Urbanites know the subway is a prime location to spot the city’s oddities, and yet, a run-in with one of Matthew Grabelsky’s characters would be a particularly wild encounter. The Los Angeles-based artist has spent the last few years rendering human-animal hybrids that nonchalantly ride public transit. Sometimes snacking on a cracker or brushing up on some reading, the characters are surreal, uncanny additions to an otherwise mundane scene.
Grabelsky’s newest oil paintings, which are currently on view as part of Riders at The Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale, California, are hyperrealistic and laced with witty details similar to earlier works in the series. Set on the New York City Subway and London Tube, the portraits are narrative-driven and embedded with pop culture references. The artist shares:
My goal is to create the effect of looking at a scene on the subway as if it were a diorama at a natural history museum. The images present richly detailed moments frozen in time allowing the viewer to closely inspect every element and make connections between them to read an overall story. In this world, people are transformed into part-animal to create scenes that are strange, funny, and endearing.
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Chicago continues to rank among the most segregated cities in the United States, with Black and brown populations living across the south and west sides that lack the investment and resources of the white-dominated northern neighborhoods. Caused by more than a century’s worth of inequitable governance, redlining, and various forms of discrimination, this enduring racial separation has irrevocably shaped the city and its residents, impacting those who came to the area during the Great Migration and those who call it home still today. It’s often said that the history of Chicago is also the history of segregation.
This infamous legacy is an essential component of Yashua Klos’s evolution as an artist. “I’m from the city of Chicago, and Chicago’s urban planning was designed for segregation, to separate Black and white,” he shares with Colossal. “That segregation is baked into the ‘redlining’ housing ownership policies and the geography of the city.”
Now based in the Bronx, Klos frequently reflects on his hometown and brings the gridded structure of its streets into his works. A 2021 solo show at UTA Artist Space exhibited portraits bisected by angular blocks textured like wood, brick, and cinder, allowing fragments of the uniform roadways to emerge through facial features. “In art history, the grid is a kind of tool for optical democracy. There’s no visual hierarchy in a grid—you can enter any space at any time. So, I’m interested in that grid’s proposal of democracy and how that’s failed Black folks, especially where I’m from and how Chicago is constructed,” he says.
The collaged portraits evoke the ways identities are an amalgam of both genetics and surrounding influences. They mimic three-dimensional forms that surface from the flat plane of the paper, and Klos portrays the subjects as breaking free from constraint or relying on the structure for support. “I’m considering Black folks who are forming a defiant sense of self in order to survive in an often unjust environment. This is why these head forms often appear built of construction materials and suggest that they are sculptures or even monuments,” the artist writes, referencing the art historical use of statues and portraits to convey value and respect.
While Klos spent his upbringing in Chicago, his father’s family has ties to Detroit, particularly the car industry and Ford plant where many relatives worked. Like his portraiture, the artist’s woodblock prints of singular, upturned hands allow this personal history to converge with broader themes of familial love and political resilience. The appendages grasp botanicals native to Michigan and blocks floating nearby as they deny “work in order to hold flowers,” he says. “Here, I’ve found (an) opportunity to explore themes of nurturing, tenderness, generosity, and self-care.”
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Braids and Bowlers: Indigenous Bolivian Women Skateboard in Style in Celia D. Luna’s Empowered Portraits
Against the pastels and earth tones of a skate park in Bolivia, Miami-based photographer Celia D. Luna captures the vibrant energy and determination of women who express solidarity and strength through a love of skateboarding. Part of her series Cholitas Bravas, “Cholitas Skaters” focuses on a group of Indigenous Bolivian women who wear traditional clothes while practicing extreme sports. “I’ve always admired brave women and culture; it’s in my DNA,” she says, describing that her upbringing by a single mother in the Andes Mountains of neighboring Peru instilled an admiration for courage and perseverance.
As recently as the last two decades, Bolivia’s Indigenous Quechua and Aymara women, known derogatorily as “cholitas,” were marginalized and ostracized from society. Distinguished by their long braids, wide skirts, and bowler hats—an amalgamation of styles resulting from Spanish colonizers forcing Indigenous people to adopt European styles during the Inquisition—the style evolved into a symbol-rich, empowered look.
Indigenous Bolivian women were historically banned from entering some public spaces, could not use public transportation, and were burdened by extremely curtailed career opportunities. They have been advocating for their civil rights since the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until the election of the nation’s first Indigenous president in 2006 that the Cholitas finally achieved some success in restoring their rights, and the pleated skirts, lace blouses, and sombreros prevail as emblems of their cultural roots.
Luna tells Colossal that the women’s choice to don traditional apparel is for “some of them in honor of their ancestors and some of them because that’s what they wear in their everyday life. I was taken by their courage and their love for their culture, and I wanted to capture that.” Her portraits highlight each individual as she skates around the park, gathers together with the group, and poses with her board as she gazes commandingly at the viewer.
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London-based artist and creative director Max Siedentopf has a knack for portraying more than meets the eye in his distinctive portraits. A series titled Pleasure Portraits looks forward to summer, featuring the distinctive pastels and jewel tones of ice cream bars alongside subjects whose decadent makeup mimics the hues and embellishments of their paired confection.
No stranger to fashion and makeup artistry in his collaborative, creative development role with the Italian brand Gucci, Siedentopf cast models who were ornamented with gems, baubles, and vibrant patterns. In this playful study of duality, there is a twist of irony: despite the association of frozen treats and the sunny colors of summertime with pleasure, Siedentopf’s subjects sit inert and gaze expressionlessly at the viewer in a similar format to passport photos.
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Utilizing vintage tennis rackets, T-shirts, and tie-dyed fabrics as canvases, Danielle Clough’s expressive embroideries (previously) sport summery motifs like flamingo pool floats, bright citrus, and bucket hats. The artist continues to expand upon the traditional hoop as the framing device and considers how the medium translates to unexpected surfaces like surfboards or apparel. And she isn’t afraid to experiment: her design for a surfboard—a bird perched on a large flower with a stem that trails into loose threads—didn’t go as planned when the time came to apply the piece to the physical board. However, the learning experience shaped the way she approaches future projects.
A recent series of vibrant human eyes stitched onto Adidas shirts comprise a collaboration with the brand to produce limited-edition wearable artworks. “The brief was broad: to create a sense of individual expression through the community,” Clough explains. “This collection of ‘expressions’ looks out from the wearer’s chest. Standing alone, but all together; a part of a group, like a bouquet.” She has also been experimenting with different threads and watercolor, focusing on the fabric background as an important part of the overall composition.
Clough says, “I’m currently working with a South African clothing brand called Poetry on creating a collection for spring using a variety of techniques to translate my work onto apparel,” and shares that she is also collaborating with Florida-based boxing glove maker 1V1 to create embellished mitts. Toward the end of this year, Clough will also present a series of workshops at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia. Find more of her work on her website, and follow the latest updates on Instagram.
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Through ethereal portraits that vacillate between Eastern and Western traditions, Ji Xin coaxes an ambiance of contemplation and ennui. The Chinese artist blends elements of Song dynasty paintings, like the relaxed, unhurried poses of his feminine figures, with particulars of Renaissance works, producing compositions that place calm women among gilded, elegant interiors.
Rendered in a subtle palette of gold and pastel hues, the portraits are delicate and laced with longing and introspection. The subjects all shy away from the viewer, and as shown in “Pearls and daffodils” and “Ripples,” many are in the midst of confronting their emotional states through mirrored reflections of themselves or similar figures. Their elongated limbs stretch across their torsos or hang from their bodies, conveying a sense of stillness and repose.
The paintings shown here are on view through February 4 at Almine Rech Paris as part of the artist’s solo show, Moonlight · Butterfly. You can find more from Ji Xin, who currently lives and works between Hangzhou and Shanghai, on Instagram.
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