Through densely laid cross-stitches and whorls of thread, Han Cao revitalizes discarded photographs and postcards. Similar to the artist’s previous projects, her latest series New Nostalgia strikes a balance between the original subjects and the fiber-based additions. Sometimes covering faces with sparse dandelion puffs or confetti-like burst, Cao redefines the vintage pieces and explores how narratives linger as she stitches plumes of train steam that trail beyond the initial photograph’s edges.
Based in Palm Springs, the artist shares glimpses into her process on Instagram, and if you’re in Philadelphia, check out her embroidered pieces that are on view through August 22 at Paradigm Gallery. Cao also sells some of her mixed-media works in her shop.
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Throughout July, Comet NEOWISE has been visible to those in the northern hemisphere as it orbits the sun. Portland-based photographer Lester Tsai recently traveled to Mount Hood to capture the phenomena as it shoots over Oregon’s highest mountain in a remarkable set of images. One of the brightest comets in decades, NEOWISE won’t make another appearance in the inner solar system for 6,800 years.
Tsai recounted the experience, describing the necessary preparation and the efforts to determine the frozen object’s probable visibility. “The comet changes position each day but when I mapped it out, it looked like there was a good chance it would do what I needed it to. I had never been there (Mount Hood National Forest) before but was excited to check it out,” he shares with Colossal. Location is crucial for astrophotography, but factors like weather, the sun’s position, and the moon’s cycle have an effect, too. Light pollution from a nearby municipality also can brighten the sky too much for a clear shot.
After traveling through a dense forest in the middle of the night, Tsai found his spot on a nearby cliff and set up his equipment. “Based on the rough directional data I had, I knew the comet would rise to the left side of the mountain and make its way up and to the right. Because this was such an unprecedented and possibly once in a lifetime event, I decided to use one of my cameras to shoot a timelapse,” Tsai says.
He expected the comet to arrive around 2 a.m., and after waiting and worrying he’d missed it, NEOWISE finally made its appearance an hour later. “As the night went on, the sky began to slowly brighten and saturate with beautiful colors on the horizon. 3 a.m. passed, and as 4 a.m. arrived, the comet was almost directly over the mountain,” Tsai says. Thanks to his patience, the photographer was able to capture the fleeting body as it descends in the star-speckled sky.
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Heesoo Lee has spent years carefully layering blades of grass, pine trees, and cherry blossoms to construct botanic entanglements that crawl across ceramic mugs and bowls. Inspired by seasonal woodlands and aspen forests, the Montana-based artist recreates bright pockets of landscapes that capture small motions, like falling fronds or rustling branches. “There is movement in trees, but it is slow and subtle, a leaf in wind, the slow growth of new leaves in spring,” she says.
While Lee has continued this tradition with many of her recent pieces, she’s expanded her source material to the ocean. For seven years, the artist lived in Maui, where she often surveyed the water. “I could sit on a beach all day and watch the waves, observe them, and feel calmed by them but also respectful of their energy and force,” she says. The memory has inspired a textured piece that swells upward to form a cavernous bowl. “Even in a small object, the waves are powerful and convey so much. For me, the waves connote freedom, the freedom to express myself and take risks,” the artist writes.
Diverging from land posed new challenges in Lee’s process. For landscapes, the artist repeats elements in layers to create a fully formed piece, but the same technique didn’t translate to water. “The first time I tried to make waves I failed. I failed over and over and over after that. There were cracks, pieces broke off,” she says. “I realized the feeling of making a wave is so much different from making a landscape.” Instead, Lee retrained her hands to follow the movement of the water, using slip casting, carving, and a series of manual techniques to capture its energy and force. Her color palette changed from amalgamations that evoked seasons to a precise set of blues.
Despite her forays into aquatic forms, Lee maintains an affinity for grassy fields and windswept boughs, which she explains:
My seasonal work, landscapes that focus on all four seasons, are still a mainstay of my practice. The memories that fuel the images are so powerful for me, and it gives me great pleasure to share my interpretation of those memories with people… I have heard from people that drinking from a cup I made helped them channel their own memories of the outdoors and the seasons, even during a time when they are stuck inside.
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Through a luxuriant series of embroideries, Litli Ulfur translates thick landscapes into lush entanglements of brown and green stitches. The abstract forms consider the intricacies of nature through an aerial perspective, contrasting micro- and macro-views in every inch. Each piece is created organically and uniquely, ensuring no two are alike.
The textured works are inspired by natural sources, like jungly forests and the human nervous system, that are reflected through French knots, tufts, and flat patches. “I was struck by certain similarities between the two—some of the trees in these forests (including oaks and beeches) were confusingly similar to the structure of human neurons. Their branches and roots bent in various directions creating a huge endless network,” she writes on Instagram about creating “The Inside.”
In a note to Colossal, Ulfur says her process begins with immersing herself in natural settings for a full sensory experience. “I celebrate this moment—being completely aware of it is crucial. I open myself up so I can consciously connect with it. I smell the scent, color. I feel the texture, experience the sound and taste,” she says. “Being alone with nature is really important to me. It gives me space to reflect on why I do what I do and feel what I feel.”
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Before crops are harvested and combine tracks mark the soil, Wyoming-based photographer Mitch Rouse captures the immaculately planted farmland that patterns the western United States. His captivating aerial shots frame the patchwork fields, concentric rows, and land-hugging lines formed with sprouted produce and vibrant trees. Sometimes disrupted by a natural landmark like a small mountain range, the photographer’s images provide a new perspective on the cultivated land.
Rouse tells Colossal that the Palouse—a major agricultural area in the northwest— is one of his favorite regions to visit because it’s often full of luxuriant fields. “This year, it was particularly lush, and I was very surprised getting out there how soft and velvety the green fields looked. Unlike the first photograph (shown above), the shapes in the Palouse are much more organic flowing and curving with the natural form of the hills,” he says. The photographer also has explored Montana, Oregon, Idaho, and California, capturing the precisely placed rows of trees near Bakersfield.
Originally frustrated by the limitations of drone and aircraft techniques, Rouse said he has “now found the sweet spot between the two by developing a system that incorporates a Bell 407 helicopter, with a Shot Over gimbal mounted to the nose, which contains a 150 MP Phase One Industrial camera.” Much of his process consists of spotting land patterns and flying over them. “A lot of it ends up really just being aware of your surroundings and eventually develop an eye for what will look good, making it pretty easy to pick your targets,” he says. “The key to getting these is timing it right. You want favorable light, whether it’s from clouds or sunrise or sunset.”
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Danish artist Jacob Brostrup (previously) beautifully blurs the organic and domestic in his enchanting scenes of soaked floorboards and branches that jut from every corner. What could be a reason to phone a contractor in real life, the downed trees and pooling water in the artist’s oil paintings create a fictional universe in which nature and humanity exist simultaneously in the same space. Each artwork is filled with an incredible number of realistic details that pattern armchairs and provide moss its fuzzy texture.
In a statement, Brostrup referred to his vivid works as “a sampling of snapshots, of hidden glimpse(s) of the past, of other cultures, of the movement of everyday life… There are layers upon layers; a fusion of sensory impressions.” His process begins with a pencil sketch on canvas before covering backdrops of cloudy skies and tiled floors with ornate molding and tree blossoms.
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