Imbued with otherworldly light and a jewel-toned palette, Alfie Caine’s dreamscapes tuck domestic architecture into the idealized surroundings of manicured neighborhoods, country gardens, and lush woodland. The East Sussex-based artist draws on his formal training in architecture to render homes and their environs in vivid hues, playing with perspective and the relationship between light and shadow in an interplay of interior and exterior.
In Caine’s vignettes of domestic life, clues to the inhabitants are found in details like a potted plant propping a door open, a pet awaiting attention, or a glimpse of a figure in the corner, nearly out of view. The precision of linear perspective and bold contrasts meet the surreal, organic forms of wispy flora and streams of chimney smoke in scenes that emphasize small moments of pleasure in everyday life, such as taking a hot bath, strumming a guitar, or lighting a candle. These instances of familiarity are often countered by uncanny light sources, which illuminate bouquets of flowers, cast long shadows, and portend an incoming storm or some mysterious, unknown event.
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Chicago continues to rank among the most segregated cities in the United States, with Black and brown populations living across the south and west sides that lack the investment and resources of the white-dominated northern neighborhoods. Caused by more than a century’s worth of inequitable governance, redlining, and various forms of discrimination, this enduring racial separation has irrevocably shaped the city and its residents, impacting those who came to the area during the Great Migration and those who call it home still today. It’s often said that the history of Chicago is also the history of segregation.
This infamous legacy is an essential component of Yashua Klos’s evolution as an artist. “I’m from the city of Chicago, and Chicago’s urban planning was designed for segregation, to separate Black and white,” he shares with Colossal. “That segregation is baked into the ‘redlining’ housing ownership policies and the geography of the city.”
Now based in the Bronx, Klos frequently reflects on his hometown and brings the gridded structure of its streets into his works. A 2021 solo show at UTA Artist Space exhibited portraits bisected by angular blocks textured like wood, brick, and cinder, allowing fragments of the uniform roadways to emerge through facial features. “In art history, the grid is a kind of tool for optical democracy. There’s no visual hierarchy in a grid—you can enter any space at any time. So, I’m interested in that grid’s proposal of democracy and how that’s failed Black folks, especially where I’m from and how Chicago is constructed,” he says.
The collaged portraits evoke the ways identities are an amalgam of both genetics and surrounding influences. They mimic three-dimensional forms that surface from the flat plane of the paper, and Klos portrays the subjects as breaking free from constraint or relying on the structure for support. “I’m considering Black folks who are forming a defiant sense of self in order to survive in an often unjust environment. This is why these head forms often appear built of construction materials and suggest that they are sculptures or even monuments,” the artist writes, referencing the art historical use of statues and portraits to convey value and respect.
While Klos spent his upbringing in Chicago, his father’s family has ties to Detroit, particularly the car industry and Ford plant where many relatives worked. Like his portraiture, the artist’s woodblock prints of singular, upturned hands allow this personal history to converge with broader themes of familial love and political resilience. The appendages grasp botanicals native to Michigan and blocks floating nearby as they deny “work in order to hold flowers,” he says. “Here, I’ve found (an) opportunity to explore themes of nurturing, tenderness, generosity, and self-care.”
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The natural patterns of turning tides and changing seasons illuminate the delicate porcelain sculptures of Martha’s Vineyard-based artist Jennifer McCurdy. Responding to the shifts of island life—and “island time”—she draws inspiration from the surrounding environment and organic forms, like “the cracked conch shell on the beach revealing its perfect spiral to the milkweed pod burst in the field, its brilliant airborne seeds streaming into the sunlight,” she explains in a statement. Her wheel-thrown porcelain vessels capture both subtle and dramatic shifts in light and shadow, mimicking waves, gales, smoke, and flames.
In 2020, when, like many, McCurdy was obliged to slow down and approach her studio practice under the constraints of canceled exhibitions, she seized the opportunity to re-evaluate her own work, telling Colossal that “once my panic receded, I settled into the mindset of the sabbatical, exploring new forms and testing different carving patterns in the porcelain for optimal movement in the firing.” She broadened the questions she asked of her process and the influence it took from nature, such as how the rocks and shoreline met the surrounding sea or whether she could generate the energy of constant movement in her sculptures. “I think the direction of my work did not change, but it gained clarity from focusing on the space between and around each form,” she says.
McCurdy uses a translucent porcelain that she first shapes on a potter’s wheel and then manipulates, slices, or molds to create a sense of motion, often with a swirling or spiraling effect. A series of “pattern studies” highlight dynamic cuts that extend and slump with the assistance of gravity when fired upside-down in a kiln heated to cone ten—or 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit. With the addition of gold or platinum leaf on the interior, which is applied by the artist’s long-time collaborator, former sign painter, and husband Tom McCurdy, the vessels reflect light and evoke warmth, as if formed around a heat source
McCurdy’s work will be on display in Florida at Art Wynwood and The Palm Beach Show with Steidel Fine Art from February 16 to 19. In May, she will also exhibit in the Smithsonian Craft + Design Show in Washington, D.C. Find more on her website and Instagram.
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A sense of lively optimism permeates Lisa Congdon’s work. Through vibrant palettes of yellows, pinks, and blues, the Portland-based artist pairs bold geometries with folk art symbols, rendering abstract compositions or minimal scenes that capture a joyful outlook. Her acrylic paintings are on view now at Chefas Projects as part of The Opposite of Sorrow, a solo show that considers what it means to be positive. “One cannot know joy without also knowing darkness,” Congdon says, sharing that her practice originated as an antidote to depression. “It was through art that I began to see and feel the beauty of life and to feel happy for the first time.”
The Opposite of Sorrow is on view through February 11. If you’re in Portland, Congdon runs a shop with originals, prints, and other goods. Otherwise, find more of her paintings and illustrations on her site and Instagram.
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Vivid palettes of blues, greens, and pink saturate Stephen Wong Chun Hei’s landscapes, which translate memories of travel into dream-like paintings in acrylic. The artist considers each work a vessel for the impressions of places he’s traveled or hiked. “I never try to capture just one moment in a landscape. The colours are ever-changing through time,” Hei tells Colossal. “This is the reason that the colours in my paintings are not realistic or naturalistic in appearance. I would like them to be more subjective.”
Many of the paintings originate in a sketchbook, which the artist brings along on his adventures and back to his Hong Kong-based studio. “When I work on canvas, I also got the feeling of travel with every brushstroke and colour used,” he shares.
Hei is currently preparing for a show in May at Tang Contemporary, and one of his works will also be on view with Gallery Exit for Art Basel Hong Kong. He’s currently traveling to multiple countries to explore their landscapes, which he hasn’t been able to do since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow those excursions on his site and Instagram. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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A new monograph published by Phaidon delves into the multi-faceted work of Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu (previously). The first of its kind, the volume packs hundreds of artworks, glimpses into Mutu’s Nairobi studio, and her own writings within its 160 pages. Known for mythologizing, the artist often incorporates found, organic materials like soil, feathers, bone, and ephemera into her collages and sculptures. The works broadly explore gender, sexuality, politics, and the natural world through expressive, hybrid figures imbued with otherworldly lore.
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