Channeling M.C. Escher and the Droste effect, more broadly, a Chicago-based artist has been painting portraits of himself painting portraits of himself. Seamus Wray, who’s appeared in a similar project shared on Colossal, began with a single representation (shown above) and mirrored his pose in a photograph of the work. He then repeated that process five times, which resulted in a recursive, mixed-media series that changes slightly with each iteration—two cats make an appearance in the final portraits.
Wray hopes the potentially infinite project begs the questions, “What comes next? Another painting. Are we all just living in a painting? What if this is a painting, within a painting?… I have painted hundreds of self-portraits over the years, and this seemed to be a natural progression from those, as I seem to be going mad painting myself, painting myself,” he tells Colossal.
Much of Wray’s work is centered on internet culture and media, and he frequently paints bright, saturated depictions of memes and iconic characters from various television shows and movies, many of which he shares on Instagram. The artist also sells prints and other goods with his work on Threadless. (via Kottke)
Share this story
Powerful and Emotive, Artist Patrick Onyekwere's Hyperrealistic Portraits Are Rendered Meticulously in Ballpoint Pen
Patrick Onyekwere imbues his photorealistic portraits with layers of emotion. Before sketching with blue, ballpoint pen, the Nigerian artist invites his subjects into a conversation about their lives, contemporary culture, and nature to establish the mood or story he’s hoping to convey. Their responses produce a collaborative endeavor that organically merges their perspectives and histories, which the artist translates to his artworks.
Onyekwere collects a few snapshots of his subject for reference as he meticulously shades and crosshatches every inch of his hyperrealistic pieces. The artist sees his powerful renderings as “speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves” and finds the subjects’ eyes most interesting. “They mirror some of our deepest desires, fears, inhibitions, perceptions, thoughts, most of which we ourselves are consciously unaware of,” he says. “(The eyes have) the power to convey emotions and feelings and also communicate and connect to the viewer, inviting them to live in an untold story, in such a way they don’t see an already existing piece but take part in the creation of it.”
Share this story
The Breathless Grit and Determination of South Korea’s Iconic Female Divers Are Captured in Life-Size Portraits by Hyung S. Kim
Between 2012 and 2014, Seoul-based photographer Hyung S. Kim frequently visited Jeju Island, which lies off the southern coast of South Korea, to document the impressive women carrying on a centuries-old practice. Named the haenyeo—which literally translates to ocean women—the iconic divers harvest shellfish and other sea life without oxygen, requiring that they hold their breath for up to three minutes while plunging 10 meters underwater. Today, many have surpassed age sixty: the youngest diver Kim photographed was 38 at the time, while the oldest was more than 90.
Captured just after they exited the water, Kim’s life-size portraits situate the women against a stark, white backdrop, which emphasizes their dirt-speckled shoes and wet, shining gear. Their equipment includes a tewak, the orange sphere slung over some of their shoulders, that floats at the surface during each dive and lead weights attached to their waists to hasten the descent.
“They are shown exactly as they are, tired and breathless. But, at the same time, they embody incredible mental and physical stamina, as the work itself is so dangerous; every day they cross the fine line between life and death,” Kim explained in an interview with The New Yorker immediately following the series’ release.” I wanted to capture this extreme duality of the women: their utmost strength combined with human fragility.”
In 2016, the haenyeo were added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage as the number of divers has dwindled from around 20,000 in the 1960s to just 2,500 in recent years. Although the work was male-dominated originally, it began to reflect the semi-matriarchal society of the Jeju by the 18th century and continues to be led by women today.
Explore the full collection of Kim’s portraits and see where the remarkable series will be exhibited next by following the photographer on Instagram. You also might enjoy Kimi Werner’s short film documenting her visit to Jeju Island.
Share this story
Through stunning renderings of Black children and women, Jamaican-American artist Jessica Spence explores the beauty of finished braids, twists held in place with plastic barrettes, and perfectly laid edges. Her acrylic paintings generally depict a single subject, who often is turned away from the viewer, centering the hair and how it’s presented rather than the person’s face. Spence focuses on the intricacies of each lock, comparing the styling process to that of painting. “I nurtured each brushstroke like I would a strand of hair, a two-strand twist, or a braid,” she shares with Colossal.
Based in New York, the artist imbues her paintings with social commentary derived from her own experiences and from those around her. She considers the impossibility of beauty standards, by saying:
I was inspired to create my current body of work on Black hair in response to the discrimination and chastising experience of many Black women and girls in spaces such as the workplace or schools… The paintings show the beauty and versatility of these hairstyles and highlight the significance of hair in Black culture, while also highlighting these intimate experiences and routines of daily life.
Share this story
To prepare for a recent portrait, Shannon LaNier pulled a black coat over his head and wrapped a thick, layered collar around his neck, a costume to match what Thomas Jefferson wore in an iconic 18th-century painting. The Houston news anchor was participating in an ongoing series by British photographer Drew Gardner that recreates photographs, paintings, and other images of historical figures by styling their descendants in similar garb. LaNier’s photograph is particularly significant, though, because he’s the sixth-great grandson of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, who the third U.S. president enslaved and forced to bear his children, a story that’s long been left out of historical narratives.
Titled The Descendants, the project is a visual excavation of Western history that questions what remains after generations pass. The relatives of historically significant people are, for the most part, out of the spotlight, but as the photographer notes, their ancestors’ “DNA is walking down the street.”
The project began about 15 years ago when Gardner’s mother mentioned that he resembled his grandfather. Although the current project has diverged from simple likeness—the photographer notes that similar features are not a requirement when searching for descendants—he hopes to inspire questions about people’s legacies. “I am not saying they look like their forebears,” he notes. “I’m encouraging a debate. I want to provoke a conversation that makes people curious about history.” Since its inception, he’s photographed relatives of Frederick Douglass, Lisa del Giocondo, Berthe Morisot, and Napoleon.
Gardner’s criteria for choosing subjects is strict: the historical figure must be widely known to the public and have made a significant impact that goes beyond simple celebrity. The next step involves tracking down paintings, photographs, and other realistic representations of the person, which eliminates a considerable number of prospects—originally, Gardner hoped to recreate an image of Pocahontas but soon realized that only a woodcut existed. The photographer then searches for living family members, sometimes working through more than a dozen generations to find someone within 15 years of age of the forebear. Often with the help of museums and other institutions dedicated to historical preservation, he contacts the relative to ask if they’ll pose for a portrait.
To maintain the integrity of the original image, the costumes and props are vintage, when possible. Some elements, though, like the massive, rusted chains forming the backdrop of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s portrait from 1857, don’t exist anymore. When the authentic items aren’t available, Gardner recreates them in physical or digital form.
For LaNier’s portrait, though, the situation was different. While he is dressed similarly to Jefferson, he diverges because he chose to forgo the wig his sixth-great grandfather wore. “I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” he told Smithsonian Magazine. The result is a striking set of portraits that explore historical truths. “Jefferson may have been a founding father, but I am an image of what his family has now become,” LaNier says in an interview about the experience. “You look at my family and you see every color in there, as you will see from many family’s that have come from slavery.”
Although the pandemic has changed his immediate plans for upcoming recreations, Gardner is hoping to release more pieces in 2021, which you can follow on Instagram. For those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at his process, Smithsonian Magazine has released videos of the Douglass, Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton shoots.
Share this story
Berries, Cookies, and Salami Slices Anonymize Vintage Portraits by Digital Artist Harriet Moutsopoulos
Telling someone that there’s an errant herb stuck between their teeth or a dot of sauce just below their lip is likely to spur embarrassment, so noting that they’re covered in egg or raspberry or a gloopy mound of ketchup might be too much to bear. Harriet Moutsopoulos, though, helps her subjects save face by completely masking their distinct features with singular bites of fruit, bowls of ice cream, and slices of salami, ensuring their anonymity.
The Australian artist, who works under the name Lexicon Love, combines found portraits and edibles into strange collages. Although her techniques are digital, Moutsopolous often considers analog practices, preferring basic technologies to programs like Photoshop or Illustrator. She also imposes limits of two or three elements to maintain the integrity of each piece. “The most significant challenge for me is giving each artwork the slight imperfections of hand and the general look and feel of being made entirely from traditional, analog practices,” she says.
Moutsopolous tells Colossal that she’s “drawn to the surreal and unsettling and try to inject that into my work where possible, always seeking out the unexpected connections between humor and tragedy.” At times both comical and unsettling, the bizarre compilations inspire questions about the subjects’ identities. “On the surface, this absurd combination appears to reject any sense of reason (an extension of my own twisted sense of humor). However, obscuring the faces of my portraits with food is designed to not only challenge traditional notions of beauty but also to provoke, tease, and confuse the observer,” the artist says.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.