In the early 18th century, publisher, bookseller, and apparent fish enthusiast Louis Renard compiled the seminal compendium of color-illustrated ichthyological studies. The volume contains more than 450 species rendered in vibrant hues that, while somewhat anatomically accurate, feature embellishments in color and characteristics. From beak-like mouths to extraordinarily patterned skins, the vast illustrations of marine life are unusual, bizarre, and sometimes psychedelic. One of the most fantastical illustrations even depicts a mermaid (shown below).
A digital copy of Renard’s work—which officially is titled Fishes, crayfish and crabs, of various colors and extraordinary figures, which one finds around the Moluccas islands and on the coasts of the Austral lands—is available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an incredible open-access digital archive. Overall, the library estimates that about 9 percent of the illustrations are fabricated, a detail that’s unsurprising considering the Dutch publisher never traveled to the East Indies to complete his studies. Instead, he copied 460 hand-colored copper engravings from other artists, many of which were contributed by soldier and painter Samuel Fallours who was based in Ambon, Indonesia. In a similarly duplicitous manner, the library also believes that Renard identified himself as a secret agent to the British crown as a way to sell more copies of his work.
The tome was published in three editions, and only 16 of the initial printing, which happened between 1718 and 1719, are known to exist. Thirty-four copies of the second version from 1754 remain, which is also the iteration shown here. There are just six books left from the third printing in 1782.
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Surrounded by Feathers, Birds Clutch Their Bleeding Hearts in Christina Mrozik's Monochromatic Illustrations
Just as they’d carry a seed to a new location, the birds in Portland-based artist Christina Mrozik’s latest series tightly grasp pulsing hearts in their talons. The graphite illustrations intertwine masses of feathers and avian body parts with the still bleeding organs, suggesting that they recently were ripped from the chests to cause their descent.
Coraticum—cor means heart in Latin—is an exploration of reconstruction, one that’s defined by bringing the heart outside the body. “It represents the beginning place from which feelings unfold, the center, the seed. I see this as the place before the stem or the root, before the flower or the honey,” they say. As a whole, the series considers the difficult emotions necessary for transformation. Mrozik (previously) tells Colossal the project was born out of personal upheaval in their life, which they explain:
I had been undergoing a major rearrangement in my relationship, rewiring my brain’s response to chronic pain and learning about the history of trauma on my nervous system. The way I moved internally was under massive rearrangement and self-scrutiny, and I was doing my best to find where to put things. Then quarantine hit and it felt like the work of rearrangement was happening externally on a global level.
Each monochromatic illustration is connected to a specific step of the reconstruction process: “The Eye of Recollection” to memory, “Safekeeping” to self-preservation, “The Ten Intuitions” to desire and instinct, “Colliding in Reverse” to letting go, and “Untethering Permissions” to questions about authority.
Coraticum is currently on view at Portland’s Antler Gallery, which will be sharing virtual tours of the solo show in the coming weeks. You can find prints, pins, and books of Mrozik’s surreal compositions in their shop, and follow their work on Instagram. (via Supersonic Art)
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As widespread lockdowns swept the globe earlier this year in response to the threat of COVID-19, intimacy became fraught. For artist Käthe Butcher, the loss of an embrace or casual peck on the cheek was incredibly difficult. “The pandemic affected everyone differently. I always thought I am not that kind of person getting scared or/and paranoid easily, but in March I did. I panicked and felt very alone, which was one reason why I left London at the end of March to go back to my family. It was definitely the right decision,” she tells Colossal.
This desire for connection culminated in “A Hug In The Garden,” an emotional rendering of two women holding each other. Their botanical garments swaddle their individual bodies, and singular stems poke out from their sleeves, adding a bit of whimsy. Similar to her other drawings—explore a larger collection of Butcher’s work (NSFW) on Instagram—this illustration visualizes emotional depth and intimacy.
Replete with floral motifs and delicate lines, Butcher’s pieces generally focus on one or two figures, who are simultaneously confident, carefree, and elusive. Rendered in thin, inky lines, the women portray a range of experiences, moods, and personalities. “Femininity can be everything and nothing. It’s individual. For me personally, it is something elegant yet strong,” she shares with Colossal.
Currently, Butcher is in the process of leaving London permanently for her hometown of Leipzig, Germany, and has been reflecting on the role of artistic practices in the current moment. “As for a lot of artists, this situation was and is still blocking a lot of creativity. It’s draining. Like wading through mud. But at the same time, it feels like the beginning of something new, bigger,” she says.
To purchase a print of the artist’s tender renderings, peruse what’s available in her shop.
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According to long-held superstitions, a horde of black cats certainly indicates impending misfortune, but for Kamwei Fong, a mass of the furry creatures is actually a fluffy utopia. Containing felines in various emotional and physical states—drowsy, peeved, and deep in slumber— “Wonderfurryland” features a diverse kitty population defined by their rotund bodies, splayed limbs, and puffed tails. Fong even inked cat-shaped environmental fixtures, like a moon, sun, and mountain, into the black-and-white landscape.
Having an idea for the delicately rendered illustration for years, the Malaysian artist (previously) tells Colossal that it took him more than a month to detail the proper density for each animal. “Despite the long hours of effort and exhaust(ing) tons of micro-pigment ink pens, Kamwei finds the working process therapeutic and enjoyable, to see every bit of his creations being added day by day to complete the whole painting,” a statement about the project says.
To follow Fong’s upcoming kitty-centered illustrations, follow him on Instagram.
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Face Masks Hold Fish Tanks and Overgrown Patches of Botanics in Surreal Illustrations by Kit Layfield
A long way from the packs of blue, disposable masks many of us bulk purchased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face coverings Philadelphia-based illustrator Kit Layfield envisions are a bit more complex and otherworldly. He draws intricate contraptions featuring the traditional nose-and-mouth covering that then are connected to larger collars adorned with luxuriant shrubs, miniature ecosystems, and tiny fish tanks. The individual subjects all are situated within the diverse environments, providing the necessary structure to keep the micro-systems flourishing.
Layfield shares with Colossal that his surreal illustrations reflect a fascination with what he terms digital climate change. “I like to think of the various information ecosystems online in the same terms I would think of a natural ecosystem,” he says. “A fact can not exist alone, in the same way a flower can not exist alone. It needs to be rooted in something.” As media floods online, it becomes more difficult to wade through, which he expands on by saying:
The perfect example of digital climate change is the information ecosystem surrounding actual climate change. Every year, the information supporting climate change has become more and more undeniable, and simultaneously Americans’ belief in climate change has dropped. I think the information online backing up the truth of climate science is out there. However, the ecosystem that allows that information to survive and spread has been severely endangered.
Although Layfield’s illustrations are interwoven with fantastical elements, he hopes they inspire people to understand how connected they are to others and their environment. “Could somebody see a mask online, one that is so absurd it could never exist in reality, and make them think about wearing a mask in reality? I think it’s possible,” he says.
Find more of Layfield’s bizarre projects that merge social and environmental commentaries on Instagram.
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Powerful and Emotive, Artist Patrick Onyekwere's Hyperrealistic Portraits Are Rendered Meticulously in Ballpoint Pen
Patrick Onyekwere imbues his photorealistic portraits with layers of emotion. Before sketching with blue, ballpoint pen, the Nigerian artist invites his subjects into a conversation about their lives, contemporary culture, and nature to establish the mood or story he’s hoping to convey. Their responses produce a collaborative endeavor that organically merges their perspectives and histories, which the artist translates to his artworks.
Onyekwere collects a few snapshots of his subject for reference as he meticulously shades and crosshatches every inch of his hyperrealistic pieces. The artist sees his powerful renderings as “speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves” and finds the subjects’ eyes most interesting. “They mirror some of our deepest desires, fears, inhibitions, perceptions, thoughts, most of which we ourselves are consciously unaware of,” he says. “(The eyes have) the power to convey emotions and feelings and also communicate and connect to the viewer, inviting them to live in an untold story, in such a way they don’t see an already existing piece but take part in the creation of it.”
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.