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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In his architectural portraits, Patrick Akpojotor visualizes the exchange between humans and their built environments, whether real or imagined. The artist’s spatial body of work, which explicitly contemplates the relationship between interiority and exteriority, is founded in his childhood in Lagos, a city checkered with traditional, colonial, and contemporary structures where he still lives today. “I saw how a former residential area became a commercial one changing how people interacted with that community,” he says.
Rendered in bold blocks of acrylic, Akpojotor’s paintings encourage introspection as they consider how identities inform the design of single buildings and infrastructure, which in turn shape the people who occupy those spaces. The anthropomorphic structures evoke cubist geometry and illusion, fracturing the body with a staircase, brick chimney, or entire house, and some works shown here, including both “In Memory of the Living” pieces, are self-portraits.
Beyond his surroundings in Nigeria, Akpojotor derives inspiration from ancient African sculptures and masks, particularly “the way the forms are intentionally distorted to pass messages and symbols of their (beliefs),” he shares. “In my work, the way object(s) are placed does not matter. What is important is that the object(s) are represented, and the message is passed.”
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Through nine ceramic bowls, Yurim Gough untangles the complex narratives surrounding performance, appearance, and gender fluidity. Her identity-centric pieces—which are infused with layers of pencil renderings, thread, and other materials that can require nearly a dozen rounds of firing at multiple temperatures to complete—depict figures outfitted with ostentatious costumes and elaborately painted faces. Drawing on aspects of queer culture, Gough’s vessels are disruptive and revisionary, simultaneously exposing the dated and constructed nature of traditional gender categories while reveling in the history of those who’ve subverted norms.
Gough’s gold-trimmed collection will be on view as part of Salvage, a group exhibition curated by Colossal’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Christopher Jobson at Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia. Opening tonight, January 22, Salvage shares how artists are revitalizing fragments of tradition and culture that were destined to be lost, relegated to the periphery, or buried forever. The exhibition, which you can tour virtually, launches with a live talk with Jobson, Gough, André Schulze (previously), and Debra Broz (previously)—tickets are available on Eventbrite—and runs through February 20.
Now based in the U.K., the South Korean artist has a background in fashion. Explore more of her work, which includes a variety of self-portraiture and considerations of contemporary culture, on her site and Instagram.
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“As a product of an American father and a Mexican mother, I am influenced by the conflicting expectations I have received as a woman within my two cultures,” says artist Nicole McLaughlin. From her studio in Marion, Massachusetts, McLaughlin combines historically domestic crafts—ceramics and fiber art—into striking sculptures that explore identity and heritage, particularly in relation to gendered expectations, traditions, and the changes that occur as generations pass.
In her mixed-media works, the artist contrasts the soft, pliable fibers with the fragility of the plates painted with blue-and-white motifs. Dyed in subtle gradients and earth tones, the loose threads are woven through the sloping ceramic edges and knotted in the center. McLaughlin explains how it’s important that the utility of both elements is removed once combined:
(The vessels) serve as vehicles for fiber. As the fiber flows from, weaves into, or frames the ceramic, it distorts the functionality but becomes a meaningful component as plate and cloth merge. The vessels contain an expression of femininity and an essence of personal and cultural history.
These dichotomies in the materials also reflect the artist’s experience eschewing “the feminine ideals of my Mexican identity,” she says. “I am a force, and I think I tend to push the boundaries of what might be within the female expectation in Mexican culture.”
Currently, McLaughlin is serving as a teaching fellow at Tabor Academy. She sells some smaller ceramic pieces in her shop, and you can follow her work on Instagram, where she also shares glimpses into her process.
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Arresting Sculptural Reliefs by Artist Anne Samat Layer Everyday Objects with Meticulously Woven Threads
In her fiber-based reliefs, Malaysian artist Anne Samat disrupts classic woven patterns with unusual objects: toy soldiers, rakes, and plastic swords are intertwined in the multi-color threads that fan outward and billow down onto the floor. Comprised of a trio of wall hangings and a free-standing sculpture, “Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly” meticulously juxtaposes beadwork and traditional South Asian weaving techniques with common items, a project that questions the boundaries of craft and art.
Each section is incredibly complex and infused with references to Samat’s family, identity, and experiences with loss. The largest work, for example, features five sections, with the innermost piece paying homage to her late brother who recently died after a long illness. Flanking the central portion are two stately pillars with pink and blue details that represent her mother and father. The outermost layers that sprawl from floor to ceiling evoke the artist herself and her sister, who are the only two living members of her family. Even the title is derived from advice Samat received from her father before he died.
“Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly” is on view through February 7, 2021, as part of the Asia Society Triennial.
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Through his bronze sculptures and public installations, Hank Willis Thomas (previously) examines history’s repetitions. The Brooklyn-based artist critically considers identity, social justice, and pop culture by visually weaving together the remains of the past that surface in present day. “Art is a platform where histories meet,” he tells Colossal.
Thomas’s sculptural pieces include a series of hands clenching a barbed wire fence, an oversized hair pick lodged into concrete, and a gleaming basketball balancing on players’ fingertips. No matter the medium, the interdisciplinary artist begins by examining advertisements and archival images and the messages those contain. “The transfer of a photograph into a three-dimensional expression allows the viewer to delve within a photograph and form an intimate understanding of the ideas it represents. That relationship inspires critical thought about the viewer themselves and the world around them,” he says.
Many of Thomas’s artworks reflect on historical moments, like the Holocaust and South African apartheid, and explicitly connect them to contemporary struggles. Photographs of mid-century Germany inspire sculptures, like “If the Leader Only Knew,” that evoke images of migrants detained at the United States-Mexico border. He ties a glimpse of mining workers to “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a cry to end state-sanctioned police violence, which informs the outstretched arms in “Raise Up.” “History repeats itself, and art is one cultural framework through which we engage with these profound moments, hopefully awakening our consciousness,” the Brooklyn-based artist says.
For Thomas, art and activism are inextricable. In recent months, he’s been considering their critical intersections particularly in relation to creative movements like Wide Awakes and For Freedoms, an organization he co-founded that has been spearheading public projects prior to the 2020 election. “Art is not unaffected in this moment; it is the context that unifies our experiences of joy and even those of growth and pain. Art is the human experience. I am also curious about how people and society will change, and I think of my existence within this change as a man, as a Black man,” he says.
Thomas’s work will be part of the group exhibition Barring Freedom at the San José Museum of Art, which runs from October 31, 2020, to April 25, 2021. A book surveying his decades-long practice, titled Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal, is available on Bookshop, and you can stay updated with his latest projects on Twitter and Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.