Chaotic Facial Markings Express the Wildly Varied Emotions of Reen Barrera’s Imaginative Ohala Dolls
Growing up in the Phillipines in the 90’s, Reen Barrera would often repurpose scraps of fabric and wood into imaginative figures that became central to his play. The constructions were stand-ins for what the Filipino artist considers a “toy-deprived” childhood, and today, Barrera continues the visual language of those early sculptures in his recurring Ohala characters.
Often dressed in stripes and animalistic patchwork hoods, the wildly expressive figures are covered in a chaotic mishmash of symbols and patterns. Barrera likens these markings to the idiom “it’s written all over your face,” a concept that, similar to his earlier figures, continues to ground his practice. “Regardless of what we say, our true feelings can still be emancipated by our facial expressions,” the artist says. “For me, it’s a silent way of communicating something without noise.”
Barrera pairs this concern with fleeting emotion and more personal experience with larger themes about class and social standing. While some of the wooden figures are rich with colorful fabrics and splotches of acrylic, oil, and aerosol paints, others are more minimal. “One thing that I want to emphasize is the amount of detail each Ohlala artwork has. Like humans, some have little while some have more,” he shares, explaining further:
Some people are born rich, some are born middle class, some are born poor. But the common ground for everyone is, we all have to deal with it… I cover all the Ohlala dolls heads with canvas cloth to give a freedom to paint their own symbols on their heads, as if they are designing their own fate. I guess that’s what we all have in common; the power to make things happen for ourselves.
In a collaboration with Thinkspace Projects, Barrera’s solo show Children of Divorce is on view through January 15, 2023, at Mesa Contemporary Art Museum. For more of the artist’s works, visit his site and Instagram.
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Art Craft History
A New Book Explores the Practices of 38 Black Ceramicists Working Across Generations to Define the Medium
Ceramics is both versatile and enduring, allowing for myriad aesthetic sensibilities, degrees of functionality, and the ability to last lifetimes. A new book published by Schiffer Craft gathers the practices of 38 Black Americans who have harnessed the broad potential of clay as they explore various aspects of history, politics, craft, and culture.
Ranging from the colonial east coast and the Harlem Renaissance to the current century, Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists compiles interviews, photos, and short essays into an expansive, diverse survey. In addition to artists working today like Morel Doucet (previously), Chotsani Elaine Dean, and Danielle Carelock, the book also recounts earlier generations who used the medium as a catalyst for their creative practices. Augusta Savage (1892-1962), for example, is known for translating the humanity of her subjects into figurative clay forms. She also went on to found the Savage Studio for Arts and Crafts in 1930s New York and helped secure funding for her students as part of the Works Progress Administration.
The book also recognizes the contributions of nearly 200 ceramicists who were enslaved and working in commercial potteries in Edgefield, South Carolina. Among those is David Drake, who is thought to have produced more than 100,000 stoneware vessels throughout his lifetime.
Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists, written by donald a clark and Chotsani Elaine Dean, is currently available for pre-order on Bookshop.
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Translucent Textile Sculptures by Do Ho Suh Explore the Familiarity of Quotidian Objects
Rather than portray the everyday objects that make up the routine of our lives as immovable or simply structural, Do Ho Suh (previously) captures their sentience. This is not to say that the objects around us are alive but that perhaps our familiarity with them holds a kind of energy to reflect on. In “Jet Lag,” for example, a light switch or a door is made of potently colored translucent fabrics. This invites the viewer to consider the feeling of and the attachment to these small, insignificant companions.
In “Inverted Monument,” Suh similarly captures the energy beneath the eye’s limits of a common object through the structure. What would typically be formed from concrete or some stubborn, weather-proof metal is comprised of adventurous red lines that better capture the materials’ complexity, and in this case, also its context. Again, Suh constructs a radical shift of perspective. An object characteristic of place, history, and the communities it’s formed around is constructed according to the messiness of memory and is turned upside down. The pedestal reaches for the ceiling, and the head sweeps the floor. This subtlety introduces enormous questions about not only the significance of the object and how we interact with it but why it got there in the first place.
See more of Suh’s time and geography-bending sculptures through October 29 at Lehmann Maupin in New York.
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Ancient Design Motifs Meet Contemporary Ceramics in Maxwell Mustardo’s Glowing Sculptures
Gadrooning, an ornamental motif consisting of a series of tapered convex or concave curves, is derived from the decorative exteriors of Roman sarcophagi and antiquities. Renaissance artisans revisited it in the 16th century, and it re-emerged in the neoclassical revival of the 18th and 19th centuries. Referencing ancient designs and what he describes in a statement as the “broad, reverential notions of the vessel,” Maxwell Mustardo playfully examines the function of containers and earthenware over time.
In his gourd-like Gadroons and pudgy Anthropophorae—a series of bulging amphorae—a range of stippled lava glazes complement shocking hues or shimmering PVC coatings. Vibrant colors and swollen forms resemble balloons or 3D renderings displayed on a bright screen, and the resulting perception-bending, flocked-like surfaces make the pieces appear to be floating, wobbling, and glowing.
You can see Mustardo’s work at Culture Object through October 28 in a solo exhibition titled The Substance of Style. More information can also be found on his website and Instagram.
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A Cast of Articulate Cardboard Robots Populate a Growing Sci-Fi Universe Crafted by Greg Olijnyk
Melbourne-based artist Greg Olijnyk continues to add to his troupe of sci-fi robots crafted from cardboard, LED lights, and glass details. The elaborately constructed characters are fully articulate and populate an ever-expanding futuristic world that’s slightly dystopic and always filled with adventure. His latest creations also include a nod to art history, with a sculptural interpretation of M.C. Escher’s stairs that features tiny robots within the mind-bending cube.
For a glimpse into Olijnyk’s process and to keep up with his works steeped in fantasy, head to Instagram.
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Art Design Illustration
Flora, Fowl, and Fruit Pop with Color in Diana Beltrán Herrera’s Ornate Paper Sculptures
A menagerie of beady-eyed birds and butterflies complement vibrant florals and fruity morsels in Bristol-based artist Diana Beltrán Herrera’s elaborate paper sculptures (previously). By utilizing subtle gradients to shape flower petals and making tiny cuts to detail individual feathers, the artist adds incredible dimension and density using the ubiquitous, 2-dimensional material. Ranging from shop window displays, to individual sculptures, to interior installations, she is often commissioned to make work featuring flowers or creatures specific to a location or region, and in a meticulous process of planning and sorting, she assembles different colors and sizes of paper into spritely flora and fauna.
Herrera has an exhibition planned for spring of next year at Children’s Museum Singapore, and you can find more of her work on Behance and Instagram.
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