In Maria Marta Morelli’s luxurious oil paintings, delicate peonies almost bloom through the canvas. The works represent the Buenos Aires-based artist’s fascination with the cycle of time and how flowers convey youth but also the “unbearable finitude of life,” she tells Colossal. “With their incredible beauty and freshness, although transitory, they fill us with hope and convince us that life is worth living.”
Morelli works as if using a macro lens, and sunlight, in particular, informs her practice. For each piece, she studies its effect on the fresh flower’s textures and colors throughout the day—“Sometimes objects are only an excuse to paint the light,” she says—and photographs the lively blooms, giving her a record to work off of as they wilt.
Often taking a month or two to finish a single work, the artist’s process is puzzle-like. She first examines the blend of pigments and saturation in small, abstract pieces and then places the information back together through painstaking layering and precise brushstrokes. It’s the paint’s second or third application in which she sees her botanics “come to life,” she explains. “I don’t work with more than three or four layers because I believe the painting must keep some freshness too, like the flowers I’m painting. That’s why I try to apply the right color and value I see on the model from the very start.”
Having started painting as a child, Morelli says that formative experience taught her to think about art as its own language. “Images can say much more than words, and even faster, we know that already, and through a painting, you can show many feelings in a single message,” she explains.
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Hyperrealistic Ceramic Sculptures by Christopher David White Mimic the Splintered Texture of Decaying Wood
In his Richmond studio, artist Christopher David White (previously) practices an alchemy of materials as he transforms slabs of clay into deceptive sculptures and functional objects that appear carved from hunks of decaying wood. His trompe l’oeil ceramics are fragile depictions of the hardy material, complete with its gnarled knots and splintered edges in various states of decomposition.
To achieve such a hyperrealistic finish, each piece undergoes multiple rounds of detailing—head to Instagram for a glimpse behind-the-scenes—which White starts by shaping the initial form with knots and branches and imprinting large grooves for the grain. After the work dries slightly, dental instruments, wire brushes, and Xacto knives aid in crafting the more intricate components, and the slightly dehydrated material lends itself to natural cracks and divots that enhance the woody texture. Once fired, the artist paints each sculpture with a largely neutral palette of acrylics.
White continues to explore humans’ relationship to the environment in both his figures and smaller works, although he’s recently shifted to more overt considerations of the topic. “I seek to highlight humanity’s abuse and disregard for nature along with the contradictions in our actions,” he says. “Humans have a tendency to acknowledge the beauty, fragility, and uniqueness of nature while simultaneously viewing it as a resource to be endlessly exploited, controlled, and discarded.”
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Previously drawing giant strokes of oil paint and fruits, fish, and other edibles with remarkable depth and detail, Australian artist CJ Hendry shifts her focus to the soft, silky petals of peonies, roses, and tulips. She uses colored pencils to render individual florals and small bunches at an immense scale, magnifying their thin layers and sticky inner organs. The hyperrealistic drawings enhance the dimension and delicacy of each flower as they appear to blossom from the paper with exquisite detail.
Hendry lives in Brooklyn and is working on similar botanical pieces for an upcoming exhibition in a dilapidated church in Mile End. Until that London show, follow her works and keep an eye out for limited-edition releases on her Instagram.
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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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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.