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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From an Egyptian vulture with wispy feathers to a cockatoo with a vibrant fanned crest, Tim Flach’s expressive portraits convey the subtleties and bold features of birds around the globe. The London-based photographer (previously) focuses on endangered and vulnerable species throughout his work, which includes a range of animal portraiture. “I am also interested in the perceptual divide between sentient beings. There is a sense of awe and wonderment and there is always an uncertainty about what will reveal itself on set. I like to encourage thoughts about how we see each other,” he says in a statement.
Flach’s avian portraits, in particular, are shot to reveal human-like qualities, collapsing the differences between species. He compares the black-feathered head of the long-tailed broadbill to a fighter pilot’s helmet and the mustachioed Peruvian Inca tern to an iconic artist. “This for me, is the Salvador Dali of the bird world,” he writes on Instagram, noting that the longer mustache indicates a stronger immune system, making the bird more attractive as a mate.
To explore more of Flach’s striking photographs, check out the five books he’s published, in addition to his Instagram, where he shares his portraits and idiosyncratic details about the avian subjects.
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In her ethereal portraits, Toronto-based artist Sara Golish (previously) renders lavishly adorned goddesses and gods that exude a sense of power and wisdom. The charcoal, conté, and ink drawings are part of two ongoing collections, titled Sundust and Moondust, that imagine a series of fictional deities. Each figure belongs to one of the celestial bodies, a correlation that the artist visualizes through the paper’s color, with a warmer beige for the sun and a cool gray for the moon. “I chose to keep them monochromatic so they could be imagined in any skin tone to each individual viewer’s liking—an ease to envision themselves,” the artist says.
In recent months, Golish has been working on commissions and new bodies of work across mediums, which you can follow on Instagram. To add one of the mythical portraits to your collection, see what’s available in her shop.
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First coated in black, the anonymous subjects in Tim Tadder’s portraits are cloaked with hypnotic swirls and thick drips of bright paint. To create the mesmerizing images, the Encinitas, California-based photographer and artist pours a mix of colors over his sitters and snaps a precisely-timed shot to capture each drop as it runs down their necks or splashes from their chins. “There’s something about the human head, and the bald head, and the brain, and that way that everything is here,” Tadder says as he gestures toward his own face. “The soul is here.”
During Tadder’s shoots, gloopy, viscous paint mixes in swirls and marbled-patterns on the subjects’ heads, which are covered to mask distinct locks of hair. A video (shown below) captures his process and shows models Kimberlee Howe and Mohamed Ouedraogo as they’re drenched in pools of color. As they’re photographed, the subjects often hold their breath and respond similarly to being submerged underwater due to the weight and density of the paint, Tadder says.
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Editor's Picks: Photography
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.