What begins as a soft-spoken clip of America’s most iconic TV painting instructor, Bob Ross from his Joy of Painting show, suddenly shifts into a frenetic and extremely rare behind-the-scenes video of Banksy creating his latest work in Reading, Berkshire. Titled “Create Escape,” the clip was just posted to the artist’s social media channels and depicts the real-time creation of a stenciled artwork of a prisoner escaping the high, red brick walls of HM Prison Reading (formerly known as Reading Gaol). Unlike the bright studio lights that illuminated Ross’s bucolic landscapes, “Create Escape” captures the frantic yet precise execution of a work done in near darkness by an artist completely governed by police response time.
The expansive and unblemished prison wall was a daring and perfect spot for a Banksy piece. It’s best known for its most famous inmate: Oscar Wilde served two years in the prison from 1895-1897 for the charge of “gross indecency” for being gay. The work is clearly a tribute to the poet, as the escape mechanism appears to be a long strand of paper emerging from a typewriter in place of the usual bed sheets. Wilde recounted aspects of his imprisonment in the poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” which centers largely on the execution of Charles Thomas Wooldridge.
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Dozens of Mushroom Characters Populate a Family Tree in Whimsically Painted Photographs by Jana Paleckova
An affinity for fleshy spores runs in the long line of ancestors laid out in a family tree by Jana Paleckova. The Prague-based artist layers antique photographs with playful oil paintings of spindly enoki or ribbed chanterelle, creating hybrid characters brimming with fungi-fueled personalities. “There are many types of mushrooms, all of which have different characteristics. Just like people,” she says.
In a note to Colossal, Paleckova says she was prompted to start the whimsical project when she was flipping through her family’s atlas of fungi. “Czech people are known mushroom hunters. It’s quite common for families to go out looking for mushrooms together,” she says. This atlas later served as a reference point for the 90 small portraits, which consist of the dozens of vintage photographs that the artist sourced from flea markets, that comprise the sprouted kin.
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In Valerie Hammond’s series of wax drawings, protection is two-fold: the artist (previously) encases dried flowers and ferns in a thin layer of wax, preserving their fragile tissues long after they’ve been plucked from the ground. In outlining a pair of hands, she also secures a memory, or rather, “the essence of a gesture and the fleeting moment in which it was made.”
Centered on limbs lying flat on Japanese paper, the ongoing series dates back to the 1990s, when Hammond made the first tracing “partly in response to the death of a dear friend, whose beautiful hands I often found myself remembering.” She continued by working with family and friends, mainly women and children, to delineate their wrists, palms, and fingers. Today, the series features dozens of works that are comprised of either hands tethered to the dried botanics, which sprout outward in wispy tendrils, or others overlayed with thread and glass beads.
Although the delicate pieces began as a simple trace, Hammond shares that she soon began to overlay the original drawing with pressed florals, creating encaustic assemblages that “echoed the body’s bones, veins, and circulatory systems.” She continued to experiment with the series by introducing various techniques, including printmaking, Xerox transfers, and finally Photoshop inversions, that distorted the original rendering and shifted her practice. Hammond explains:
The works suddenly inhabited a space I had been searching for, straddling the indefinable boundary between presence and absence, material and immaterial, consciousness and the unconscious. For me, they became emblematic not only of the people whose hands I had traced but of my own evolving artistic process—testimony to the passing of time and the quiet dissolution of memory.
Hammond’s work recently was included in a group show at Leila Heller Gallery. Her practice spans multiple mediums including collage, drawing, and sculpture, all of which you can explore on her site and Instagram.
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For Valérie Hadida, the deep, protective partnerships fostered between women provide the foundation for her practice. The French artist casts bronze sculptures that are poetic and nuanced, depicting female figures wearing contemplative and composed expressions. “Coming from a large family where women reign supreme and play a key role, they have established a bond of serenity, trust, and complicity with me,” she tells Colossal. “The heroines of my works are always women because I am deeply convinced that it is they who will change and save the world.”
Hadida begins with a sketch before building the figures that eventually are covered with green patina. In recent years, the size of the sculptures has grown from smaller works into those that stand more than a meter high, an expansion that brings the scale of the works closer to a human body. “I prefer to work on the curves, the flesh more than the muscles. These seem to me disabling because they are hard and violent,” she says. Most of the sculptures depict teenage years or middle age, a time that’s marked with transition and change.
Generally seated, the figures’ poses and gestures appear temporary as if the woman has just shifted or is precariously settled on a stone. Although the bodies are still, their curls often swell upward to imply movement and sometimes are embedded with smaller silhouettes like in “Nocturna.” Their locks “typify each woman in her origins, in her age… The hair moves like the branches of a tree,” the artist says, noting that the plumed strands both accentuate and stabilize the figures’ supple curves, elongated fingers, and overall shape. “These women are marked by life. I do not represent perfect or idealized figures. These silhouettes are on the contrary very marked, very cut out. But their imperfections highlight their femininity,” she says.
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Fueled with a sense of rebellion, yards of colorful tulle cascade from windows and down staircases in site-specific installations by Ana María Hernando. The soft, pliable material breaches existing architecture and entwines trees in swaths of mesh, creating works that are both visually striking and subversive.
Evocative of ballgowns and garments that are traditionally worn by women, the tulle explodes into a flood of fabric as a way to break with social constructions surrounding feminity. “As a Latina, I explore how the feminine comes forward in strength and flexibility, in beauty and in (an) unstoppable abundance of generosity,” the Argentinian artist says.
Though she’s worked with a range of materials, Hernando shares that she always incorporates a textile element, which seems “to be an expansive conduit for my work” and references her childhood in Buenos Aires, where she observed the women in her family sewing, crocheting, and embroidering together every day. She explains:
The things they made from fabric and thread were expressions of their spirit. All the beauty—the hours of work, the washing and ironing—was made invisible once the table was laid and stained with food. I explore the unacknowledged feminine force of work as a prayer that I have known my whole life.
Hernando mainly works from Boulder, although she’s spent much of the year so far in a forest in Tennessee’s South Cumberland Plateau. She’s represented by Robischon Gallery, Shark’s Ink, and Moving Art. If you’re in Colorado, view the artist’s multidisciplinary projects in the coming months as part of Present Box at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and in a September solo show at Denver Botanic Gardens. In 2022, you can find her at the Sun Valley Museum of Art and Denver’s Robischon Gallery. Until then, explore an archive of her tufted, textile-based projects on her site and Instagram. (via Cross Connect Magazine)
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In his architectural portraits, Patrick Akpojotor visualizes the exchange between humans and their built environments, whether real or imagined. The artist’s spatial body of work, which explicitly contemplates the relationship between interiority and exteriority, is founded in his childhood in Lagos, a city checkered with traditional, colonial, and contemporary structures where he still lives today. “I saw how a former residential area became a commercial one changing how people interacted with that community,” he says.
Rendered in bold blocks of acrylic, Akpojotor’s paintings encourage introspection as they consider how identities inform the design of single buildings and infrastructure, which in turn shape the people who occupy those spaces. The anthropomorphic structures evoke cubist geometry and illusion, fracturing the body with a staircase, brick chimney, or entire house, and some works shown here, including both “In Memory of the Living” pieces, are self-portraits.
Beyond his surroundings in Nigeria, Akpojotor derives inspiration from ancient African sculptures and masks, particularly “the way the forms are intentionally distorted to pass messages and symbols of their (beliefs),” he shares. “In my work, the way object(s) are placed does not matter. What is important is that the object(s) are represented, and the message is passed.”
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