Fairytale Scenes Nestle Between the Covers of Isobelle Ouzman’s Altered Books
Open one of Isobelle Ouzman’s books, and you’ll be transported to a whimsical world of flora and fauna. The Bratislava-based artist (previously) carves pages of found novels and other tomes into intricate paper labyrinths of forests and meadows. Often occupied by a lone hare or fox, the fairytale scenes are imbued with a quiet, calm sense of mystery about the machinations of the imagined environments and their inhabitants.
Ouzman shares that she gravitates toward mass-produced volumes in poor condition. “Book size, depth, and paper texture play a big role in my decision as well, and I often need to hold a book in my hands before I can visualise a new artwork,” she says. The carving and drawing process depends on both the physical object and the intended narrative, taking between three weeks and three months to complete.
Find an archive of Ouzman’s works and glimpses into her process on her site and Instagram, and shop prints on Etsy.
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Art Craft Design
Precise Details and Architectural Contrasts Highlight Layla May Arthur’s Narrative Paper Sculptures
Wielding the fundamentals of set design, Layla May Arthur assembles elaborate architectural spaces and visual narratives from paper. The Netherlands-based artist focuses on the interplay between light and shadow in intricate, three-dimensional dioramas that emphasize storytelling in window displays, brand identities, and gallery presentations. In pieces ranging from delicate, individual sculptures of staircases to large-scale, immersive installations, she instills a sense that the viewer is a part of the interactions of figures within each scene.
Since graduating from university in 2021, Arthur has focused on projects that emulate the visual drama of theatrical presentations, setting the stage for products in boutique windows and brand collaborations in addition to museum exhibitions. “I really enjoy being able to handcraft artworks to be used in photoshoots or installations where my work reaches an audience who might not ordinarily seek out art in an art space,” she tells Colossal. “I have had incredible clients so far who have given me huge creative freedom in acting as both art director and artist.”
Arthur emphasizes each incision, angle, and pattern of the meticulously cut pieces of white paper by spotlighting or illuminating from within. “I love being able to create an artistic experience which is part of the everyday and highlights the possibilities of craftsmanship,” she says.
Find more of Arthur’s work on her website, Behance, and Instagram, where she often shares videos of her process.
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Surreal Narratives Energize Karlotta Freier’s Vibrant Dreamlike Illustrations
Brooklyn-based illustrator Karlotta Freier accentuates aspects of the mundane into energetic, surreal compositions. Often working on commissions for larger editorial and advertising projects, she begins with a mood, narrative, or compelling fact that unwinds into vivid, dreamlike scenes with otherworldly elements. Scale and perspective figure largely in her illustrations, which sometimes position people alongside enormous flowers or animals or use landscapes to amplify the minuscule nature of humans in comparison to the vastness of the world.
Prints of Freier’s works are available from The Honey Pump, and you can find more of her personal projects and commissions for brands and publications like Hermès, The New Yorker, and The New York Times on Instagram.
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Enigmatic Sketchbooks Record Visual Stories in Colored Pencil and Ink by Katherine Akmulun
One way to approach the cinematic sketchbook drawings by Katherine Akmulun is to think about literature. “When we read a book, not only do we look at the characters, but the characters are looking at us,” she says. “And they see much more than we think.” This awareness forms the basis of the artist’s ongoing series of drawings that capture intimate interactions, bold gestures, and momentary expressions. From a young age, a fascination with human anatomy and love of reading inspired a wish to become “a kind of writer,” she explains, and “since I feel insecure about words, the only way out for me was to keep a kind of personal diary with sketches instead of words.”
In ballpoint pen and colored pencil, Akmulun explores the duality of two facing pages by creating images that are distinctive from each other yet empathetic to one another. A close-up of hands grasping lightly at the fingertips complements a joyful scene of two women dancing, or a young child clasps her mother’s hand while gazing across the binding at a man who walks briskly across an open plane. Part story and part snapshot, the mysterious narratives reference historic images and are open to interpretation. “The funny thing is that different people can see different scenes in the same picture,” she says. “And this is incredibly cool, because we all have different life experiences, different environments, and different interests.”
Akmulun travels often and is influenced by the nuances of everyday experiences, which she captures using a minimal palette. She aims to collect and record feelings and memories in the books, but she’s not precious about keeping them intact. “I love to rip out pages,” she says. “I like to realize that the pages of my personal diary can travel the world, and can find their home not only in my sketchbook. I am pleased that people want to have a piece of my personal world in their home.”
Akmulun occasionally makes pages available for sale, and you can follow more of her work on Instagram.
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Through Mystical Mixed-Media Narratives, Artist Rithika Merchant Explores Intrinsic Connection
“I’m drawn to works that are rich in symbolism and also have a strong element of storytelling,” says Rithika Merchant. “I love seeing the artist’s hand in the work—I have a huge appreciation for small details and works that draw from a multitude of references—literary, mythical, and visual.”
The Mumbai-born artist manifests these same qualities in her practice, creating works that expertly translate concepts and themes through her own idiosyncratic allusions. Beginning with hours of study, research, and reading on an eclectic array of topics, Merchant tends to hone in on an image that she sketches onto sheets of paper, sometimes folded into generous rectangles or triangles. She then paints in gouache and subtle, muted washes of watercolor, layering translucent pigments atop inked renderings of landscapes, mythical hybrid creatures, and patterns of foliage.
While Merchant’s influences are broad—they range from the specific like 17th-century botanical drawings, Kalamkari prints, Mughal paintings, and Kalighat folk art to the general like religious iconography and narrative tapestries—they emerge as a distinct visual lexicon. The artist often gravitates toward symbols that transcend cultural or geographical boundaries, choosing to incorporate human anatomy, celestial objects, and botanical elements. Although universal, these images are married to language in Merchant’s mind and in service of an individual narrative. “I also have a notebook in which I make lots of written notes and diagrams, but I almost never make sketches or studies of things. I sketch more with words than images,” the artist shares.
Evoking the spiritual side of Hilma af Klint and the strange characters of Leonora Carrington, the resulting works are cartographic and chart-like, mapping surreal renderings of feathered wings, cycloptic figures, or a troupe of dancing creatures onto a plane intersected with creases and enclosed by a thin frame. Texture pervades each of the works through mixed mediums, collaged details, and patterns comprised of minuscule dots and lines.
Whether collaged or drawn on paper, each piece illuminates the intrinsic connections between the mind, body, and Earth. “I think there is something powerful in taking whatever scraps you can find and putting them together to create something meaningful,” she says.
Merchant is currently in a residence in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and will release her first monograph titled The Eye, The Sky, The Altar next month. For a glimpse into her studio and process, visit her Instagram.
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More Than 500,000 Black LEGO Structure Ekow Nimako’s Vast Afrofuturistic Cityscapes
Through vast environments constructed with hundreds of thousands of black LEGO, Ghanaian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako envisions an Afrofuturistic landscape brimming with strength, power, and liberation. Sprawling metropolises nest small buildings, regal towers, and fantastical details like the unhinged jaw of an enormous snake in their midst, structuring the architectural realms around legacies of myth and optimism.
Nimako’s current project, Building Black Civilizations: Journey of 2000 Ships, encapsulates this Afrofuturistic vision and invokes the mysterious story of Mansa Abu Bakr II, Mali’s ruler who’s said to have sailed from the coast of Africa in the 14th Century and never returned. The Atlantic voyage is one possible example of pre-Columbian contact and the founding narrative behind the artist’s latest sculptures.
Part of the ongoing Building Black series, this new collection comprises upwards of 500,000 sleek, black LEGO built into speculative cityscapes and figures. Nimako, who is currently based in Toronto, collaborated with studio assistants Janeesa Lewis-Nimako, Karen Osagie, and Keisha Agyemang to construct the utopian works, which are on view now at Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Each topography requires more than 600 hours of build time and contains an Adinkra, a symbol traditionally representing an aphoristic concept. Nimako shares that the emblems “are meant to connect the successive medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai across the centuries to the present, while providing a proverbial and moral centre for each sculptural narrative.”
Visit Dunlop Art Gallery before January 10, 2023, to see the incredible detail of Journey of 2000 Ships up close, and find more from Nimako on Instagram.
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