Set against bold, impasto backdrops, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s portraits emphasize the subjects’ spirits, their emotional states and idiosyncracies conveyed through facial expression, gesture, and garments—striped suits, wide-brimmed hats, and bright red bandanas tied around their necks. He renders figures in shades of gray, painting distinctive artworks that embrace the multitudes of Black life through striking and powerful depictions. The goal, the Ghanaian artist (previously) said in an interview with Juxtapoz, is “to capture what they want to say but cannot say in just one image. So that when you see the figure or the painting, you wonder who the person is.”
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Heji Shin has ruffled more than a few feathers in her career through provocative and, at times, controversial photographs of infamous celebrities, crowning babies, and explicit scenes that display the rawness and vitality of her subjects. Born in South Korea, the German photographer recently turned her lens on a particularly antagonistic bunch of roosters in her series Big Cocks. Shot in her distinctly discomfiting and emphatic style, the photographs are strikingly masculine and aggressive, documenting the birds as they screech, splay their claws, and do karate-style leaps into the air.
In a recent interview, Shin writes that while the portraits exude passion, they stray from the more systemic and militaristic views of violence we often see. “The short-lived outbursts of angry cock energy look Hellenistic and virile,” she says.
The photographer is represented by Reena Spaulings in New York, where Big Cocks was recently on display, and you can view a larger collection of her work on the gallery’s site and her Instagram. (via Contemporary Art Daily)
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Just as a ceramicist would smooth the harsh edges of clay, Martin Satí renders the supple contours of a subject’s face with sweeping motion. Thick drops of color form the light of a cheekbone or eyelid crease, and the swirling lines that overlay the Seville-based illustrator’s portraits add a dynamic element. Through implied movement, the expressive works capture the subjects’ energy and momentary expressions.
Satí shares that his practice, while digital, similarly molds facial features as a sculptor would. Despite using impalpable tools, he says that his “material is like semi-liquid and is difficult to model but at the same time is very rich in movement and liveliness… I work with this material, which I usually call ‘Silicone Pie,’ as an artisan works with ceramics. I am modeling the colors with lines of movement until I achieve an optimal level of detail.”
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Winding lines and sinuous strands form the textured labyrinths that surround Glenn Brown’s subjects. The uncanny portraiture that comprises his series And thus we existed seamlessly revitalizes icons of pop culture and art history with the London-based artist’s distinct aesthetic. Bold prismatic hues whirl in curling strokes that intertwine outward across each panel, centering the figures while emphasizing the individual lines that provide their shape.
Prior to painting a backdrop or enigmatic subject, Brown begins with a source image, which he then digitally alters before transferring to the panel. While he evokes the aesthetics of surrealists or artists like Karel Appel, Frank Auerbach, Georg Baselitz, and Chris Foss, each of Brown’s acrylic and oil paintings transcend simple appropriation. Instead, he identifies the unexplored possibilities within the original image, casting unusual and complex lines that bolster the works’ mysterious and unsettling qualities. His deviation from the primary source also entangles his own narrative with that of his predecessors.
And thus we existed will be on view at two of Max Hetzler’s spaces in Berlin—Bleibtreustraße 45 and Bleibtreustraße 15/16—through January 23, 2021. To see where Brown’s work is headed next, check out his Instagram and his site.
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Subversively Elegant Portraits of Indigenous People Drawn on Repurposed Ledgers by Artist Chris Pappan
In his mixed-media portraits, Chicago-based artist Chris Pappan draws on the tradition of ledger art, a practice that flourished among Native populations throughout the Great Plains from around 1850 to 1920. Rooted in narratives, the renderings depicted the ways of life of Indigenous people and the nuances otherwise left out of mainstream conversations. “The mid-19th Century was a tumultuous time for the Indigenous peoples of America; the doctrine of Manifest Destiny brought deep pain and suffering but it also introduced new modes of expression,” says Pappan, who is a citizen of the Kaw (Kanza) Nation and of Osage, Lakota and mixed European heritage.
Using graphite, colored pencils, ink, and water-based media, the artist illustrates black-and-white portraits on a variety of intentionally sourced materials, like municipal ledgers and mining certificates. One artwork (shown below) features five mirrored figures imprinted on Boy Scouts of America neckerchiefs that offer commentary on the destructive practices of the youth organization by recreating appropriated imagery. A similar piece, “Of White Bread and Miracles,” evokes the illustrations in the manual Here Is Your Hobby: Indian Dancing and Costumes, which the group often used to teach its members. “The book is an example of cognitive dissonance as it erases any vestiges of contemporary Native people and homogenizes all Native American cultures while making casual remarks such as ‘…get a local Indian to teach you singing and dancing if you can…,'” Pappan writes.
Despite invoking historical references, the artist imbues his figurative renderings with visions for the future. The lowbrow movement—particularly the melding of technical ability with taboo subject matter—influenced much of his earlier work. More recent projects have honed in on issues of systemic racism and appropriation of sacred objects, which Pappan hopes inspires viewers to question their own complicity. “I’ve always felt it important to understand boundaries (or rules) so that one can break them and then be able to redefine culture in our own terms. (Native American) Culture is living, and we have the responsibility of its continuity,” the artist says. He expands on the idea:
Through the medium of indelible ink, I am asserting our identity and our continued existence in the face of attempted erasure and negating the centuries of racist misrepresentations… In the re-appropriation of an object that may have been considered sacred to some, I hope to impose a sense of what Native people feel when we’re confronted with sacred objects or the bones of our ancestors displayed as macabre entertainment for capitalism.
Pappan is represented by Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe. If you’re in the Chicago area, his ledger art is on display in the windows of 1100 Florence in Evanston through December 4, and “Scout’s Honor” is part of the group show, The Long Dream, which is on view at MCA Chicago through January 17, 2021. Otherwise, stay up to date with his subversive projects on Instagram and his site.
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Through his meticulously rendered portraits, Santa Cruz-born artist Kajahl subverts the tradition of Blackamoor—a highly stylized European aesthetic that visualized people of color, particularly African men, in exoticized forms and subservient roles—by instead depicting Black subjects in valorized positions. Part of a series titled Royal Specter, the vivid paintings center alchemists, scholars, astronomers, and various intellectual figures within grandiose and luxurious settings.
While the artist’s works evoke the racist sculpture and decorative pieces of Blackamoor, they remove the historical context and alter the original narrative through anachronistic details. Each oil painting is layered with imagined elements, from the inaccuracies of the source material to Kajahl’s portrayals of fictional characters. “My fantasy is gazing back at their fantasy. I am their fantasy and they are mine… I am the specter of their imagination,” he says.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
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