“Just before the beginning of a new day, there’s a fleeting moment where dreams remain alive,” says Italian muralist and artist Millo (previously) about his new series At the Crack of Dawn. On view through May 22 at Thinkspace Projects in Los Angeles, his acrylic paintings center on oversized subjects who embody the transitional state between deep sleep and waking. The artworks are rendered in Millo’s signature black-and-white, cartoon style and trap the slumbering characters in stark architectural settings. Flashes of color delineate their lulled and curious imaginations, showing a model solar system, sloshing sea, or quiet forest path that capture the “unconscious feelings passed through the haze of the shadow till the glimpse of light, shaping what is silent.”
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Discarded Technology and Branded Trash Are Stacked into Dystopian Structures in Alvaro Naddeo's Paintings
Behind each one of Alvaro Naddeo’s watercolor paintings is an imagined character who’s built a rickety shopping cart structure or gathered waste materials for a tiny, mobile dwelling. “I believe they are strong people, resilient, and survivalists,” the Brazilian artist tells Colossal. “They use creativity to overcome obstacles and adapt to any situation they are put in. So in a way, both of them, characters and discarded objects, are proof that there’s value in everything if you know where to look for it.”
Evoking an alternative universe in a state of ruin, Naddeo (previously) renders ramshackle structures and vehicles—which only span a few inches—made primarily of outdated technology, rusted carts and frames, and a plethora of branded materials: a Marlboro sign props up an upper level, a Coca-Cola panel offers protection from the elements, and logoed posters and stickers cover almost every surface. By fashioning these relics anew, the artist speaks to consumerism and the waste it generates, a concern that dovetails with a focus on income and wealth inequalities. He explains:
The gap between rich and poor continues to incessantly grow and it seems like nothing can’t stop it. That’s the harsh and important message of my work, but this message comes wrapped in a nice and warm blanket of nostalgia and the beauty of the composition. This warmth makes up for the harshness of the subject matter.
Currently living and working in Los Angeles, Naddeo is involved in a few group shows in the coming months, including at Beinart and Outre galleries in Melbourne and A. Hurd Gallery in Albuquerque. He’s also preparing for two solo exhibitions next year, which will be at Thinkspace in Los Angeles and at Beinart. Until then, check out his Instagram for glimpses of his process and a larger collection of his dystopian paintings.
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Annan Affotey has an affinity for bold, bright colors that set his subjects apart from the negative space framing their figures. Through gestural strokes that sweep across the canvas, the Ghanaian artist renders intimate portraits of his friends, family members, and the occasional public figure who, through distinctly red eyes, look directly at the viewer, a decision that’s both aesthetic and cultural.
“When I moved to the U.S. from Ghana, I was often questioned why my eyes were red and whether it meant I hadn’t slept or was doing drugs, neither of which was true. And it became a symbol for misinterpreted identities,” he says. That experience was complicated further by cultural expectations, which Affotey explains to Colossal:
I want the subject to have a direct conversation with the viewer, something I couldn’t do myself a few years ago. I am a shy person and when I first moved to the United States I would often look down when talking with people. In Ghana, looking down indicates shyness or respect. After being in the U.S. for a while, I finally came out of my shell and became more accustomed to looking people directly in the eye.
Currently living and working in Oxford, the artist prefers to surround his subjects with impasto strokes because of the liveliness they generate beyond the figures’ expressions. “I use textures in my paintings for several reasons. One reason is to portray energy or emotion centered around my subject,” he says. “I (also) use many textures so that people who can’t see will still have the opportunity to feel the canvas, brush strokes and feel a story from that.”
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The lengthy exposure times required by 19th Century photography were not conducive to newborns and fidgety toddlers, a problem many mothers tried to remedy by cloaking themselves in fabric and hiding behind furniture. As a result, those Victorian-era portraits, while capturing an endearing stage of life, are often spectral and slightly unnerving, shadowed by phantom limbs and textile silhouettes that closely resemble an inanimate backdrop despite their lively features.
This desire for disguise informs the multi-media works of Philadelphia-area artist Sarah Detweiler, whose ongoing series Hidden Mother is on view at Paradigm Gallery through May 22. Depicted without children, Detweiler’s portraits subvert the original photographs to instead draw attention to the figures otherwise purposely relegated to the background. Fabrics rendered with a combination of oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, and embroidered elements further confront traditional notions of femininity and motherhood by literally cloaking the women in materials long associated with domesticity.
Because the artist has a personal relationship with each subject, the textiles, motifs, and colors all evoke specific aspects of their personalities and distinct experiences, resulting in idiosyncratic portraits tethered only by their shared identity. “In maintaining the anonymity,” a statement about the series says, Detweiler “preserves a universal relatability—the woman under the shroud could be you, your mother, your friend.”
If you’re not in Philadelphia, you can take a virtual tour of the sold-out exhibition, and watch this Q&A with Detweiler for a deeper dive into the series, which is available as a limited-edition print set on Paradigm’s site. Head to Instagram to see more of the artist’s process, including some of the original photographs that informed the portraits shown here.
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Amy Sherald plumbs the multitudes of Black leisure in The Great American Fact, a series of arresting portraits that are currently on view at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles. From a woman resting on a bicycle to two surfers readying for the water, the oil-based paintings observe moments of respite and pleasure at a monumental scale, sometimes spanning nearly nine feet across.
Although she surrounds her subjects with vivid patches of color and portrays them wearing bright garments, Sherald (previously) continues to render her subjects’ skin in her signature grayscale, which she’s described in recent years as a way to have the figures read “in a universal way, where they could become a part of the mainstream art historical narrative.” This new series also features elements synonymous with American culture, including a white picket fence, Barbie T-shirt, and retro convertible.
The collection’s title draws on the work of Anna Julia Cooper, an educator who in 1892 wrote A Voice From the South by a Black Woman of the South. In the classic Black feminist text, Cooper described Black people as “‘the great American fact’; the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence.” This understanding structures Sherald’s work and provides guideposts for considering “public Blackness,” particularly as the Georgia-born artist portrays figures with rich personal lives full of ease, relaxation, and joy. When much of Black life historically has centered around grappling with injustice and social issues, Sherald’s turn inward provides a nuanced view of her subjects.
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Sinuous branches half-submerged in water, fish swimming through the treetops, and plant life spearing small birds compose the intricate entanglements rendered by Teagan White. Through gouache, watercolor, and colored pencil, the artist merges plant and animal life in delicate scenes that focus on the interconnectedness and beauty of the natural world.
Having just moved to the Pacific Northwest, much of White’s work draws on their years spent biking throughout the Midwest and viscerally experiencing life and death on the region’s roadways. The artist describes their recent series, Things As They Are & As They Could Be, which includes many of the mixed-media pieces shown here, as “meditations on peril and possibility; what has been lost and what remains; dystopian presents and improbable futures.” It’s on view now through May 3 at Nucleus Portland.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.