Fascinated by the transient expressions and feelings of his subjects, Uli Knörzer attempts to capture a moment in time. The Berlin-based illustrator draws richly detailed portraits that are simultaneously revealing and elusive. By positioning each subject against a solid backdrop, Knörzer eliminates the contexts that inspire their particular looks and moods. “Because a tilt of the head and look to the side or a smirk could be just that but by putting it on paper, detached from their surroundings, that fleeting moment can be charged with a completely different meaning. All of a sudden someone very outspoken and extroverted can appear very introspective, etc,” he shares with Colossal.
Always focused on idiosyncracies, Knörzer says his choice in subjects is particular. “It’s always the side scene, someone in the background, or a backstage moment that draws my attention, and I imagine what their ‘deal’ is, so I love to put them front and center,” he says. He then sketches the subjects entirely with colored pencils, highlighting the texture inherent to the medium.
Many of the deflty rendered portraits shown here are part of a commissioned project for Highsnobiety that centers on Black hair. Having previously worked on a variety fashion and journalistic endeavors, Knörzer received direction on styles and runway looks from the magazine and was able to determine the rest. “I had the freedom to draw people the way I saw them in those clothes and with that hair. And that’s how I like it the most,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Knörzer’s background includes a lifelong love of portraiture—he shares that he would draw his teachers as a child and enjoyed paging through books of Tomi Ungerer’s work—and a degree in graphic design and typography from HfG Offenbach. Explore more of his figurative illustrations on Instagram.
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Through stunning renderings of Black children and women, Jamaican-American artist Jessica Spence explores the beauty of finished braids, twists held in place with plastic barrettes, and perfectly laid edges. Her acrylic paintings generally depict a single subject, who often is turned away from the viewer, centering the hair and how it’s presented rather than the person’s face. Spence focuses on the intricacies of each lock, comparing the styling process to that of painting. “I nurtured each brushstroke like I would a strand of hair, a two-strand twist, or a braid,” she shares with Colossal.
Based in New York, the artist imbues her paintings with social commentary derived from her own experiences and from those around her. She considers the impossibility of beauty standards, by saying:
I was inspired to create my current body of work on Black hair in response to the discrimination and chastising experience of many Black women and girls in spaces such as the workplace or schools… The paintings show the beauty and versatility of these hairstyles and highlight the significance of hair in Black culture, while also highlighting these intimate experiences and routines of daily life.
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Oye Diran describes his distinctly elegant photographs as “conceptual with a degree of minimalism and fantasy.” The New York City-based photographer captures refined images of women dressed in pastel gowns of billowing tulle and surrounded by wide swathes of blush fabric—like in “Maktub,” an arresting photograph (shown below) that recently won a first-place LensCulture Exposure Award.
Whether a profile or wider, scenic shot, Diran’s work frames solitary subjects who often are closing their eyes or looking away from the camera. The photographs highlight the grace of the female body without veering into the sensual. “I try to convey the many truths and beauty of people of color, empowerment, and life ideologies in my images,” he tells Colossal.
Diran begins each stylized photograph, which he often shares on Instagram, with a mood board of notes and inspiration from nature, art, and movies. Choices about the color palette, models, poses, props, and scenery reflect that spirit. “I can come up with a message I’m trying to channel to my audience and then build the imagery that conveys that message. Inversely, I can create imagery without any intended message, purely from a mood or expressive creativity where interpretation is left to the audience,” he says.
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Despite lacking any distinct facial features, porcelain figures by Istanbul-based ceramicist Aylin Bilgiç have one unmistakable, defining characteristic: The lengthy braid resting on their oversized bodies evokes performance artist Marina Abramović, who is known for donning similarly styled locks. In another of Bilgiç’s pieces, two heads are back-to-back with their hair wound together, resembling Abramović’s 1978 collaboration with Uwe Laysiepen.
The monochromatic collection was designed specifically for Akış / Flux, an exhibition surveying Abramović’s work and offering 15 live performances. It is now on hold because of the global coronavirus pandemic. If you’d like to purchase one of the figurative pieces or a square pin, they’ll only be available in Sakıp Sabancı Museum’s shop, although they aren’t online just yet. See more of Bilgiç’s work on Behance and Instagram.
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CHICAGO—Containing a massive paper wave, a tower of leftover fat, and a tiger-skin rug of 500,000 cigarettes, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China encompasses 48 works from 26 contemporary Chinese artists in an exhibition on view now in Chicago. Focused on the materiality of seemingly every day objects, the exhibition prompted artists to explore how substances like tobacco, plastics, and Coca-Cola could be fashioned anew. “Taken together, the works introduce a broader framework for understanding global contemporary art, which I call ‘Material Art’ or caizhi yishu, where material—rather than image or style—is the paramount vehicle of aesthetic, political, and emotional expression,” said co-curator Wu Hung.
The Allure of Matter is an extension of a trend artists in China began in the 1980s as they experimented and “exploded fireworks into paintings, felted hair into gleaming flags, stretched pantyhose into monochromatic artworks, deconstructed old doors and windows to make sculptures, and even skillfully molded porcelain into gleaming black flames,” a statement about the exhibition says.
Today, artists involved in the project, like Ai Weiwei (previously), Hu Xiaoyuan, and Cai Guo-Qiang (previously), are engaging with that provocative tradition through their multi-media works that often fill entire rooms, like gu wenda‘s human hair structure that is suspended from the ceiling. “Their monumental works represent a multifaceted phenomenon that inspires us to ask big questions about our relationship to the everyday material world around us as well as the interrelationship between Chinese art and broader trends in contemporary art globally,” co-curator Orianna Cacchione said.
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Saint Petersburg-based paper artists Asya Kozina and Dmitriy Kozin situate miniature worlds atop their towering paper wigs. The detailed headdresses combine contemporary themes with historical elements, resembling the extravagant hair and head pieces of the Baroque period. A recent series crafted for Dolce & Gabanna features a whale and lobster with fins and claws woven through and sticking out from the tops of the elaborate pieces. Both have ships, as well, to add a human element. “We did this work and had (the) idea to do works with various marine monsters,” Kozina says. “In the old times, sailors believed in gigantic sea monsters… All characters are taken from folk myths.”
Since Kozina last spoke with Colossal, the scale and complexity of their monochromatic creations have changed, in addition to their public perception. “Our works fell into collections of museums, became symbols of some events related to the history and history of art and fashion,” she writes. “Our work is perceived not as photo props, but as artworks, sculptures, exhibition objects.” Head to Instagram or Behance to check out more of the artists’ sky-high creations.
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Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.