Twisting into subtle backbends or hunching into a cross-legged crouch, the faceless women that find themselves at the center of Hanna Lee Joshi’s practice all personify an aspect of the artist herself. Conveyed through vibrant gradients in gouache and colored pencil, the figures shown here are companions to those the Korean-Canadian artist created last year, although they plunge deeper into themes of loss, acceptance, and inclusivity. “The magic and mystery of life can seem very fleeting when you’re in the pits of depression. I wanted to reconnect with that spark of fire within,” she says, explaining:
I’m working on pieces that explore finding my identity and the nature of the self. Reconnecting with my Korean heritage and accepting all the things that make up who I am. In the end, I am just a piece of this earth having an experience of the self, and I’m trying to make a visual representation of some of it.
The introspective subjects have signature features like elongated torsos and limbs, dark, glossy locks, and large hands gesturing yogic mudras that further visualize emotion and feeling. The women are subversive in color and form, deviating from the skin tones and body shapes typically associated with nude figures.
Joshi, who’s based in Vancouver, is preparing for upcoming exhibitions at Spoke Art SF on August 7, at Thinkspace Projects in October, and later in fall at Hashimoto Contemporary. Prints are available in her shop, and you can see a few works-in-progress on Instagram.
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Disembodied faces and fingers encircle the surreal vessels created by Canopic Studio, a Los Angeles-based practice helmed by Claire and Curran Wedner. Known for their ceramics that display human anatomy in a repetitious pattern, the husband and wife recently diverged from the black-and-white works previously mentioned on Colossal to create a series entirely in celadon, a jade color with a rich history.
The translucent glaze originated in China and was prominent throughout the country for centuries before being replaced by blue-and-white porcelain. It’s traditionally made with a bit of iron oxide—too little creates a blue color, while too much produces a darker olive or black—and then fired in a reducing kiln at a high temperature.
Curran says he first experimented with the glaze in 2004 as part of a ceramics class and returned to it now after researching cone 10 gas firing and reduction, or the process of decreasing oxygen in the kiln. The resulting pieces shift in color with the light, a trait that dovetails with the studio’s interest in mutable identities and idiosyncrasies that shows up in the shape of their works.
Pieces are created using the same mold to produce similar, but not identical, body parts. When attached in rows on the mug or bowl, the single face or finger becomes one of many, each defined by its slight difference. “I’m interested in identity and how it shifts when we go from being alone to being a part of a crowd,” Curran says. He explains:
I like prodding that space in between, where identity feels almost pliable or molten, then hardens, then shifts again, and so on. When the face I’m using is pulled from a single mold, it has a surreal quality—so identical it’s almost eerie, and all the tiny flaws and differences come forward when they otherwise wouldn’t.
Right now, Canopic Studio is in the process of creating a line of face medallions finished with 22 karat gold. The duo list new pieces bi-monthly on Etsy, and you can keep an eye out for shop updates and see works-in-progress on 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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Argentina-born artist Claudia Fontes (previously) continues her Foreigners series with small sculptures of figures enveloped by plumes of porcelain. Recent additions to the expanding collection are more abstract than previous iterations, which often revealed the body’s curves and gestures, although all of the works feature limbs embracing within or attempting to escape from the textured clouds. The pocked surface resembles organic matter, like sea sponges or coral, and seamlessly merges life forms into a cohesive structure.
Fontes tells Colossal that this shift in focus was inspired by a desire to see “the material as the main protagonist of the piece, steering away from representation.” She explains that by “piercing the porcelain in different ways and exploring the possibilities that come with grouping the figures, I have realized that I am paying more attention to the material as a fictional membrane, which mediates between figure and background.”
Currently, Fontes is incorporating two colors into her otherwise white porcelain in order to create new works that evoke sedimentary rock. She’s also preparing for a solo show at Cecilia Brunson Projects in London and a group exhibition at Stuk in Leuven, Belgium, and some pieces from the Foreigners series will be part of Simbiologías at Centro Cultural Kirchner in Buenos Aires this April. Until then, follow the artist on Instagram or head to her site to see more of her sculptural work.
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Nicole Havekost describes her towering figures as exhibiting the contradiction of “sublime embarrassment… Bodies are magical and glorious and gross and bewildering. Bodies are civilized and feral.” Through hand-sewn sculptures, the Rochester-based artist explores the ways aging affects peoples’ figures and the emotional process of adjusting to a new reality.
She stitches large anthropomorphic works from industrial felt, shaping bodies that are bulging and covered with knots and uneven seams that serve as a reminder of restoration. Havekost explains:
These are the visible representations of the making and mending, repairing and refinishing, we are engaged in as human beings on a daily basis. It shows where we have been and marks where we are going. My figures show their imperfect repairs outwardly, unlike most of us who put on our best public faces. As I have aged, I have become more of a partner to my body. To have a body and accept its imperfections is a privilege and that is what I continue to explore in my work.
Coupled with the varying stitches are the figures’ loping movements and gestures: they lean against the wall, slouch on the floor, and stretch stiff limbs, exposing their “lived-in bodies. They are soft but hold their shape and are in poses open to nurturing and comfort though they have already given so much. They are protectors that need protection,” the artist says.
Although much of Havekost’s work centers on smaller creatures, this collection is monumental in scale and a natural progression from the doll-sized pieces she’s made previously. The nondescript works loom within the 18-foot gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where they’re currently on view through June 26, 2021. “The idea of these figures really owning the space, of the audience having to adjust to their size and presence is what really drove the increased scale and bulk of the pieces. I owed it to the figures to let them be as big as they needed to be,” she says.
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Regardt Van Der Meulen is concerned with the ephemerality of human life, a fascination that manifests in his sweeping steel sculptures. Fragmented and oversized, the works juxtapose the unyielding material with the movement inherent in the figures’ poses and the shapes of their garments. Each of their bodies is incomplete, whether through a bisected limb or torso gaping with negative space.
Based in Johannesburg, Van Der Meulen shares that much of his work exposes the vulnerability of the body and how both minute and drastic changes alter its presentation. Branches, geometric pieces, and erosion interrupt the nondescript figures, serving as a metaphor for their mental and physical instability, as well as the precarious state of the natural world and civilization. The artist writes:
I am fascinated by human mortality and the fleeting moments we spend here. One often forgets how fragile life and our environment is. We think we are part of a binary relationship with nature when in fact we are one. Sudden changes in our environment or experiences can instantly shift our perspective on how we view life and our role in it.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.