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Art Documentary

‘China’s Van Goghs’ Documentary Explores the Industrial Scale of Art in the Village that Paints Thousands of Replicas

December 5, 2022

Kate Mothes

In the late 1980s, the village of Dafen in Shenzhen, China—home to a few hundred people—was set on an industrial course that would utterly transform the area. Over the past three decades in what is known as the “world’s art factory,” manufacturers have produced thousands of replicas of well-known paintings by Western masters like Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Edgar Degas. In a full-length documentary from Perspective, filmmakers render an intimate portrait of life in Dafen.

China’s Van Goghs follows painter Zhao Xiaoyong, along with family and friends, through typical days at work. Immense rolls of canvas are unloaded from a truck, a line of people add details to raw canvases tacked to the wall, and rows of paintings line-dry above their heads.  “We paint, eat, and sleep—all in this studio,” Zhao says, sharing that before he began painting, he had never heard of Van Gogh. Now, he oversees the production of hundreds of paintings each month, for which photographs or small prints are used as references.

 

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

Entrepreneurial trade painter Huang Jiang established the village’s art industry in 1989 after moving his business to the mainland hamlet from his native Hong Kong. Dafen is characterized by an an assembly line process that has historically relied on cheap migrant labor, where local workers were trained to paint in oil. As the manufacture of copies of paintings by Western masters expanded, so did the village. Dafen is now home to more than 10,000 residents and has become a cultural center of Shenzhen, but the relationship between yì shù jiā (artists) and huà jiā (painters or art workers) is uniquely nuanced.

Zhao grapples with the difference between the two, and an opportunity to fly to Amsterdam with his family to visit the Van Gogh Museum and meet a long-time client provides many unexpected revelations, including finding his paintings in a tourist stand and learning that the profit margin is around ten times his compensation to make the works. After a trip to Arles, France, to the hospital where Van Gogh was briefly in residence, and his burial site in Auvers-sur-Oise, Zhao returns home and reflects on the visit with mixed emotions. He and his colleagues discuss feeling a connection to Van Gogh and a profound link with the work.

The documentary plumbs universal, provocative questions of originality and significance. Zhao recounts museum staff asking if he made his own work, and he explains “Do you know how much pressure I felt? I was shocked. I don’t even have a single piece of my own. I’ve just been copying, copying… To change from a painter to an artist, to whatever it is, is very difficult.” A friend posits that labels like “artist” and “worker” aren’t useful, and Zhao continues with a question that many creators will find familiar, “Have I become an artist? Do I have anything that deserves appreciation?”

 

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

 

 

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Art

Animals of Translucent Botanics Center in Molly Devlin’s Ethereal Portraits

November 29, 2022

Grace Ebert

A painted portrait of a deer comprised of delicate foliage

All images © Molly Devlin, shared with permission

In her exquisitely rendered portraits in acrylic, artist Molly Devlin instills an aura of dreamlike mystery. She shapes the likeness of a deer or snail from layers of translucent florals and foliage: stacked leaves splay outward like the fur of a cat’s face, fronds and wispy tendrils billow from the bulbous head of a jellyfish, and mycelium cloaks a small bird in delicate webbing. Through the fantastical, gossamer compositions, Devlin prods the ephemeral nature of existence and explores various facets of the unknown. “I’ve always been fascinated by the mysteries beyond life and death, the unexplainable offers infinite inspiration to me,” she shares.

Devlin, who is based in Sacramento, is currently preparing for an upcoming group exhibition at Corey Helford Gallery, and she also has shows slated for next year at Revolution Gallery and Arch Enemy Arts. Find prints and original paintings in the artist’s shop, and watch her at work on Instagram.

 

A painted portrait of a cat comprised of delicate foliage

A painted portrait of a jellyfish comprised of delicate foliage

A photo of a framed painted portrait of a bird comprised of mycelium

A photo of a framed painted portrait of a snail comprised of mycelium

A detail of a painted portrait of a deer comprised of delicate foliage

A photo of a framed painted portrait of a jellyfish made of foliage

 

 



Art

In Richly Patterned Portraits, Ruby Sky Stiler Dismantles Art History’s Most Persistent Archetypes

November 28, 2022

Kate Mothes

A geometrically patterned, abstract portrait of two figures and a paint palette.

“Artist with Muse” (2022), acrylic, acrylic resin, paper, glue, and graphite on panel, 60 x 50 inches. All images © Ruby Stiler, shared with permission courtesy of Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York

Throughout the history of Western art, certain tropes occur again and again in painting and sculpture. The motif of mother and child has been reflected throughout the centuries in the likeness of the Holy Virgin and infant Christ or in domestic family portraiture, like in the works of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, who specialized in the theme. The archetype of the female muse dates back to ancient Greek mythology and religion, when goddesses like Calliope or Melpomene were considered the source of creativity and knowledge. Brooklyn-based artist Ruby Sky Stiler challenges these preconceptions and archetypes in her ongoing series of Relief Paintings.

Stiler’s works play with gender conventions by turning the male subject into a muse for the female artist or representing parenthood through an image of a father with his children. In “Old Woman (Blue),” she taps into society’s lingering taboo of aging, especially for women. “I’ve recently been exploring the trope of the ‘muse’ and placing the male figure as object. And also in the role of parent, which is strikingly uncommon (in contrast to the abundant depictions of mother and child),” she tells Colossal. “I’ve also re-positioned the female figure in the empowered role as The Artist.”

In bold, geometric patterns, Stiler’s subjects are human-scaled and gaze directly at the viewer. Black-and-white, tile-like patterns provide the background for abstracted figures that nod to Cubism—a movement practically synonymous with masculine figures like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Stiler dismantles the “male gaze,” or the lens through which women are depicted as objects of desire for men in visual culture. She explores the notion of the gaze further in the way that the paintings are experienced by the viewer; from far away the outlines of the figures are easy to see, but the closer one gets, the more the fractal-like patterns distort the image.

A monograph of Stiler’s work is scheduled for publication by The Tang Teaching Museum in the spring, and a solo exhibition of her work will open in March 2023 at Nina Johnson Gallery in Miami. She is represented by Nicelle Beauchene, and you can find more of her work on her website and Instagram.

 

A geometrically patterned portrait of a figure holding a cat.

“Cat Sitter” (2022), acrylic paint, acrylic resin, paper, glue, and graphite on panel, 32 x 25 inches

Detail of “Cat Sitter”

A geometrically patterned, abstract portrait of a father holding his two children.

“Father and Children” (2022), acrylic paint, acrylic resin, paper, glue, and graphite on panel, 60 x 50 inches

A detail of a painting showing a hand cradling two small feet.

Detail of “Father and Children”

A geometrically patterned, abstract portrait of three figures in a family.

“Generational Portrait” (2022), acrylic paint, acrylic resin, paper, and glue, 60 x 50 inches

“Old Woman (Blue)” (2022), acrylic paint, acrylic resin, paper, and glue, 18 x 15.5 inches

A geometrically patterned, abstract portrait of a figure seated next to a vase.

“Seated Woman (Facing Left)” (2018), mixed media, 50 x 60 inches

A geometrically patterned, abstract portrait of a parent figure sitting beside a child.

“No Title (Father and Boy” (2020), acrylic paint, acrylic resin, graphite, and paper, 44 x 50 inches

A geometrically patterned, abstract portrait of two women in gold, one holding a flower.

“Women in Gold” (2022), acrylic paint, acrylic resin, paper, glue, and graphite on panel, 32 x 25 inches

 

 



Art

So Far So Good: Vivid Paintings by Murmure Take a Wry Perspective on the Climate Crisis

November 22, 2022

Kate Mothes

“Faille (Crack)” (2022), acrylic on canvas. All images © Murmure, shared with permission courtesy of Galerie LJ

Artists Paul Ressencourt and Simon Roche, a.k.a. Murmure (previously), have worked collaboratively for the past twelve years to synthesize a studio-based practice with large-scale street art. In high-contrast acrylic paintings, the duo reference the climate crisis and enduring problems of overconsumption, especially regarding the immense impact that humans have on marine life and rising sea levels. The artists’ new exhibition Jusqu’ici tout va bien, which translates to “So far so good,” approaches environmental catastrophes like thawing glaciers and overfishing from a characteristically sardonic perspective.

Ressencourt and Roche focus on the absurdity of capitalist systems in the face of destruction. Paradoxes abound as surveyors plot developments on a melting ice sheet, supine whales are served up as giant sushi rolls, and oblivious holiday-makers dive from icebergs and wade around shorelines devoid of flora and fauna. “In spite of everything, Murmure favors in their art a form of beauty which contrasts with the cruelty, the stupidity, and the urgency of the situations depicted in their works,” the exhibition statement explains.

Jusqu’ici tout va bien is on view at Galerie LJ in Paris through November 26. You can find more of Murmure’s work on their website and Instagram.

 

A painting by Murmure of a whale being served up as sushi with chopsticks.

“Whale Sushi” (2022), acrylic on canvas

A painting by Murmure of people swimming by an iceberg.

“Jusqu’ici tout va bien (Banquise)” or “So far so good (Ice)” (2022), acrylic on canvas

A painting by Murmure of people swimming by an iceberg.

“Joyau” (2022)

A painting by Murmure of people swimming by an iceberg.

Detail of “Joyau (Jewel)” (2022), acrylic on canvas

A painting by Murmure of a whale underwater that is sliced into maki rolls.

“Whale Maki” (2022), acrylic on canvas

A painting by Murmure of two surveyors plotting lines on an ice sheet.

“Marquages (Markings)” (2022), acrylic on canvas

Two details of paintings by Murmure.

Left: Detail of “Whale Sushi.” Right: Detail of “Joyau”

Detail of “Faille”

A painting by Murmure of people swimming by an iceberg.

Detail of “Joyau”

A painting by Murmure of people swimming by an iceberg.

Detail of “Jusqu’ici tout va bien (Grande Banquise)”

 

 



Art

Artist Harmonia Rosales Reinterprets Genesis through a Stunning Subversion of the Sistine Chapel

November 21, 2022

Grace Ebert

A painted portrait of a woman with flowers

“Beyond the Peonies” (2022), oil on wood panel, 36 x 48 inches. All photos by Jeff McLane, courtesy of the artist and UTA Artist Space, shared with permission

At the heart of Garden of Eve, Harmonia Rosales’ comprehensive exhibition at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills, is the power of narrative. The show spans years of Rosales’ career, featuring dozens of portraits in oil and perhaps the grandest work she’s produced thus far: encircled with lights, an upturned ship towers over the gallery, allowing viewers to pass underneath and peer upwards at the frescoed expanse.

Referencing the vessels utilized in the transatlantic slave trade, the lofty structure re-envisions the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and uses Michaelangelo’s Renaissance works as a blueprint to recast Genesis through the lens of female empowerment and Orishas, deities in religions of the African diaspora. Dozens of Rosales’ paintings, like “Birth of Eve” and her 2017 “Creation of God” that garnered viral attention, cloak the ship with a narrative that’s both widely recognizable and subversive in its telling, with Black and Latinx subjects at the center. “I didn’t want it to be a chapel ceiling because then that’s against everything I’m trying to convey, especially with this Yoruba religion,” Rosales shares with Colossal. “So why not put it on the undercarriage of a slave ship, the very thing that brought these stories to us?”

 

A photo of an illuminated ship in a gallery

Now based in Los Angeles, Rosales has roots in Chicago, the city where she began pursuing her art practice full-time and where she first conceived of the installation. Five years in the making, the project is a testament to the artist’s dedication to long-term thinking. Her process is relatively slow and requires as much research as hours at the easel, meaning she generally produces less than ten works each year. Back then, Rosales says, “I was trying to hide behind my paintings. I was thinking that, okay, if I just paint, people will understand that, but I knew I had to really speak on the paintings myself. This time allowed me to feel comfortable and to curate my message better in a way where all can understand.”

Rosales has long been concerned with communication and comprehension, particularly as she brings lesser-known deities into the mainstream and elevates such religious figures to the status of those within ancient Greco-Roman myth and the Christian iconography that have dominated much of art history. “All along, with all of these exhibitions, I was creating puzzle pieces, pieces to the Sistine Chapel,” she says about the smaller paintings. “Now people can go back and really understand it.”

Many of the works collapse time periods and blend references, like “Forbidden Fruit,” which centers on a woman encircled in a gold halo eating a slice of the pink melon. “Ever wonder why watermelon became a cruel stereotype?” Rosales asks. “It was the one fruit that symbolized Black self-sufficiency after emancipation.” Similarly, the titular work, “Garden of Eve,” centers on Yemaya, the mother of all Orishas in the Yoruba faith. Shielding her face from the chaos of children and florals, the spirit witnesses “the disruption of her perfect garden, (which) intentionally parallels the disruption of the African continent.”

 

A photo of paintings that mimic the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Detail of the installation

Ultimately, Rosales wants to question dominant Eurocentric narratives and to expose that the Orishas and religions she’s referencing are as old, enduring, and relevant as others. “What came first? Why have these gods been hidden? Why haven’t they been mainstreamed?” she posits. “To hide these gods, thus our identity, it’s keeping us in check. The more that they get out, the more that we are realizing that this is old. It strengthens us as a whole.”

Garden of Eve is up through November 30 in Beverly Hills. Rosales will continue working within stories of creation as she prepares for her solo show opening in March at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Until then, find more from her on Instagram.

 

A painting of children and a woman surrounded by flowers

“Garden of Eve” (2022), oil on wood panel, 48 x 72 inches

A painted portrait of a woman eating watermelon

“Forbidden Fruit” (2021), 48 x 36 inches

A painting of figures on a boat and coming to shore

Detail of the installation

A photo of an illuminated ship in a gallery

A photo of paintings that mimic the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Detail of the installation

A painted portrait of a woman surrounded by flowers

“Ori” (2022), oil on wood panel, 48 x 36 inches. Photo by Jeff McLane

A painted portrait of a woman against a background of yellow symbols

“Portrait of Eve” (2022), oil on wood panel, 36 x 36 inches

 

 



Art

The Denizens of ‘Submersia’ Breathe New Life into Ancient Artifacts in Oil Portraits by Kajahl

November 18, 2022

Kate Mothes

An oil painting by Kajahl.

“Amphibian Resurfaced” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. All images © Kajahl, shared with permission courtesy of moniquemeloche

From his studio overlooking Monterey Bay, California, Kajahl has created a new series of paintings that draw inspiration from the sea and ancient heritage, continuing a practice that employs portraiture to subvert white, European historical narratives. The artist merges classical motifs and mythical realms in Submersia, a fictional underwater world where artifacts take on new life.

Greek and Roman vessels like glass balsamarii, wine jugs known as oinochoes, and conical rhyton vases often depicted figures or were fashioned in the shape of human or animal heads. Kajahl reimagines artifacts like these as mystical seaborne figures, redefining the historical portrayal of “aethiops,” an archaic term for dark-skinned people. On household containers, these often showed “individuals possessing phenotypes typically associated with Sub-Saharan Africa,” he explains in a statement. “Harkening back over two millennia, I interrogate these fascinating and controversial subjects, probing our relationship to these objects that confront us from an alien world.”

Kajahl’s “Iceberg Entities” are human-iceberg fusions that are starting to thaw, isolated in deep water. The figures gaze intentionally at the viewer, who is given a simultaneous view from above and below the surface that separates “the visible from the invisible world, emphasizing water’s ability to obscure, conceal, or reveal what was once beneath,” he says. On the sea floor, the “Oceandwellers” and “Coral Kids” inhabit a realm brimming with colorful rocks, coral, and shellfish. Air bubbles escape from their mouths, and their gaze also meets the viewer, represented not as inanimate artifacts but as living, breathing figures who are capable of emotion and perception.

Submersia is on view at moniquemeloche in Chicago through January 7, 2023, and you can follow more of Kajahl’s work on Instagram.

 

An oil painting by Kajahl.

“Rocky Reef Inhabitant” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

Two oil paintings by Kajahl.

Left: “Iceberg Entity I (Pointed Peak Crown)” (2022), oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches. Right: “Iceberg Entity III (Ultramarine Gold Turban)” (2022), oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches

An oil painting by Kajahl.

“Iceberg Entity (Glacial Fracture Head)” (2022), oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches

An oil painting by Kajahl.

“Underwater Exhale” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

An oil painting by Kajahl.

“Kelp Forrest Ocean Dweller” (2022), oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

An oil painting by Kajahl.

“Iceberg Entity IV (Cracked Head Thawing)” (2022), oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches