Marked with visible brushstrokes and drips of paint, the portraits of Tim Okamura (previously) blend realistic portrayals of his subjects with the fervent, unrestrained qualities of street art. The Japanese-Canadian artist, who recently moved his studio from Brooklyn to Queens, centers his practice around storytelling and honing in on the distinctive energies of those he paints.
Much of Okamura’s portraiture develops in series, whether as the Healthcare Heroes collection devoted to the nurses and doctors working tirelessly throughout the pandemic or the commanding figures of the ongoing Women Warriors—many of these works will be on view as a solo exhibition in September of 2023 at Pittsburgh’s August Wilson African American Cultural Center. Rendered primarily in oil with the occasional acrylic or spray paint addition, the pieces capture the raw nature of Okamura’s process and the distinctive, powerful presence of his subjects.
If you’re in Los Angeles, visit the Academy Museum to view the artist’s portrait of the late writer Toni Morrison. Otherwise, find more of his paintings on his site and Instagram, and browse limited-edition prints in his shop.
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Unlike the affectionate canine companions that grace many of Elke Vogelsang’s portraits, the cats she finds in front of her camera exhibit more irritable, even stereotypical emotions. She captures her feline subjects with a range of reactions, whether snarling and baring their teeth or showing off their more playful sides with leaps into the air or a quick flick of their tongues.
A professional pet portraitist, Vogelsang mostly visits her subjects at their homes rather than bringing them to her Hildesheim studio. This tends to make the animals more comfortable, she shares, at least enough for her to coax out more genuine emotions with the help of string, feathers, treats, and sometimes catnip for mood-boosting. “Let’s face it, cats can be so much harder to photograph than dogs. If they can’t be bothered, they won’t do it for our sake,” she says. “In general, sessions with cats are shorter than sessions with dogs. They are the ones to determine the schedule.”
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In Greek mythology, the sacred phoenix, with its characteristically striking plumage in flaming yellow, orange, and red, is known for its ability to resurrect. When the bird’s long life is nearing an end, flames engulf its body, and the being is reborn as a chick in the ashes of its predecessor, giving it the distinction of resilience, regeneration, and immortality. As Yulia Brodskaya began to apply the curled and crimped tendrils of paper to her latest work, she tells Colossal that the firebird portrait “started as a visual representation of a powerful feeling rising from the deep,” adding that “it felt like this portrait has been ‘channelled’ through me.”
Brodskaya captures the subtleties of individual expression and character in her elaborate portraits (previously) and depictions of flora and fauna. Through boldly colored papers that are rolled, folded, and layered, she reveals a flurry of feathers or the contours of a face in intricate detail, like the sense of serene contemplation that permeates “Samurai Dreams.” She wants every piece to send a message, suggesting viewers “pay attention to what emotion or feeling comes up for you in the first moments you see it—until the mind begins to dissect the details and offer loud opinions about why you like or dislike it. That initial quiet voice is the whisper of intuition. That’s the place I create my best work from.”
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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.
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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)
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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.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.