramas. Subject matter includes eagles and wolves, trees and shrubs. Sometimes there’s a drawing of an eagle, sometimes there’s one of a wolf. Sometimes the two are locked in combat though, as in Eagle Vs. Wolf, you can only see the wolf responding to the eagle overhead. The work is dynamic. The shapes are sharp and angular. They look like lightning bolts. If you could rub the head of the eagle or the wolf, you’d feel its coarse texture. Likewise with the bark of the trees: rub it and you’d get splinters. The scenes offer voyeuristic views of the natural world in its rawest element. It’s a perilous, zero sum world. Its narrow color palette suggests bleakness.
There, but not really. That’s the context for Barcelona-born artist Jaume Plensa’s public sculptures. They might seem like intrusions. They’re large. They’re set where people congregate. And the figures themselves are huge monumental heads. They sit in business districts and in front of an art museum. They emerge from the ocean. They hover above unsuspecting pedestrians. They rest in the neighborhood that surrounds the Venice Biennale.
It’s a palpable wonder, the manual effort that Colorado artist Andrew Tirado puts into his sculptures. It’s no coincidence, either, that his subject is hands. He commemorates things that are man-made. He does so by showing the importance of craft. The further we go along in virtual realities, the less significant we find the hands. The human touch, that’s what he wants to preserve.
Taiwan-born artist Chen Dao Lee’s creates ambiguous narratives of unresolved tensions. His style is nearly photorealistically perfect. His compositions are taut and vigorous. If the light in his work made a noise, it would be loud and blaring. It’s his choice of subject that makes the work provocative. Each piece features young, beautiful, semi-clad women with garish red hair. Some hold automatic weapons. Some wrestle with each other. Some engage in sexual escapades with other women. Some do so with other men. These women are young, beautiful, and... bored.
Born in Brazil, living in New York City, Marcelo Daldoce gives substance and heft to watercolor portraits.
Chinese artist Li Wentao’s work is theatrical. It’s not just way the artist stages the lone character, a young, fragile woman, always barefoot, always in some state of undress. Clearly something’s on her mind. It’s the way we identify with her, just as we identify with, become invested in, a play’s protagonist. It’s easy to conflate the artist and subject. The woman looks out a window, off to the side, at the viewer. We can’t describe, much less identify, her expression. Pensive, wary, frightened? Or does she share some quiet secret, some personal conspiracy? In any event, she doesn’t wear her face-the-world face. We don’t know her story but we want to. We want to keep looking at the work, hoping for some resolution of whatever situation she’s in.
Frenchman Lou Ros is self-taught and he used to tag walls. You can see both in his work. He didn’t learn the academic tradition and then proceed to tear it down. He works from photographs; he wants to paint stills from films. Photographs and still shots capture moments in flux. That’s what Ros does. He paints until he finds the feeling he seeks or else discovers. Then he finishes. It doesn’t matter whether the work itself is academically done. What matters is that he’s done. He works rapidly, in short bursts of energy. That’s the tagger’s MO. In and out, say what you have to say, clear and simple, before the flics arrive.
Charles Dickens's “A Tale of Two Cities” and the acrylic paintings of Filipino artist Rodel Tapaya share something in common. Both contend that it’s the best of times and the worst of times. Tapaya’s works’ formal qualities compress space and action. Pieces seem about to explode or else spin off the wall. There’s no clear narrative line, just a relentless series of actions and reactions. The works’ picture planes are flatter than flat. Their compositions are active and claustrophobic. Things appear in flux. The atmosphere emits a visual humidity. As in a myth, things good and things not-so-good vie for the viewer’s attention. There’s no resolution to these conflicts. They serve as cautionary tales.
When Yeats wrote that "love comes in at the eye,” he could have been thinking of the work of Vienna-based Atelier Olschinsky. It doesn't matter who the client is. It doesn't matter what the medium is. You walk away from this creative studio's work with a clear understanding of why we call the visual arts visual. You also realize how art has its own language. A language made up of nothing more than the arrangement of color, line, shape, space, and texture. We marvel at how Shakespeare worked with nothing more than 26 letters. In a similar vein, Atelier Olschinsky creates startling compositions with nothing more than muted color, dynamic, abutted shapes, and clashing lines. With great dexterity they blur the gap between art and design.
Meredith James is like a latter day Alice in Wonderland documenting what she sees in her journey down and through a contemporary rabbit hole. Her videos, installations, and sculptures play with scale and trompe l’oeil to create optical illusions that are as disruptive as they are funny. In "Day Shift", a short video, she plays a security guard who, having just left work, crawls into the backseat of her SUV and reemerges as a miniature figure in the building's security monitor. In Ames Landscape, an installation, two figures stand in a glade. A large mountain reaches skyward in the distance. The space is configured so that, though the space is logically consistent, one figure stands much taller than the other. In Hallway, another installation, a door opens onto stairs that lead down to the basement. The stairs, of course, go nowhere because the space is flat. The fact that the illusion is a dead ringer for the space's actual stairs that lead to a real basement is not even remotely coincidental.
A graduate of the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku, Faig Ahmed steeps his work in tradition. A recent body of work includes his Carpet series. Azerbaijani carpets have been around forever. “Undestroyable icons,” he calls them. They’re known for their formal qualities. They’re known for the symbolic value. They’re artistic and spiritual. They also serve a practical purpose. Read more after the jump.
Opening on May 2, “Degeneration/Regeneration" features the paintings of Scott Greenwalt and the 3D-printed sculptures of the collaborative team of Smith|Allen (Stephanie Smith and Bryan Allen) at Oakland’s Loakal Art Gallery. It shows how artists mediate nature through art. It’s not a new concept, not by a long shot. But it’s a fertile and relevant one. On one level, the show serves as an environmental call to arms. Any recent image of industrial Chinese cities affirms the show’s significance. On another level, it shows the way that urban folk experience digital representations of the natural world. This digitization can take place with photos and videos posted on social media. Google Earth allows viewers can visit scenes of natural or otherwise exotic climes. Finally, video games often occur in hyper accurate landscapes.
Talk about good timing. “Energy That Is All Around: Mission School," curated by Natasha Boas for NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, features the work of artists that became known as the Mission School. The artists include three San Francisco Art Institute alumni, Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, and Ruby Neri, and their friends Chris Johanson and Margaret Kilgallen. The name describes where they lived and worked. In the early '90s, San Francisco’s bohemian Mission District offered, among other things, low rent. Try finding that now. They based their work on graffiti, signage, folk art and cartoons. It was political, if not radical. As inspirations, they cited Bay Area Figuration, the Beat movement and Funk. Each artist had a graffiti tag, including Twist and Reminisce. They worked in all media.
Berlin-based artist Anke Eilergerhard makes sculptures from pigmented silicon that take the cake. She transforms Wayne Thiebaud’s Pop cakes into powerful generators of feminine identity (Scott Hove's monstrous, fanged cakes also come to mind). Some pieces look like traditional wedding cakes. Others look like Meret Oppenheim and Leonora Carrington got together to design them. She examines the forms and, especially, the surfaces of these cakes and cake-like objects. The first impression of the work is quirky and idiosyncratic, lighter than air. Upon closer examination, though, some work looks dangerous. These cakes look fluffy and innocuous. In reality, they serve as a weapon to fight obsolete ideas of feminine identity based solely on beauty.
Expression-wise, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the eyes in Japanese artist Naoto Hattori’s recent portraits of young women. Sometimes they're as large, all seeing, and innocent as anything you'd find in Japanese anime. Sometimes they're sinister, black pinprick holes that mask or otherwise portend malicious intent. What are extraordinary are the heads and faces. They combine elements of Odilon Redon, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and Day of the Dead iconography. The single eye that covers a cat’s face; faces constructed from unexpected organic shapes; a Cheshire Cat that emerges grinning from the top of an exploded head; and a skull. Even the ones that look normal either have henna-like markings on the scalp or else look like death portraits.
Jessica Rimondi knows the ravages of time. How flesh will sag and then decompose; how unlived-in-interiors fade, get musty, and, then crumble. She shows this in portraits that melt before our eyes. The flesh is waxy if not blistered. It bleeds down the surface. It’s like being inside a coffin and watching time-lapse photographs show just how organic we really are. She shows this in her unpeopled interiors where rooms otherwise perfectly articulated slough into what can be called domestic entropy. It’s not in the least morbid because the processes she describes are natural, are obvious. Time passes and so do we. It’s a state makes that us human and kudos to the artist for reminding us of our mortality in such a poignant way.
Victor Malagon's subject matter is baroque and ominous. The works are spiny, like prehistoric fish. These spines describe all manner of weapons: scimitars, long swords, and shivs. They are arrayed porcupine-like in centrifugal configurations – they look aerodynamic - as if the piece is about to go on a medieval spectacle of spin, hurl, and skewer. Each piece protrudes, seemingly, into our space. Your first reaction is to step back, and rightly so. To judge by the shapes, the compositions, and the ominous shadows they cast on the wall, these things pose a threat.
Joo Lee Kang works with ink. She creates portraits of animals: incredibly detailed, Audubon- or Durer-like. They’re so precious and — dare I say? — cuddly that you want to pet them. It’s not the medium that’s unique here: ink has been around for centuries. Nor is it the subject matter. Animals rendered in ink have figured as subject matter since at least the time of ancient Greece and before that, in caves. What’s unique is that Kang uses a ballpoint pen to transport the ink to the paper. Here, a pen by any other name- Biro, Bic — would work as well. Read more after the jump.
Argentine-born artist Gabriel Grun paints with an unusually sure hand. His paintings and drawings recall those of the Renaissance and Baroque masters he emulates in his work: Rembrandt, Durer, Memling, Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Holbein, and Ribera. He structures these his figures with compositions as geometrical as anything that Da Vinci and Raphael ever did. He pays particular attention to the details in landscape, musculature, and physiognomy. His drawings, especially, confirm that he’s as much devoted to technique as he is to expression. As befits an artist who works in the Renaissance, his themes are classical: Aphrodite; Leda; the Fates; Saint Sebastian; Galatea; Danae; and Arachne. The faces are contemplative, pensive, brooding, perhaps. These figures deal with weighty issues, issues that define the human condition. And yet there’s a serenity about them, a stoicism that, along with the gravitas of the manner in which Grun renders them, makes them heroic.

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