Using scraps of vibrant Ankara fabric, Lagos-based artist Marcellina Oseghale Akpojotor fashions intimate portraits that consider the fragmented and varied inner lives of her subjects. The intricately composed depictions rely on a cacophony of patterns arranged in loose ripples and tufts, creating a patchwork of color and texture. Although the textiles are Dutch in origin—they’re colloquially known as “African print fabrics”—they have a strong cultural significance, and by piecing together the assorted motifs, Akpojotor establishes a shared visual memory.
Set against uncluttered, domestic backdrops rendered in acrylic, the fiber-based figures are often disrupted with small spots of paint as a way to “speak to the influence our environment has in shaping us as individuals,” Akpojotor shares. “They represent the connections we have with our background and immediate society and how these often ignored elements form a part of our being.” Navigating the links between subjects and their surroundings is an ongoing concern for the artist, whose work delves into the effects of the current moment, in addition to the ways personal histories and the actions of previous generations have lasting impacts.
Akpojotor is represented by Rele Gallery, where her work will be on view later this month, and she’s currently working on pieces that explore how education affects women’s empowerment, which you can follow on Instagram. (via Women’s Art)
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In her vibrant, neon-lit paintings, artist Gigi Chen intertwines ornate jewelry, graffiti, and glowing signs emblematic of urban life with foliage, feathers, and wide expanses of sky. Her acrylic pieces center on birds and other small animals in their natural environments with surreal, manufactured additions: a heron cradles a bright pink house on its back, two rabbits peer over a bush at an illuminated parking sign, and an owl carries an old payphone across a glacial landscape.
A lifelong New Yorker, Chen tells Colossal that once her family immigrated to the U.S. from Guangdong, China, when she was eight months old, they didn’t often venture beyond the city’s confines. “The fear of not being able to communicate clearly with strangers was very prevalent growing up, and it really restrained us from doing too much traveling during my early childhood even though my parents could drive,” she says, noting that it wasn’t until an artist residency in Vermont when she was 18 that she found herself interacting with nature. “I realized how small the Big City really is. I was terrified of the pitch blackness, the dense forest, and the dirt and the bugs. But I was totally in love and overwhelmed by how sublime and random nature is.”
These early experiences continue to impact Chen’s work as she confronts lush, forest ecosystems and cloudy sunsets through the lens of city life. “The dichotomy of the neon onto natural subjects like leaves and birds and trees makes for beautiful metaphors about how people relate to the flora and fauna,” she says. “Adding artificial light sources to a natural environment helped me to reimagine and expand the kinds of stories I could tell and broaden how I could convey personal messages.”
Many of the animal protagonists embody the artist’s experiences particularly those in her new series Light My Way Home, which is on view through October 24 at Antler Gallery in Portland. The metaphorical works are ruminations on home, family, and the security those two provide, and the pieces often portray the artist and her sisters as red-winged blackbirds with her late mother as the blue heron. “Home Away From Home Away From Home,” which depicts the three smaller birds encircling the other as she flies away, “represents what happened after the death of my mother,” Chen says. “Here, we are seeking the sense of safety and stability that my mother once represented to us and endlessly chasing the Ideal of Home.”
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Nearly a century since it began, the Great Depression is still largely associated with the iconic imagery that’s come to define the era. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Walker Evans’s portrait of the distinctly tight-lipped Allie Mae Burroughs are two foundational shots that establish the period’s visual record, and they accompany the approximately 175,000 photographs also commissioned by the U.S. Farm Security Administration during those years.
While vast in number, this collection is understood today as being limited in scope, particularly in relation to its failure to reflect racial diversity, because the head of the FSA from 1935 to 1941, Roy Stryker, effaced images he felt didn’t align with the agency’s goals. When he wanted to reject a photo and prevent its dissemination, he would mark it with a hole punch, an erasure that Tulsa-based artist Joel Daniel Phillips evokes in his striking series Killing the Negative Pt. 2.
The ongoing project reimagines intimate portraits and wider shots from that period as meticulous graphite and charcoal drawings and oil paintings in shades of red. Monochromatic and ranging from small portraits to life-sized renderings, Phillips’s works complicate the narratives expunged from the historical record by focusing on a wider and more diverse swath of the population. “When the black voids of Roy Stryker’s hole punch are placed front and center, the reality of just how much power that a single, White man had to shape the narrative re-frames and re-defines the entire discussion,” the artist said in an interview about the first part of the project.
Included in Killing the Negative Pt. 2, which runs from October 9 to 20 at Hashimoto Contemporary’s new Los Angeles gallery, are glimpses into both rural and urban life with large-scale paintings of an older farmer, young girl outfitted in a frilly dress, and a panoramic shot of a migrant family and their makeshift living quarters. One smaller work (shown below) recreates a selfie that FSA photographer John Vachon snapped “in a hotel room mirror while on assignment. He took several of these, and apparently, Roy Styker (the head of the FSA) particularly hated this one, since he punched it twice,” the artist writes.
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More than 70 artists feature cats as their muse for a feline-centric group exhibition that scratches well beyond the tropes associated with the frisky creatures. Now in its fourth iteration, the Cat Art Show includes sculptures, paintings, collages, and a variety of other works by artists from 16 countries—Ravi Zupa (previously), Lola Dupré (previously), and Aniela Sobieski (previously) are among them—that capture the feisty antics, adorable wide-eyed stares, and stealthy adventures of both domestic and wild breeds. The exhibition is the project of curator and journalist Susan Michals, who also wrote the 2019 book compiling hundreds of photos by cat-enthusiast and photographer Walter Chandoha.
If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by The Golden Pagoda between October 14 and 24 to see the quirky, spirited works in person, and check out the available pieces on Instagram. As with previous shows, 10 percent of all sales will be donated to cat care, with this year’s funds going to Kitt Crusaders, Faces of Castelar, and Milo’s Sanctuary.
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Metaphorical Paintings by Calida Garcia Rawles Obscure Black Subjects with Gleaming Ripples of Water
Artist Calida Garcia Rawles continues her explorations into the myriad possibilities of water with paintings distorted by bubbles, pockets of air, and ripples reflecting the light above. She suspends Black figures in otherwise imperceptible moments, like the pause that immediately follows a fully-clothed plunge into a pool, conveying a vulnerable and fleeting interaction between her subjects and their surroundings. With submerged profiles or mirrored features, many are unidentifiable. “You really can’t see a face. They become almost forms and a part of their environment,” she tells Colossal. “I think there’s a spiritual element to water… They’re formless, and we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Many of the poetic renderings depict figures in billowing gowns or collared shirts in white for the color’s association with virtue and purity, a symbolic choice that’s connected to the artist’s interest in broader questions of race and its implications. “A lot of times innocence is not associated with the Black body. I thought it was a place to start,” she says. In an exploration of Rawles’s work, writer Roxane Gay further connects these questions to the water itself, sharing that the ripples in the artist’s paintings reference “the topographical maps of cities where Black lives have been tragically lost.”
Each painting is based on photographs the artist takes herself—read more about her lengthy research process previously on Colossal—and captures water’s incredible power and meditative qualities. For Rawles, the fluid spaces are metaphorical and tied broadly to Water-Memory Theory, or the idea that the vital liquid can preserve all of its interactions. “(I’m) remembering what water does, that it holds history in a way,” she says. “Water has everything that’s been through it, and that’s fascinating to me.”
Her practice is circular, and she’s likely to return to a thought or broader theme after setting it aside. The ethereal, abstract paintings that comprise the new series On the Other Side of Everything, for example, are extensions of those in A Dream For My Lillith, six paintings featuring clothed figures who are obscured by lustrous ripples of water rendered in acrylic. “It’s not a departure,” Rawles says of her new work. “It’s just showing more range of what I can do.”
On the Other Side of Everything is on view at Lehmann Maupin in New York through October 23, and the artist is currently working on her first mural at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. You can follow her progress on that large-scale work and see more of her process on Instagram.
Update: This article was updated for context on October 13, 2021.
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Whether depicting a floating cluster of stairs and balconies or a living space separated by differing forces of gravity, a new series of paintings by Cinta Vidal (previously) establishes multiple perceptions of reality within a single work. The artist, who lives in the small town of Cardedeu near Barcelona, favors skewed perspectives that flip domestic objects and invert architecture, and her collection of oil paintings that comprise Concrete use that same style of distortion to question notions of individual space and community and the walled structures people build in their minds.
Rendered in a subdued color palette of grays and soft blues, the compositions precisely arrange multiple routes and manners of living into single, cement buildings. Each work “remind(s) viewers that they are not alone and to pay closer attention to the many pathways of life existing amidst the masses.”
Curated by Thinkspace Projects, Concrete will be on view October 2 through December 26 as part of Structure, a series of solo exhibitions at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster. Vidal is also in the process of painting a large, outdoor mural nearby to accompany her smaller works, and you can follow her progresss on Instagram.
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