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Unease Emanates from Alexander Harrison’s Painted Portals to an Uncanny World
Through small paintings that often stretch less than a foot, artist Alexander Harrison coaxes scenes of both delicate natural beauty and profound unease. Once-fresh flowers wilt and fall, night descends around a decaying tree with a figure trapped inside, and malicious roots entangle a fleeting foot, puncturing the skin with thorns and cuts. Rendered in acrylic on panel with trompe le’oiel elements that add illusory depth to the tiny portals, the works are brimming with intrigue and mystery about what lies beyond the frame.
The pieces shown here were on view at Kasmin earlier this month in Harrison’s solo show Big World, a title that alludes to the vast unreality from which he imagines his scenes emerging. Supernatural and uncanny, the works contain recognizable symbols that cite art historical and religious references, while the watermelon of “Down in the Mouth,” for example, draws on the long legacy of racist imagery. “I see my paintings as another dimension, or a universe that feels like a fever dream as shown through my eyes,” Harrison told Kasmin Review. “I always like to have cosmic symbols in my work, like shooting stars and moons, because that creates distance and curiosity, but I also like to create intimacy by painting the roots under the ground.”
Often reflecting on his upbringing in South Carolina, the artist tends to situate Black men at the center of his pieces, considering the way racism proliferates both American history and life today. In addition to the paintings included in Big World, he also recently completed works featuring Black cowboys and their under-acknowledged legacies. Shown as part of a corrective exhibition at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, “Beyond the Horizon” similarly relies on caricature and emanates a sinister, foreboding feeling like that of the works shown here.
To view more of the artist’s paintings, visit Kasmin’s site and Instagram.
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Kaci Smith Weaves Colorful Patterns into Miniature Looms Fashioned from Wishbones and Branches
In autumn of 2020, artist Kaci Smith was faced with a compound dilemma: daily life was still affected by the pandemic while devastating wildfires spread around her home in Northern California. “The air was so filled with smoke that even my studio became off limits,” she says. “The first branch weaving was just a way to pass some time and do something creative while being stuck indoors.” Smith had previously turned to the craft as a calming and meditative complement to her collage and painting practice, so when she began to forage for twigs that she could transform into delicate looms, she was excited about the possibilities and a new challenge.
Weaving colorful weft threads through plain warp threads, Smith’s interventions suspend web-like miniature tapestries in natural frames. Depending on the size of the branch or the complexity of the pattern, a piece can take several days to complete. A few months ago, she was inspired to utilize a leftover wishbone as “a way to honor the turkey that fed my family on Thanksgiving,” she says, and sources additional pieces online as byproducts of the poultry industry. “Even though tapestry is basically ‘painting with yarn,’ you can never rush it. The very nature of it teaches patience, and there is a special rhythm in the repetition.”
Find more of Smith’s work on her website and Instagram.
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Meticulous Flat Lays of Vintage Toys and Miniatures Celebrate the History of Play and Design
“There’s a feeling I remember which has to do with the seriousness of play, when you were completely absorbed in playing a game with your toys and fully believed in the world you’d created, and it really mattered,” Jane Housham says. “I look longingly back at that imaginative space.”
A writer, artist, and self-described accumulator, Housham continually returns to the engrossing joys of childhood through a vast collection of found objects. Stickers and plastic doll hands, a pantry of non-perishable goods, and a menagerie of animals on wheels are the catalysts for her flat lays. Precisely categorized by color, shape, or theme, each composition highlights the varied styles, functions, and contexts of similar items and becomes a useful and approachable entry into the history of design. “If I’ve acquired a new (to me) little object, that often nudges me to revisit the category it belongs to—a new tiny seahorse or radio will subtly alter the pre-existing set, and the arrangement is always fresh in any case. Seahorses and radios are particular favourites of mine,” she says.
Housham’s mother was a dollhouse enthusiast and passed on her love of miniatures, which inspired the artist to keep a box of treasures as a child that she would frequently sort and arrange. That early experience is the root of her current practice, which is the result of rummaging through massive stores—she estimates there are thousands of objects in her possession at the moment—of vintage toys and tiny items.
Because many of the pieces in her collection are antiques and sourced secondhand, sometimes they’re rusty, scratched, or broken, and a considerable number are made from plastic. Housham adds:
I’m not really interested in new plastic things as I don’t want to encourage the continued spewing out of unnecessary plastic bits and pieces, but I like to save old plastic toys and other secondhand bits and bobs and to celebrate their colours and the ingenuity of their design. Although it’s now understood to be so bad for the world, plastic was a beautiful material in its heyday.
Housham shares a trove of miniature finds and color-coded compositions on her Instagram, Found and Chosen, and sells prints of the flat lays on Etsy. As she amasses more objects and engages with the childhood curiosity and imagination she so deeply values, she does find herself asking one recurring question: “Where will all this collecting end, I wonder?”
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A Traditional Ukrainian House Outlines a Home Away from Home in Antarctica
Off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula within an expansive archipelago sits the island of Galindez where the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base annually hosts twelve scientists and welcomes more than 4,000 tourists during the summer months. One of the first things visitors encounter is an unsightly, defunct fuel tank perched on the shore that the National Antarctic Research Center wanted to tidy up, so they asked the Kyiv-based architecture studio balbek bureau to envision and repurpose the site into an inviting “home away from home.”
The center commissioned the project in November 2021, three months before Russia invaded Ukraine. Originally scheduled for installation in early 2022, the war forced the firm to postpone until last month, when the piece titled “Home. Memories” was successfully constructed. Conceived as a welcoming sight for resident researchers and travelers, the piece adopted new layers of meaning in the wake of Russia’s aggression, highlighting Ukraine’s distinct culture and history amidst the ongoing assault. balbek bureau’s design is based on a traditional, rural house, incorporating a thin, metal frame around the tank that resembles a pencil sketch, “as if someone, reminiscing, draws their childhood home from memory.”
Along with being a “visual treat” for visitors, the project had significant practical concerns because of its extreme location. The installation had to be easily assembled, resistant to severe weather conditions, and safe for more than 3,500 penguins living on the island— “who love to disassemble constructions into bits used for nests.” The structure had to be able to withstand winds of up to 90 miles per hour, sub-zero temperatures, and around 300 days of precipitation each year.
Complementing the geometry of the outline, a miniature exhibition of resin “time capsules,” or souvenirs from around the country, are on display and include a sample of UNESCO-listed Kosiv painted ceramics, a fragment of an embroidered shirt known as a vyshyvanka, and a lump of coal from the Donetsk region. “We believe that the war will end in our victory, and Ukrainians will create new memories from the safe haven of their home,” shares co-founder Slava Balbek. “And all the way in Antarctica, for researchers and tourists alike, our house will continue to stand strong, a true memento of Ukraine.”
Explore in-depth documentation of the process from start to finish on the studio’s website.
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Magic and Myth Arise from Kristin Kwan’s Surreal Oil Paintings
Kristin Kwan coaxes the magic out of nature in her dreamlike oil paintings. Emphasizing a quiet surrealism centered on plants, animals, and Earth’s landscapes, her works draw on allegories, symbolism, and myth. Suffused with fantastical details, each painting begins “devoid of meaning,” Kwan shares, saying that while they reflect her own musings, she hopes the resulting pieces are open-ended. “I like to think of a painting as some kind of communal scaffold or trellis that meaning can grow on, my own alongside viewers,” the artist recently told Beautiful Bizarre, which awarded her the 2022 art prize for “The Golden Afternoon” shown below.
Kwan is currently preparing for two group shows, one in May at Tugboat Gallery in her current city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and another in August at Seattle’s Roq La Rue. She also has a solo show scheduled for December at Nucleus in Los Angeles. For glimpses into her process and studio and to keep up with her latest works, head to Instagram.
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Clever Illustrations by Nash Weerasekera Highlight Ironies and Anxieties of Everyday Life
Influenced by what he describes as a “healthy level of cynicism,” Melbourne-based artist Nash Weerasekera taps into the subtle ironies of everyday life. His digital illustrations often center on seemingly paradoxical circumstances like a figure meditating on top of an overturned car or a young girl in a bathing suit seated on an ice floe. Largely focused on the nature of work, social interactions, and domestic responsibilities, his humorous scenes visualize endless to-do lists, running out of time, or a satirical take on a favorite phrase of optimists everywhere: every cloud has a silver lining.
Weerasekera shares that he “thinks” better on paper, so every piece begins with a physical sketch. His illustration practice stems from a background in street art in his home country of Sri Lanka that blossomed into acrylic painting when he moved to Australia. During pandemic lockdowns when it was a challenge to gather materials, he began to experiment with digital techniques and increasingly collaborates with commercial clients.
Weerasekera is currently illustrating a children’s book, and you can find more of his work on Instagram.
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