Malmö, Sweden-based artist Miles Johnston portrays subjects whose figures are in states of flux, whether through fragmented bodies, multiplied faces, or limbs contorted into impossible positions. Often depicting Johnston (previously) or his partner, the graphite portraits distort typical anatomy in a way that balances the familiar with the unknown and visualizes the thoughts and emotions otherwise hidden inside the mind.
Whether set against a trippy backdrop or quiet beach, each piece portrays the experience of the body “through a kind of internal metaphorical language,” the artist says. He explains further:
We don’t directly experience the actual biochemical facts of what is happening in our bodies, hormones secreting, weird little proteins and neurons doing whatever it is they do. Instead, we have a whole language of expressions like stomach tied up in knots, feeling empty, torn in two, burning with anger, etc… I’m aiming for this sort of naive direct representation of what things feel like instead of a literal representation of how they look from the outside.
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Nearly a decade before masks became a ubiquitous part of our lives, artist Volker Hermes was fashioning lavish face coverings made of flowers, lace, and ornate baubles. In his ongoing series, Hidden Portraits, Hermes digs into the art historical archive and selects classical paintings that he then reinterprets. Elaborate accessories derived from elements in the original works become tools for obscuring the subjects’ faces, which subsequently draws attention to their garments, gestures, and surroundings.
Since he began the prescient series, Hermes has based his practice in painting even though he realizes each portrait digitally. Time has given him ample opportunities to delve into the original painters’ backgrounds, periods, and the symbolism of various fashions, an experience bolstered by his costuming work for opera productions.
Now fluent in historical significance, Hermes continues to parse questions of representation in the works and their current-day implications. “Each era has its own symbols,” he says. “I always like to mention the Chanel costume as a metaphor for today’s upper-class affiliation. There are of course more current, more specific ones, but this garment has something of a general visualization of an established elite.”
Other emblems—like the big, black hats made from beaver fur that many men don in works from the Dutch Golden Age to signify their rank—are more difficult to recognize today. Hermes says:
Whoever had such a hat, had himself painted with it. But today we don’t know that anymore. We simply see men with black hats, which no longer trigger anything in us. We look the sitters in the face as our natural approach. If I now exaggerate such a hat in my interventions, blocking the access via the face, the focus changes, the viewer is forced, so to speak, to look at the painting under new aspects, taking into account the meanings that determined the painting at that time.
From his studio in Düsseldorf, Hermes is preparing new pieces for a group show centered around a theme of clerical representation and pilgrimage, which you can keep up with on Instagram.
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Sublime Renderings of Women and Girls Explore Notions of Beauty in Portraits by Rosso Emerald Crimson
In her exquisite portraiture, London-based artist Rosso Emerald Crimson renders female subjects who emerge through a haze of pastels and muted tones. She infuses the dreamy oil paintings with responses to current affairs and questions about the future, which often serve as a catalyst for her projects. “I don’t ‘think’ specifically about political or ethical issues when I paint although my creative flow is undoubtedly fuelled by the impressions and emotions many global events leave subconsciously,” she tells Colossal. Issues of racial justice and the unrealistic portrayal of beauty have both played a role in her recent works, including the compelling portrait of a young Black girl titled “What Are We Waiting For.”
Generally, the subjects are people Rosso has a relationship with or someone who’s caught her eye, although she’s expanded her purview to models she’s never met as a way to adapt to pandemic restrictions. The artist often depicts the women and girls staring forward with unsmiling expressions. “I am enchanted by the diversity of human beings which is what truly makes us beautiful,” she says.
If you’re in London, you can see Rosso’s paintings that are part of an exhibition celebrating Women’s History Month at Zebra One Gallery until March 31. She’ll also have pieces on view at Southbank Centre this summer and a solo show at Chrom Art Gallery in November. Prints and originals are available in her shop, and you can see works-in-progress on Instagram.
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“To create in blue, one must first understand its powerful nature,” says Shawn Theodore in reference to Night Stars, an extensive new series of photographs that radiate the primary hue.
Shot using a variety of filters and lights, Theodore’s ethereal works are multivalent in aesthetic and affect. They evoke a range of references, spanning the color symbolizing an antidote to evil to the practices surrounding the 19th Century cyanotype, a medium with an archive that notably includes few Black subjects. Slavery in the United States also foregrounded the production of indigo, a cash crop that rice and cotton eventually supplanted. “There has to be a world that exists inside of the color. A spiritual process is happening that is begging us to look inside of it, and somewhere within it are answers,” the photographer says.
In an interview about the elegantly subversive series, Theodore shares that the original idea for the series emerged in 2016 and was inspired, in part, by the aesthetics of nature photography. Whether a portrait or more expansive shot, many of the works feature the sky, stars, and water elements that have deep and storied roots in African and African American traditions.
Along with his larger body of work, Night Stars is based on what Theodore terms “Afromythology,” a non-linear blend of histories and speculative futures derived from both real and imagined scenarios. This theme, in addition to the perpetual infusion of blue light, binds the individual works that otherwise encompass a breadth of Black experiences decontextualized from time and space. Theodore says about the intentionally broad series:
Featured in this collection are portraits made of bejeweled deities in the indigo-hued ether, the fervor of fête revelers, the quiet stillness amongst the dense foliage and haints of Low Country of South Carolina, possession in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and sunrise reverence at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. At the center is the viewer, who stands at the bardos of these seemingly disjointed experiences, their presence unifying the real and unreal.
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Brenda Risquez is deliberate in her use of texture, density, and color in her boldly embroidered portraits inspired by friends and pop culture icons. Varying patches of long, single-stitch rows and rounded tufts map onto the subjects’ faces, many of which display the textile artist’s affinity for pronounced, single-hued cheeks. Her hoop-bound portraits are expressive and dotted with playful elements, like a jaw outlined in pink or highlights stitched in bright, geometric shapes.
Textiles have played an outsized role in Risquez’s creative trajectory—she holds degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Granada and Textile Art from the School of Art of Granada—although she only started embroidering in the last five years. Currently, she teaches at Workshop Granada and is exploring a variety of techniques involving fabric painting and pattern design. Find shots of works-in-progress, along with information on commissions and other opportunities to buy her dynamic pieces, on Instagram.
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In his architectural portraits, Patrick Akpojotor visualizes the exchange between humans and their built environments, whether real or imagined. The artist’s spatial body of work, which explicitly contemplates the relationship between interiority and exteriority, is founded in his childhood in Lagos, a city checkered with traditional, colonial, and contemporary structures where he still lives today. “I saw how a former residential area became a commercial one changing how people interacted with that community,” he says.
Rendered in bold blocks of acrylic, Akpojotor’s paintings encourage introspection as they consider how identities inform the design of single buildings and infrastructure, which in turn shape the people who occupy those spaces. The anthropomorphic structures evoke cubist geometry and illusion, fracturing the body with a staircase, brick chimney, or entire house, and some works shown here, including both “In Memory of the Living” pieces, are self-portraits.
Beyond his surroundings in Nigeria, Akpojotor derives inspiration from ancient African sculptures and masks, particularly “the way the forms are intentionally distorted to pass messages and symbols of their (beliefs),” he shares. “In my work, the way object(s) are placed does not matter. What is important is that the object(s) are represented, and the message is passed.”
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.