The monochromatic assemblages of Amber Cowan (previously) are at once domestic narratives and homages to an abandoned industry. Delicate baubles frame a central figure or scene that the Philadelphia-based artist illustrates with scraps of pressed glass. Whether focused on a lone bridesmaid or a hen hoarding eggs, Cowan’s works explore the feminine experience through themes of “loneliness, the search for meaning, the search for love, and the following of symbolism in the mundane.”
Cowan shops at antique stores and markets for materials, although she more frequently scours scrapyards around the country for discarded bits of glass, which are known as cullets. As a whole, the now-defunct industry was booming from the mid-1800s before it dropped off during the 20th Century. “Nowadays, this material is out of fashion and relegated to the dustbin of American design,” the artist writes, noting that she often finds masses of historic hues at the scrapyards. “These barrels of color are often the last of their run, and my work will essentially give the formulas their final resting place and visually abundant celebration of life.”
Some of Cowan’s work is included in the recently published book, Objects: USA 2020. If you’re in New York, her piece “Dance of the Pacific Coast Highway at Sunset” is permanently on view at The Museum of Arts and Design, and she’s also part of an upcoming group exhibition at R & Co. Gallery. Until then, explore more of her textured sculptures on her site and Instagram.
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In a whimsical narrative by Xuan Loc Xuan, an adventurous whale named Lucille traverses a bustling urban center, densely populated forest, and other dry-land locales on her search for a new home. The Ho Chi Minh City-based illustrator renders the marine mammal in a range of playful and melancholic scenes, either resting on a bed of flowers or trapped alone in a city as the sun sets. Titled The Whale Gets Stuck, the vivid series chronciles the whale’s journey that’s ripe with nostalgia and longing for her ocean home, a tale Xuan tells in her book Babà la balena in città, which is printed in Italian.
Shop prints of the illustrator’s quirky pieces on Pinlze or at Toi Gallery, and find two of her other children’s books, Giant: A Panda of the Enchanted Forest and Snowy: A Leopard of the High Mountains, on Bookshop. Head to Behance and Instagram to keep up with Xuan’s latest story-based projects.
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Whether unwrapping themselves from textile folds or balancing atop spindly stools, Monica Rohan’s figures are perpetually in motion. The painter depicts adventurous subjects set amongst whimsical worlds of overgrown bushes, vibrant seas of fabric, and cloudless skies rendered in patches blue. “The figure brings tension, the possibility of a narrative,” she tells Colossal. Rohan envisions each character as the impetus for action in her playful landscapes and thickly decorated domestic scenes.
Each piece begins with the artist exploring a photographic catalog she maintains with imagery of nature, interiors, and self-portraits.
These are developed through photo sessions which last anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. I then translate this content into sketches and studies, finding different ways to pull patterns out and manipulate the figure before moving forward with the painting proper…The first marks on the board are a transfer of a sketch for the figure. I’ll then start painting and slowly work my way across the surface in a single layer, constantly making micro-decisions and balancing the image as I go. The figure in this way acts as a sort of anchor that the rest of the painting moves around.
Often drawing from texts she’s reading—Charlotte Brontë’s Villette is one—the artist imbues fictional tales into her works. “I’m interested in when real life and fiction bleed into one another. I’ve always been an avid reader, but happily, nowadays I can read and paint at the same time thanks to audio-books. Often whatever I’m reading filters through into titles for works and indirectly into the paintings themselves,” she says.
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A measure of well-written fiction is its ability to provoke clear images in the minds of its readers. For Bethany Bickley, though, the joy of envisioning protagonists and scenery has a more literal element. The Savannah-based artist utilizes pages torn from classics, magazines, and contemporary works to fashion distinctive paper sculptures of clenched fists, a lounging reader, and a trio of masks. Each figurative work serves as a tangible representation of otherwise imagined visuals.
Among her bookish sculptures are the iconic pear tree from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a seated Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and an amalgam of weapons and detective objects to symbolize the thriller genre. In a statement, Bickley said she merges narrative and imagery “to tell a story with impact and purpose. If there are no visuals, I create them.”
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Packed within a 6,000-square-foot space on Chicago’s south side is a fictional universe teeming with pinned up newspaper clippings, towers of retro electronics, and tons of vintage advertising from McDonald’s to Vienna Hot Dogs. It’s the world of Hebru Brantley’s iconic characters, Lil Mama and Flyboy, whose enlarged head rests on the floor in one room of the immersive installation, titled Nevermore Park. Moving through the pathways lined with plastic toys and paint-spattered pallets, visitors pass a downed spaceship and a brick wall of street art, elements that structure Brantley’s narrative for the surreal environment.
The Los Angeles-based artist cites the tales of the superheroes and comic books he engaged with during his childhood living in Chicago as directly impacting his current projects. “I’m in love with creating and I have so many stories I want to tell,” he tells Colossal. “I want my work to create a narrative that hasn’t been told before, in ways others haven’t seen expressed. I’m working to create the things I wished existed.”
Although Brantley created many of the objects specifically for Nevermore Park, he also amassed thousands of pieces of real ephemera that create a strong undercurrent of Chicago’s history as expressed through pop culture, toys, magazines, and found objects. The periodicals lining the newsstand, for example, belonged to his grandmother. “She had saved a number of them and it created a unique opportunity for me to incorporate these real historical artifacts into my body of work for visitors to experience. Everything weaves together with the goal of staying authentic to the stories I wanted to tell,” he says.
Nevermore Park, though, is intended “to be a total sensory experience,” inspiring Brantley to collaborate with WILLS on the audio component, offering a soundtrack that he says visitors always ask about. “Bringing people into a space they wouldn’t normally occupy with sounds that are familiar, amplify the story and culture even more,” he writes. “Sight is an important aspect of the experience but so is the sound piped into each section.”
If you’re in Chicago, there are tickets available to visit Nevermore Park through May 3. Otherwise, head to Instagram to keep up with Brantley and see what’s next for Flyboy, Lil Mama, and Nevermore Park.
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Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves explores childlike stories of wonder through his surrealist paintings, capturing peeks of one’s internal daydreams through dual scene optical illusions. The works express both the real and the imaginative, painting a space where one can explore beyond physical limits. In his pieces inspired by the work of MC Escher and Magritte, subjects discover secret gardens hidden in carpets, forests just beyond the border of living rooms, and castles in misty lagoons. You can view more of Gonsalves paintings on Facebook. (via Booooooom)
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.