with mixed media
“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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Subversively Elegant Portraits of Indigenous People Drawn on Repurposed Ledgers by Artist Chris Pappan
In his mixed-media portraits, Chicago-based artist Chris Pappan draws on the tradition of ledger art, a practice that flourished among Native populations throughout the Great Plains from around 1850 to 1920. Rooted in narratives, the renderings depicted the ways of life of Indigenous people and the nuances otherwise left out of mainstream conversations. “The mid-19th Century was a tumultuous time for the Indigenous peoples of America; the doctrine of Manifest Destiny brought deep pain and suffering but it also introduced new modes of expression,” says Pappan, who is a citizen of the Kaw (Kanza) Nation and of Osage, Lakota and mixed European heritage.
Using graphite, colored pencils, ink, and water-based media, the artist illustrates black-and-white portraits on a variety of intentionally sourced materials, like municipal ledgers and mining certificates. One artwork (shown below) features five mirrored figures imprinted on Boy Scouts of America neckerchiefs that offer commentary on the destructive practices of the youth organization by recreating appropriated imagery. A similar piece, “Of White Bread and Miracles,” evokes the illustrations in the manual Here Is Your Hobby: Indian Dancing and Costumes, which the group often used to teach its members. “The book is an example of cognitive dissonance as it erases any vestiges of contemporary Native people and homogenizes all Native American cultures while making casual remarks such as ‘…get a local Indian to teach you singing and dancing if you can…,'” Pappan writes.
Despite invoking historical references, the artist imbues his figurative renderings with visions for the future. The lowbrow movement—particularly the melding of technical ability with taboo subject matter—influenced much of his earlier work. More recent projects have honed in on issues of systemic racism and appropriation of sacred objects, which Pappan hopes inspires viewers to question their own complicity. “I’ve always felt it important to understand boundaries (or rules) so that one can break them and then be able to redefine culture in our own terms. (Native American) Culture is living, and we have the responsibility of its continuity,” the artist says. He expands on the idea:
Through the medium of indelible ink, I am asserting our identity and our continued existence in the face of attempted erasure and negating the centuries of racist misrepresentations… In the re-appropriation of an object that may have been considered sacred to some, I hope to impose a sense of what Native people feel when we’re confronted with sacred objects or the bones of our ancestors displayed as macabre entertainment for capitalism.
Pappan is represented by Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe. If you’re in the Chicago area, his ledger art is on display in the windows of 1100 Florence in Evanston through December 4, and “Scout’s Honor” is part of the group show, The Long Dream, which is on view at MCA Chicago through January 17, 2021. Otherwise, stay up to date with his subversive projects on Instagram and his site.
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Working within a scale of just a few inches, Hungarian artist Ágnes Herczeg (previously) threads together fragments of wood, seeds, and wire with delicate lace work to form pastoral scenes inspired in part by her surroundings in a small town near the river Danube. This year, Herczeg utilized more tree bark and golf leaf and developed her abilities with silk thread to create pieces even smaller than before. In a note to Colossal, she shares this challenge to work increasingly smaller is “a very good mind game.” You can see lots of her new work on her website, and several pieces are for sale in her online shop.
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When Ava Roth adds the last stitch grasping horsehair or porcupine quills to her embroidered artworks, she passes the fibrous material on to her black-and-yellow counterparts. The Toronto-based artist collaborates with bees to encase her mixed-media pieces in waxy honeycomb. What emerges are organic artworks that consider interspecies interactions and the beauty that such meetings can garner.
Since 2019, Roth has been expanding the wooden frames of her works to twice the size as previous projects. She receives help from master beekeeper Mylee Nordin, and together, they vertically stack hive boxes, which are known as supers, and insert large, custom-made structures. The artist also has developed a more detailed practice in recent months. “Because this project has required so much trial and error, I was still experimenting with materials last season, trying to find substances that the bees would consistently respond to positively,” she writes. “I was trying to find organic substances that would not harm the bees but also that the bees would not eat or otherwise destroy.”
When the bees finished wax production in late October, Roth says her understanding of the species and confidence in her choice of raw matter had grown. “I spent the winter weaving and embroidering beeswax, porcupine quills, horsehair, and other organic material into embroidery hoops, and then fixing them onto my new custom made frames,” she notes.
Roth’s projects also have a sense of urgency through their connection to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that’s killing colonies and threatening the species’ population. “Honeybees are often considered a harbinger of the health of our planet, and CCD is interpreted by many environmentalists and scientists as a clear indicator of our current environmental crisis,” the artist says.
I consider the bees to be my co-workers, collaborators in every sense. I take cues from their needs, design the project around their capacities, and work in sync with their seasons. Ultimately, this art that we make together is essentially hopeful at a time when we are overwhelmed with despair at the state of the environment, and our role in its destruction.
During the winter, Roth plans to refine her project further after reflecting on another season of interspecies collaboration. Follow the latest updates on her encaustic works on Instagram.
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Artist Ava Roth loves working on collaborative projects. But her studiomates aren’t fellow two-footed friends. Rather, Roth pairs with her backyard honeybees to create mixed media collages combining embroidery, beadwork, fabric, tree bark, and honeycomb. The Toronto-based artist builds artworks inside the comb frames, and the bees complete the pieces by encasing them in organic honeycomb patterns. “This project is a collaboration in the truest sense. It involves careful listening, respecting the bees, and cooperating with them entirely, from the choice of materials, size, timing and scope of design,” Roth tells Colossal. “My intention is to celebrate the extraordinary work of the honeybee and match it with sewings that invoke their delicate and ephemeral comb.”
The artist explains that she had been working in encaustic, a painting technique that incorporates wax, for several years, and decided to start collaborating with her bees as she learned more about Colony Collapse Disorder and sought to uplift and honor the bee’s work.
The threadwork in this collection mirrors the fragility and beauty of the honeycomb in which they are encased. By placing the embroideries in hoops, I am also giving a nod to a tradition of women’s work. Since the working bees are all female – and not making ‘fine art’, the finished pieces are very much in the tradition of marginalized women’s work, and sewing in particular. Because both the bees work and traditional women’s work have been largely functional, their beauty and significance have been easily overlooked.
Roth tells Colossal that it took a great deal of trial and error to solve for the variables like what materials the bees respond to instead of destroying, how long to keep the pieces in the hive before honey is deposited, and conveying to the insects which areas they should or shouldn’t build comb. The artist shares that she worked closely with Master Beekeeper Mylee Nordin on strategizing and implementing the project. Shown here are works from her abstract series; Roth also works in this mode with more representational images, which you can see on her website.
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Artist Arghavan Khosravi creates multi-part worlds in her carefully composed paintings. Contemporary human figures commingle with ghostly limbs and classical Greco-Roman sculptures. Bright red lines of string, Persian decorative motifs, and found textiles connect the disparate figures. The artist begins each painting with an intensive brainstorming and research phase, which results in a detailed sketch that outlines about 85% of the completed work.
“Before I start a new painting, I keep thinking about what I want to say in it. It can have a specific narrative or just convey a mood or feeling—it mostly reflects on a memory, life event or something I have recently read,” Khosravi explains. “While I have this general idea/theme in my mind, I go through a lot of source images and put aside those that trigger something in my mind. I juxtapose those images to come up with the main visual structure and composition.”
One of Khosravi’s main sources of inspiration is societal issues in Iran: “Human rights and, more specifically, women’s rights issues, patriarchy, and some levels of gender apartheid. I am more interested in addressing these concerns in a symbolic and subtler way and have an indirect approach.” She also studies and incorporates art historical traditions, ranging from Persian miniature painting and Islamic architecture to medieval painting and ancient sculpture.
The artist shares with Colossal that she began to take art seriously at the early age of 12, but felt pressure to pursue a more practical career like engineering. She pivoted slightly with a commercial creative career: after studying graphic design in college, Khosravi worked in the field for almost a decade, while also earning a Master’s in Fine Arts in illustration, and illustrating nearly two dozen children’s books. Last year, Khosravi achieved her dream of becoming a painter and completed her Master’s in Fine Arts in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Khosravi has most recently exhibited in a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan in China, and in SPRING/BREAK, a part of New York’s Armory week. You can see more of her detailed, multi-layered paintings on Instagram. (via Booooooom)
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Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.