portraits

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Art Illustration

Plants, Motifs, and Cultural Symbols Are Superimposed onto Digital Portraits by Sam Rodriguez

June 30, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images © Sam Rodriguez, shared with permission

San Jose-based artist Sam Rodriguez might liken an abstract leaf sprouting from a young woman’s garment or a Pac-Man-esque rendering floating near a subject’s face to scenic elements. His portraits, which he’s been referring to as “cultural landscapes” for the past few years, are topographies of identity that involve replacing trees, rivers, and horizons with social markers. “It’s interesting to see the endless variants that each individual carries when we unpack who they are,” he shares with Colossal.

Informed by the analog techniques that were the foundation of his early practice, Rodriguez has been working digitally since 2018, rendering portraits rife with symbols. He references an abundance of layers evocative of a visual editing program but incorporates each element as if a feature of an unseen augmented reality app. Sometimes, he deconstructs a nation’s or organization’s flag and recontextualizes its color palette, while others, he superimposes plants, minimal emblems, and bits of typography into densely constructed motifs. His works depend on discovery, he shares, explaining further:

During the process, you absorb, sample, and cook visual ingredients and afterwards you are left as an audience member wondering what it is that you’ve just made. In that regard, I feel that each piece (outside of commissions) is a sort of taste test… This approach is probably a byproduct of our time period where digital and physical co-exist so seamlessly. It should be noted that I am mimicking what so many musicians have done since the 80s, especially in hip-hop with sampling for beats.

Currently, Rodriguez is at work on a book about how prosthetics and artificial intelligence require rebalancing the relationship between humanity and technology. You can follow news on its release on his Instagram, and head to his shop to add one of his prints to your collection.

 

 

 



Photography

‘Modern Women/Modern Vision’ Celebrates the 20th Century’s Most Influential Photographers

June 30, 2022

Grace Ebert

Sandy Skoglund (American, b. 1946), “Revenge of the Goldfish” (1981), Cibachrome print. Bank of America Collection. Image © 1981 Sandy Skoglund

One of the more accessible mediums, photography has long been an entry point for those relegated to the periphery of the art world, and a group exhibition on view now at the Denver Art Museum celebrates those who helped develop and define the genre as it grew throughout the 20th Century. Modern Women/Modern Vision features more than 100 shots by some of the era’s most influential photographers—the list includes Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Eva Besnyö, and Imogen Cunningham—showcasing their distinct aesthetics, politics, and styles.

An indication of the medium’s technical evolution as well as the shifting cultural milieu, the exhibition opens with the modernist sensibilities and painterly impulses popular around the turn of the century, evident in works like Abbot’s textured, black-and-white “Court of the First Model Tenement.” The show ventures into the moving, documentary images funded by the Works Progress Administration throughout the Great Depression—some of Lange’s most poignant shots are included—and then touches on the feminist practices of photographers like Flor Garduño, who captured the life of Indigenous populations throughout Mexico. Reflecting the rise find digital, the collection’s closing section incorporates a broader range of techniques and more directly addresses issues of race, class, and gender that continue to dominate conversations today.

Modern Women/Modern Vision is on view through August 28. (via Blind Magazine)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991), “Court of the First Model Tenement, New York City, from Changing New York” (March 16, 1936), gelatin silver print. Bank of America Collection

Esther Bubley (American, 1921-1998), “Greyhound Shop” (1942). Gelatin silver print. Bank of America Collection

Hellen van Meene (Dutch, b. 1972), Untitled (2000), color Chromogenic print. Bank of America Collection. Image © Hellen van Meene, courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

Helen Levitt (American, 1913–2009), New York, about 1940, gelatin silver print. Bank of America Collection. Image © Film Documents LLC, courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957), Taita Marcos, Cotacachi, Ecuador (1988), gelatin silver print. Bank of America Collection. Image © Flor Garduño Photography

Karȋna Juárez (Mexican, b. 1987), “Insomnia” (from the series Acciones para recordar), Oaxaca, Mexico (2012), inkjet print. Bank of America Collection. Image © 2021 Karȋna Juárez

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965), “Child and Her Mother,” Wapato, Yakima Valley, Washington (1939), gelatin silver print. Bank of America Collection

 

 



Art Photography

An Ethereal Daily Portrait Series by Chiron Duong Captures the Vietnamese Tradition of Ao Dai

June 23, 2022

Gabrielle Lawrence

208. All images © Chiron Duong, shared with permission

Softness is often mistaken for weakness, and simplicity for lack, but Chiron Duong’s 365 Days of Ao Dai series holds the history of this Vietnamese tradition in full texture.

According to Duong, “Vietnamese Ao Dai is not only a kind of national costume but also contains a rich history, cultural traditions, aesthetic conceptions, national consciousness, and spirit of the Vietnamese people.” The garment’s capacity to “contain many memories” is most obviously captured by multi-bodied portraits, such as photos from days 183 and 208 that indicate unfolding stories. There’s also a ghost-like vapor resting upon each of these works that not only captures the grace of the gown but also how it embraces the body. In each photo, there is a presence that lingers.

Duong writes, “Through many changes of society and times, the Ao Dai has always been a beautiful symbol of the national culture, the pride of Vietnamese people.” In images from days 190 and 192, in which the figures are seemingly still but their arms and objects flutter, it is unclear whether the movement itself is fast or slow. It is clear, however, that these multi-realm beings capture the discreet and secret elements of time language. Earthy and ethereal colored portraits evoke feelings of land here long before this moment and lasting long after it shall part.

Most of Duong’s portraits are also characterized by mystery. Subjects, similar to those in photos 198 and 185, are hidden behind another image, a fabric, or an object. Viewers are not privileged to her gaze, only visual suggestions and the relationship of bodies to one another as seen on day 184. In many traditions throughout history, to be hidden or veiled is an act of reverence or a sign of great beauty. This has proven problematic as a trope when pertaining to women and femmes, but Duong’s obscurations arouse a hint of magic in the peek of color beneath the gown, the outline of distinct facial features, or the strong posture of a subject gliding through a scene.

To follow Duong’s daily practice, visit her Behance and Instagram.

 

198

192

190

185

183

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184

 

 



Art

Paper Show: A Group Exhibition Highlights 14 Artists Exploring the Vast Potential of Paper

June 22, 2022

Grace Ebert

Julia Ibbini. All images courtesy of Heron Arts, shared with permission

One of the most reliable communication materials for centuries, paper historically has served as a vessel, a container for notes or the foundation of an artwork. An upcoming group exhibition at Heron Arts, though, focuses on the humble medium itself and highlights 14 contemporary artists expanding its creative potential. Paper Show features an array of styles, structures, and techniques from the whimsical mobiles of Yuko Nishikawa and Roberto Benavidez’s piñatas to Julia Ibbini’s laser-cut motifs and typographic messages from Judith + Rolfe. Opening July 9, the exhibition will be up through August at the San Francisco gallery. You also might enjoy this book that looks at the artists defining the medium.

 

Yuko Nishikawa

Pippa Dyrlaga

Julia Ibbini

Roberto Benavidez

Roberto Benavidez

Pippa Dyrlaga

Judith + Rolfe

Ale Rambar

Huntz Lui

Huntz Lui

 

 



Art

Luxuriant Tufted Portraits by Artist Simone Elizabeth Saunders Exude Black Joy

June 7, 2022

Gabrielle Lawrence

“Excellence” (2021), hand-tufted velvet, acrylic, and wool yarn on rug warp, 152.4 x 152.4 x 1.5 centimeters. All images © Simone Elizabeth Saunders, shared with permission

Simone Elizabeth Saunders’ love-based practice adds its own texture to the magic of Black joy and resilience. On Instagram, she writes:

I celebrate the wins. I know the darkness in this world, so do you. It can drag us down. And when I post, positive messaging is key for me. To share light and love and to look at the world as vibrant and colourful as it can be….It’s reflected in my textiles, to uplift narratives often tethered to dark undertones, with the gift of bright hues. I’m not asking anyone to “smile”, because life will hurt. But hold onto your light… keep grasp of your love.

For Saunders (previously), celebrating love is not grand, abstract, or impossible to grasp. It’s as honest as a single strand of thread. Close-ups of her textiles, rug-tufting, and punch-needle works reveal what it means to paint with fabric—that is, to embrace the fluidity of color and create intricacy in its different shades, not taking the versatility or collective power of the individual pieces for granted. The artist’s attention to detail adds depth, dynamism, and life to each scene so that the subjects are captured in their full essence.

 

Left: “Queen of Spades.” Right: “Queen of Diamonds”

In The Four Queens, Saunders draws on the tradition of Art Nouveau, a period of art history specifically concerned with capturing feminine beauty and radiance. Though the artist felt an attraction to the 18th-century tradition, she couldn’t form a genuine bond with the material because of its severe underrepresentation. The heart of these whimsical scenes, the epitome of angelic beauty, was often a white face. And so, Saunders set out to create her own style: Black Nouveau.

In this approach, the essence of beauty is “Black Dreams,” “Black Power,” “Black Love,” and “Black Magic.” Powerful prints that paint the skies of each scene are reminiscent of African motifs in which stories are told through patterns and color. Saunders keeps true to her roots here and offers a connection in a genre that’s typically been limited.

Works like “Excellence” show that the gaze is the point of entry and also the home of Black liberation; where it is nurtured, where it grows, and where we are known. Whether it’s the kind expression of the “Queen of Diamonds” slouching loosely on her throne or the peering side-eye of the “Queen of Hearts,” Saunder’s works emanate the femininity, leadership, power, and joy of Black womanhood.

 

The Four Queens at Contemporary Calgary (2022)

Left: Detail of “Queen of Hearts.” Right: Detail of “Queen of Diamonds”

“Queen of Clubs”

Detail of “Queen of Spades”

“Queen of Hearts”

Detail of “Queen of Clubs”

 

 



Art

Otherworldly Vistas and Noble Portraits Celebrate Life’s Mysteries in Sherman Beck’s Vibrant Paintings

June 6, 2022

Kate Mothes

“Portrait of Shirley Chisholm” (2022). All images © Sherman Beck, courtesy of Kavi Gupta and shared with permission

One of the original ten members of the groundbreaking Chicago-based artist collective AFRICOBRA founded in 1968, Sherman Beck paints vibrant portrayals of Black family, ancestry, and community that celebrate the wonder and mysticism of everyday life. In a retrospective at Kavi Gupta, paintings made during the past five decades explore themes of cultural identity, multidimensional time and space, and the origins of life.

In Ancestors, a series of untitled works from the 1990s, Beck juxtaposes traditional African masks, labeled as if in a museum display, alongside contemporary Black faces. He challenges the viewer’s perception of reality and the imagination, combining realistic characteristics with vividly patterned backgrounds or portraying visages in bold geometric abstraction. The subjects of his portraits, which include historical figures such as Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, or Frederick Douglass, the national abolitionist leader and social reformer, always gaze directly at the viewer.

Through symbolic motifs such as winding paths, all-seeing eyes, and contrasts between light and dark, Beck explores continuity across time periods and the human desire to understand how and why we exist. He questions the nature of revealing and concealing, oscillating between representational portraits, bold abstraction, and otherworldly interiors and landscapes that open up into enigmatic cosmic vistas.

Beck’s retrospective continues at Kavi Gupta in Chicago through July 30.

 

“Ancestors” (c. 1990)

“Ancestors” (2005)

“Time” (2022)

“The Boat” (2012)

“Eyes” (2022)

“Immersed” (2022)

“Sunrise/Sunset” (2012/2017)

“Untitled” (2022)