A recent finding in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is changing our conceptions of the origins of visual art. Fifteen researchers this week published an article in Nature describing prehistoric cave art that they believe was created about 43,900 years ago. The art depicts multiple therianthropes—mythical creatures that have both human and animal characteristics like beaks and tails—hunting wild pigs and cattle with spears. Traditionally, therianthropes were employed for sharing folklore, religious myths, and spiritual beliefs. Clear renderings of the creatures are uncommon, the report says. The oldest depiction previously recorded is a carved figurine with the head of a cat that originated in Germany and dates back nearly 40,000 years. These Indonesian findings also predate the Lascaux cave paintings found in France by about 20,000 years. “This hunting scene is—to our knowledge—currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world,” the report said. (via Artnet)
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Those unable to experience the black-and-white murals of Belgian artist ROA (previously) in person can admire photographs of his works in the recently published Codex. Released by Lannoo Publishers, the 352-page book contains four chapters centered on Eurasia, Africa, America, and Oceania, regions where ROA’s depictions of local animals blanket building walls. The photographs portray a snake wound around itself, six different species perched on vertical ledges, and an alligator on its back with its tail scaling a fire escape.
ROA works directly on the building, foregoing sketches and projections, and uses the architecture to inform the ways he paints birds, rodents, and other native creatures. Captivated by anatomy, the artist attempts to animate his paintings, giving energy and life to species often disregarded by humans. “Exploration of nature, more specifically of the animal world, can lead to increased empathy,” he says. “It teaches you something substantial about how one should live a good life.” The monochromatic murals’ scale often makes animals larger than their real-life bodies, securing and emboldening their monumental presence.
Codex, which is available now, also incorporates writing from RJ Rushmore, Lucy R. Lippard, Johan Braeckman, Gwenny Cooman, Robert R. Williams, and Kathy De Nève.
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Sinuous, intertwined wildlife bridge worlds of the living and the dead in Lauren Marx’s intricate multi-media work. Twisting fox heads, disemboweled deer, and lambs bursting with flowers and birds are rendered with watercolor, ink, pen, and colored pencil. Marx often places her animal compositions on semi-abstract backgrounds, awash with grey tones that give a sense of weightlessness to the dense drawings by evoking fog or clouds.
The artist, who resides in her hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri, cites frequent trips to the Saint Louis Zoo, biology classes, and National Geographic television shows as cultivating her lifelong interest in animals. Her latest body of work debuts December 14, 2019, at Corey Helford Gallery. The show, titled Chimera, is an evolution from her previous pieces, combining multiple animals into each artwork to combine their symbolic meanings.
“Chimera further explores my concepts of fauna representations of emotions, personal mental health, family, and self,” Marx shares in a statement. “I am creating a mythological world, centered around North American flora and fauna, to better expresses my image of who I am, how I am perceived, my struggles with mental health, and to explore self-healing.”
Marx studied Fine Art at Webster University and draws inspiration from zoology, mythology, scientific illustration, and Northern Renaissance themes. The artist shares with Colossal that in 2020 she wants to continue to challenge herself technically and conceptually, and that works in the Chimera show brought her practice to new levels in terms of scale and complexity.
See Chimera through January 18, 2020, at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, and explore more of Marx’s intricate illustrative artwork on Instagram. The artist also offers prints and stickers on Etsy.
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An animated short film written and directed by Carol Freeman uses an old-fashioned technique called paint-on-glass to form each luminescent frame. At seven minutes long, The Bird & the Whale is comprised of 4,300 paintings created by a small team of female artists in Dublin, Ireland. The animated film tells the story of a young whale, struggling to find its voice, who finds a caged bird that is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. The Bird & the Whale has been lauded at festivals worldwide, including the Silver Screen Award for Best Animated Film at Cannes’ Young Director Awards. Freeman, who majored in animation at the National Film School of Ireland, also co-founded Paper Panther Productions. Watch the making-of inpthe video below and follow Paper Panther on Instagram.
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London-based photographer Tim Flach travels the world capturing the nuanced expressions, unique patterning, and unusual profiles of animals large and small. Often focusing his lens on endangered and vulnerable species, Flach highlights the traits of animals that are at risk of disappearing due to habitat loss, climate change, and human activity. The photographer has worked with a huge range of wild, domestic, and captive animals, from Saiga and Beluga Sturgeons to Pied Tamarin and Pangolin.
Set on plain backdrops à la studio portraits, Flach’s bird photographs particularly stand out. His sharp, clear portraits show the colorful and wildly shaped feathers and beak of birds from the U.S. to the Himalayas. A stately Jacobian Pigeon, its two-toned ruff of feathers framing a white-crested face, seems to peer elegantly at the view, while an assertive cardinal stares pointedly, a white highlight glinting off the hook in the bird’s red beak. A statement on his website explains the relatable emotional quality of his work:
Tim Flach is an animal photographer with an interest in the way humans shape animals and shape their meaning while exploring the role of imagery in fostering an emotional connection. Bringing to life the complexity of the animal kingdom, his work ranges widely across species, united by a distinctive stylization reflecting an interest in how we better connect people to the natural world.
Flach has published several books of his photography: one is centered around endangered animals, while others are species-specific, celebrating horses or dogs. You can explore the artist’s catalog as well as several galleries of animal portraits on his website, and follow him on Instagram for first glimpses of new work.
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A songbird soloist accompanied by choruses of toads, turtles, and hedgehogs are conducted by a squirrel in Maestro, a delightful new animated short by Illogic. Set in a moonlit forest, the wild symphony performs a war anthem from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma. In an interview with Vimeo, the team explained that they sought to balance imaginativeness with believability within the confines of their realistic universe. Illogic is based in Montpellier, France, where they recently opened an animation studio called Bloom Pictures. Take a behind-the-scenes look at how Maestro was made in the video below, and see more from Illogic, including the Oscar-nominated Garden Party, on Vimeo.
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The sweet and the sinister commingle in Rebecca Stevenson‘s wax sculptures that depict humans and animals bursting open to reveal flowers and fruits. Classical busts and seemingly deceased animals are surrounded by ribboning cascades of plants. To create her sculptures, Stevenson starts by modeling the animal or figure in clay, and then moulds and casts the model with layered resin and wax. Stevenson then cuts open and reworks the sculpture, a process both surgical and artistic, as she decides which elements to dis- or re-figure, and which to leave alone. “These actions supplant or corrupt the object’s original meaning…a desire both to reveal and to mask the inside of things derives from my student experiences of drawing from cadavers and dissections,” the artist explains.
“Creating ‘wounds’ or openings in the work undoes the sense of a clear boundary between object and viewer,” says Stevenson. “The viewer may be invited to gaze deep inside the object, a ‘non-sculptural’, intimate experience of looking.” This experience subverts the traditional narrative of sculpture as a vessel for heroism, crafted from the hard media of stone and metal and meant to be admired from afar.
Stevenson tells Colossal that she began working in wax as a student, fascinated by its translucence and its ability to closely mimic other materials and textures. “Over time, its material properties of fluidity and mutability, as well as its historical associations, have become intrinsically linked to the meaning of my work,” she says.
“Wax is traditionally associated with the creation of doubles or stand-ins for the human body,” the artist explains. “Whether used to create votive objects, funeral effigies or life size simulacra of contemporary celebrities, wax is so explicitly visceral that it not simply represents flesh: it is transubstantial.” Stevenson cites the anatomical wax figures of La Specola, Florence’s zoology and natural history museum, as a particular influence on her early practice.
As her work progressed, Stevenson also began to draw inspiration from Baroque sculpture and Dutch still life painting. “While remaining fascinated by the interplay between interior and surface, I also began to explore the visual experience and the meaning of excess, of sensual overload, of ornament and detail as a means to attract and repel the viewer.” The initially alluring decorations become somewhat sickly upon closer examination, sparking reflections on transformation, generation and decay.
If you’re in Berlin, catch her work through October 31, 2019 as part of a group exhibition at the Wunderkammer Olbricht. The artist also has work on display at Kunstmuseum Villa Zanders as part of the 50 Years of the Kraft Collection, and in So Beautiful it Hurts at James Freeman Gallery in London. Explore more of Stevenson’s sculptures on her website and Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Photography
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.