Interview: Arinze Stanley Speaks to the Indelible Impact of Police Brutality and How Extreme Emotion is the Key to Change
For the past few years, Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley (previously) has been at the forefront of hyperrealism with his powerful and sometimes surreal portraits that are arresting in size and emotion, which he discusses in a new interview supported by Colossal Members. His charcoal-and-graphite works are rendered in stunning detail and bear broader political messages, particularly in relation to state-sanctioned violence and his own experiences suffering from police and military brutality.
What people don’t recognize about Bullets and Denim is that the artwork shows emotion on all parts, but if you have a gunshot to your head, you should be dead, right? Well, these people in the photo are not dead. That encapsulates the concept of endurance in general. Even as we try to stitch the patches of our reality, I want people to see that, that we’ve had it to the head. Enough is enough. It’s a visual representation of enough is enough because from here onwards is death.
Colossal managing editor Grace Ebert joined Stanley for a conversation in March 2021 about how he brings his subjects to points of extreme frustration, the ways his drawings resonate with different audiences around the globe, and how he envisions his artworks as catalysts for meaningful change.
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Swollen, glistening, and saturated with illusion, the ubiquitous water drop absorbed Kim Tschang-Yeul throughout his career. The Korean artist, who died earlier this year, was faithful to the seemingly mundane subject matter, choosing to depict the dewy orbs repeatedly after an initial painting in 1972 following his relocation to France. Inspired originally by a water-soaked canvas in his studio, Kim nurtured the viscous element in his hyperrealistic paintings created across nearly five decades. In an essay about the artist’s unending commitment, Dr. Cleo Roberts writes:
It is a tendency that seems to unite many of Korea’s avant-garde who took from Art Informel in the early ‘60s, including Ha Chong-Hyun and Park Seo-Bo. In this generation of artists, there is a ritualistic devotion to a chosen form, process, and, at times, colour. One could venture that, in the context of living in a volatile country ravaged by war, the security of immersion in a singular mode was an empowering choice, and may have been a necessary psychological counterpoint.
Whether depicting a singular pendant-shaped drop or canvas strewn with perfectly round bulbs, each of the oil-based works exhibits a deft approach to shadow and texture. The bloated forms appear to bead on the surface and are imbued with a sense of impermanence: if disturbed by even a small movement, they look as if they could burst or run down the surface.
Gleaming with occasional patches of gold and white, the transparent renderings foster a deeper connection to Taoist principles, in addition to questioning the tension between nature and contemporary life. “The act of painting water drops is to dissolve all things within [these], to return to a transparent state of ‘nothingness,’” Kim said in a statement, noting that his desire was to dissolve the ego. “By returning anger, anxiety, fear, and everything else to ‘emptiness,’ we experience peace and contentment.”
If you’re in London, you can see the first posthumous show Water Drops, which covers Kim’s entire career and features many of the works shown here, at Almine Rech from March 4 to April 10, 2021. Otherwise, head to Artsy to see a larger collection of the artist’s paintings.
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Chrome Faces Protrude from Drippy, Graffiti Backdrops in Hyperrealistic Paintings by Artist Kip Omolade
Set on a graffitied backdrop, the chrome masks Kip Omolade (previously) paints appear to emerge from the canvas, jutting out from the vibrant display to confront the viewer. The Harlem-born artist layers dripping colors and typographic markings that contrast the smooth, gleaming faces protruding from the center for his new series Masks: Portraits of Times Square and Luxury Graffiti, which he completed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, he explains the history of the collection:
In New York City during the ’80s, my tag was ‘Kace’ and I would ‘get up’ on MTA subway car interiors, public walls in Brooklyn, and graffiti black books. Throughout the ’90s, I never stopped tagging. Even when I was painting from life, I was still tagging here and there in random spaces. Years later, I produced a real-life ‘Kace’—when my twin sons were born, I named them Kent and Kace. The ‘Kace’ tags in these paintings reference NYC subway ‘bombing’ of the ’80s, but mostly it’s about legacy. I want my work to represent our shared experiences of the past, present, and future.
Omolade’s process includes sculpting a resin mold of a chosen subject, which he then covers with chrome and uses as a reference for his hyperrealistic portraits. Many of the masks are reflective, revealing a hidden landscape. In Omolade’s self-portrait (shown below), an American flag in the shape of a bullseye marks his forehead, a nod to racial injustices in the United States.
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Arinze Stanley describes his hyperrealistic drawings as “a simple language of my feelings.” In a statement about his new series titled Paranormal Portraits, the Nigerian artist (previously) says he uses his art as a form of political activism and as a way to amplify the voices of those who are unheard. Stanley notes that the relationships he fosters with his subjects are complicated and more often a reflection of himself:
In my opinion, artists are custodians of time and reality, hence why I try to inform the future about the reality of today, and through these surreal portraits seen in my new body of work, Paranormal Portraits, navigate my viewers into what is almost a psychedelic and uncertain experience of being Black in the 21st Century.
Using graphite and charcoal pencils, Stanley draws with such detail, capturing a stray hair or glimmer of beading sweat. Whether featuring a subject wrapped in hands or dripping in paint, the monochromatic portraits are intimate, expressive, and “born out of the zeal for perfection both in skill, expression, and devotion to create positive changes in the world. I draw inspiration from life experiences and basically everything that sparks a feeling of necessity,” Stanley says.
If you’re in Los Angeles, Stanley’s work will be on view at Corey Helford Gallery starting October 3. Otherwise, head to Instagram and check out this video from Great Big Story capturing his deftly rendered artworks.
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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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Madrid-based artist Antonio Santín paints hyperrealistic depictions of ornate rugs that appear to billow and crease on the feet-long canvases. Complete with intricate motifs and fringed edging, the works feature thousands of textured dots, spirals, and complex arrangements made with oil paint that mimic the organic and geometric designs found on carpets.
Whereas many of the artist’s previous projects have focused on multi-colored patterns, he’s turning to monochromatic pieces with a focus on “sculptural relief that goes beyond the feeling of embroidery,” which has altered his process.
To achieve this level of intricacy, I now use pneumatic machinery. When compressed air pushes the oil paint inside a cartridge, a thin thread gets out of a fine tip. By controlling the speed of the output and the way it’s applied on the canvas, it is possible to shape oil paint into complex filigrees. Later, I apply a dark oil paint glazing, which not only produces the chiaroscuro that creates the trompe l’oeil, it also serves as a patina that highlights all the sculptural relief in the painting.
Some of Santín’s illusory pieces are on view at the Nassau County Museum of Art in New York, although it currently is closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the artist is preparing for a solo show at Galerie ISA in Mumbai in January 2021. To follow his heavily detailed work, head to Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.