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Blu’s Refreshed Mural in Barcelona Bites into Ravenous Capitalism and Nature’s Brute Force

March 15, 2023

Grace Ebert

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring ravenous sharks

All images © Blu, shared with permission

An updated mural from the anonymous Italian street artist Blu (previously) sinks its teeth into capitalistic greed and nature’s unparalleled capability for destruction.

Originally painted in 2009 following the Spanish financial crisis of 2008, the first mural likened the insatiable capitalist appetite to that of the aggressive fish, which stretched across a 25-meter section of wall at the intersection of Barcelona’s Carrer del Santuari and Carrer de la Gran Vista. Crews painted over the work in 2021 as part of a city project, and after hearing that neighbors wanted the piece back, Blu painted a second iteration earlier this year.

Retaining the bank-note shark of the 2009 work, the 2023 version adds an arsenal of nuclear missiles and warplanes to the central creature. The expansive mural continues to unfold like an exquisite corpse of global maladies with raging forest fires and floods encroaching on civilization, leaving mass chaos and ruin in their wake.

See the full mural here, and follow Blu’s latest projects on Instagram.


A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring ravenous sharks and military planes

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring a ravenous shark made of bank notes

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring a ravenous shark eating a plane

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring a ravenous shark made of bank notes

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring a city being overwhelmed by a forest fire

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring a city being flooded

A detail photo of Blu's recent mural in Barcelona featuring a polar bear stranded on a melting iceberg





Through Incisive Paintings, Toni Hamel Highlights Futile and Inadequate Responses to Global Issues

March 7, 2023

Grace Ebert

“Ikebana VII (The Arrangement)” (2023), oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches. All images © Toni Hamel, shared with permission

It may be human to err, but Toni Hamel’s characters take mistakes and futility to irrational conclusions. The artist (previously) is known for her keen wit and observations of contemporary life, which she translates into oil paintings that place folly at the center: a woman paints red stripes onto a tulip’s petals, a man gestures toward a celestial Amazon logo, and a team numbers clouds suspended in the sky.

Many of Hamel’s works comment on inadequate responses to major issues like the climate crisis and social inequities, and she often paints scenes with figures undertaking unhelpful and unrelated actions to remedy the problem. Her “Activist” paintings, for example, depict a melting arctic and figures attempting to stop the loss of life and landscape through words alone. Laced with humor and satire, Hamel considers her work a form of protest and “a reflection of my general preoccupations as an artist.”

Currently living and working in Kingston, Ontario, Hamel will have many of the pieces shown here at CK Contemporary in San Francisco in the coming weeks. You can find an archive of her works on her site and Instagram.


A painting of two men writing numbers on clouds to count them

“The tally” (2023), oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches

A painting of a man standing on the earth pointing at a red orb with the Amazon lgoo

“To infinity and beyond” (2022), oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches

A painting of a woman painting red stripes on a tulip's petals

“Ikebana VI (Final Touches)” (2023), oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches

A painting of two people drawing an oversized pigeon

“Prototype I” (2019-2022), oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

A painting of a whale and a person writing "stay" in yellow on its belly

“The Activist II (Stay)” (2022), oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

A painting of a woman sweeping the petals of a tulip

“Ikebana V (Spring Cleaning)” (2023), oil on canvas in artist’s frame, 14 x 18 inches

A painting of a person scaling an iceberg to write "Last Call" in yellow on the side

“The Activist I (Last Call)” (2022), oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

A round painting of a group of people standing together and looking at aircraft in the sky

“The arrival” (2022), oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches




In ‘It Is What It Is,’ Alfred Conteh Takes a Realistic Approach to Examining Life for Black Southerners

December 14, 2022

Grace Ebert

A distressed painted portrait of a man

“Daishon” (2022), acrylic, atomized brass dust, and atomized steel dust on canvas, 120 x 84 inches. All images © Alfred Conteh, courtesy of Kavi Gupta, shared with permission

The urgency of Alfred Conteh’s portraits lies in the present. He portrays Black people he meets around Atlanta, creating monumental works that accentuate the material both physically and metaphorically, in their mediums and the critical analysis of current social conditions. “Black folks are not doing well in this country,” Conteh tells Colossal. “We will not do well until we come to terms with how this country was built, and the resulting racial wealth gaps and social decay. Nothing is being done to improve that, first and foremost economically.”

Layered with urethane plastic or steel and bronze dust, the works, which are on view at Kavi Gupta in Chicago as part of Conteh’s solo show It Is What It Is, are distressed with cracked surfaces and blotches of acrylic paint. Some stand ten feet tall, and the magnitude of their scale echoes that of the issues the artist is addressing. Conteh focuses on the gritty, harsh reality of the lives of Black people in the U.S., particularly as it relates to the historical policies and institutions that continue to affect the  economic, social, and cultural conditions of those he meets. “Stanton Road Water Boys,” for example, features three young men who were solicited drivers on an Atlanta road. “If there were opportunities for them to work, I doubt they would stand here trying to sell a two dollar bottle of warm water,” Conteh shares.


A distressed painted portrait of three men

“Stanton Road Water Boys” (2022), acrylic and urethane plastic on canvas, 84 x 84 inches

As the title suggests, the exhibition exposes the overlooked or disregarded truths about life today, centering on current conditions rather than a hopeful view for the future. The myth of meritocracy is widespread, and Conteh rails against willful ignorance of privilege and power especially as it relates to wealth and access to opportunity. He explains:

Aspiration is a viewpoint that someone would have if they had the tools and the undergirding to be able to make an idea real, to make whatever they conceptualize a reality. That has not largely been available to African Americans as a whole, to aspire. Historically, legally, African Americans were enslaved, marginalized, segregated, red lined, ostracized, kept from wealth—the list goes on and on. So how can you honestly say “aspire to be something greater” when the policies and norms and mores of this country say no? It infantilizes people when we say things are gonna be alright.

It Is What It Is is on view through March 4, 2023. Find more from Conteh on Instagram.


Two distressed painted portraits

Left: “Shampoo” (2022), acrylic and urethane plastic on canvas, 84 x 48 inches. Right: “IWB Shawty” (2022), acrylic, urethane plastic, and atomized steel dust on canvas, 84 x 48 inches

A distressed painted portrait of a woman

“Loretta (Ms. T)” (2022), acrylic and urethane plastic on canvas, 120 x 84 inches

Two distressed painted portraits

Left: “Reesie” (2020), acrylic and urethane plastic on canvas, 48 x 36 x 3 inches. Right: “Reneé” (2020), acrylic and atomized steel dust on canvas, 48 x 36 x 3 inches

A distressed painted portrait of a man

“Minnesota” (2022), acrylic and atomized steel dust on canvas, 25 x 25 inches

A distressed painted portrait of a man

“Isiah (The Boxer, The Bouncer)” (2021), acrylic and atomized bronze dust on canvas, 60 x 60 inches

A gallery view of three painted portraits




From Play to Politics, Artist S.C. Mero Transforms Los Angeles’s Streets into Sites of Satire

October 4, 2022

Grace Ebert

“Vote-by-Mail” (2020). All images © S.C. Mero, shared with permission

An explosive mushroom cloud, an absurdly large bike lock, and a lobster served up from a pothole are a few of the installations from artist S.C. Mero that relay both the irony and irreverence of modern life. Working across Downtown Los Angeles for the last decade, the artist transforms infrastructure into temporary sites of critique and play. “Both of those realities are equally true not only of my environment but life itself,” she says. “Given the nature of this neighborhood, the subject matter can seem quite political because the disparity of wealth and its consequences are more apparent here.”

Many pieces utilize crumbling streets or areas the city has yet to fix as the base. In creating a miniature streetside swimming pool, for example, Mero left the soy sauce packet, cigarette butts, needle caps, leaves, and other debris found in the exposed manhole before she covered the cavern with plexiglass. Those objects are now frozen under the clear material and surrounded by lounge chairs and a diving board fit for Barbies and Kens.

Other works like “Vote-by-Mail,” which is included in a group exhibition on view through December 10 at Torrance Art Museum, are more explicit in their commentary on contemporary issues. Directly speaking to the rampant voter suppression of the 2020 elections, the blue post office box stands atop legs that are unreasonably tall, making it impossible to drop a ballot.

Currently, Mero is working on a sculpture that will be included in the next show at Shit Art Club opening later this month. She’s also planning a series of works with the Fashion District’s business improvement organization and plans to transform the battered concrete spheres lining a traffic median into a new piece each month. “It’s the first time I’ve worked in collaboration with the city or property owners. I think it’s a cool story considering they were the ones who removed most my artwork when I first started,” she says.

Find more of Mero’s satirically minded works on Instagram.





Sculptural Portraits Revive Used Paintbrushes with Social Commentary and Historical Details

May 4, 2022

Grace Ebert

“Caroline,” oil on carved wood, plastic, metal, plaster, and epoxy. All images © Rebecca Szeto, shared with permission

San Francisco-based artist Rebecca Szeto (previously) applies a heavy dose of social commentary to her ongoing Paintbrush Portraits. Through whittled busts and oil-based figurative renderings, Szeto alludes to a wide array of historical moments, significant figures, and issues that continue to impact the world today.

She transforms the used tools with hard bristles and stained ferrules—she’s committed to an ecologically-conscious practice that repurposes materials already available—into poetic works that are subversive and metaphorical. The optic handle of “Tapada Americana,” for example, references the Peruvian tradition of women wearing a skirt and mantel that fully covered their bodies, “leaving visible a single cycloptic eye,” the artist writes. “Differing from its cousins the burka and the hijab, it signified a level of discreet domestic freedom and sexual intrigue for women.”

Questions about modesty and dignity continue to influence Szeto’s practice, and she shares with Colossal:

I find myself circling this notion of grace, as the innate virtues and values we possess as humans. For me, grace signals our ability to keep an emotional distance that allows us the fortitude and creative agency to transform and re-imagine the world around us. My interest lies in how we transcend challenging times, linguistic labels and offer up teaching moments for serious play and energetic renewal.

For more of Szeto’s works that span painting, installation, and other mediums, visit her site and Instagram.


“Model Minority”

“Princess/Priceless (of Broglie. Ode to Ingres),” oil on carved paintbrush, 8 x 3 x .5 inches

“Princess/Priceless (of Broglie. Ode to Ingres),” oil on carved paintbrush, 8 x 3 x .5 inches

“Tapada Americana”

“Reflections on Beauty”

“Threading the Needle”

“Green (Immigrant)”




Oil Paintings by Paco Pomet Brighten Vintage Scenes with Satirical Elements in Color

February 10, 2022

Grace Ebert

“A Prequel” (2021), oil on canvas, 100 x 150 centimeters. All images © Paco Pomet

Succeeding his series of paintings titled Beginnings, Paco Pomet’s Endings applies a similarly satirical veil to his provocative and outlandish scenarios: a cleaved camper reveals red steak marbled with fat, businessmen shake hands through an elongated finger trap, and a woman walks a hand-standing friend on a leash. The Spanish artist (previously) is known for his keen sense of wit and humor and distinct visual commentary on contemporary issues like capitalism, the degradation of the environment, and moments in American history that have global impacts. He shares in an interview:

I am very interested in current affairs, but in order to fully understand today’s world, it is necessary to look back and examine historical events. The past is full of hints that can unveil the present, so in some ways, we could paraphrase that statement which says that there’s nothing new under the sun. I have always thought that subjects and themes remain the same over centuries, and that human pursuits, aspirations, and chimeras are cyclical. Nowadays, we might have different tools and ways of approaching those issues, but the important questions remain the same, even though the way they show up changes throughout the years.

Often working with anachronistic scenes and symbols, Pomet depicts children of a past era sparring with glowing lightsabers in “A Prequel” and a vintage car blurring into a trail of greens and yellows in “Trip.” Each oil painting is rendered largely in neutral tones with bright, colorful elements supplying the artist’s signature dose of irony.

You can explore an archive of Pomet’s surreal works and follow his latest compositions on Instagram.


“Prime” (2021), oil on canvas, 38 x 46 centimeters

“Rearguard” (2021), oil on canvas, 38 x 46 centimeters

“The Restrainers” (2021), oil on canvas, 60 x 73 centimeters

“The Last Executive Committee Meeting” (2021), oil on canvas, 130 x 150 centimeters

“Amblers” (2021), oil on canvas, 73 x 60 centimeters

“Apart” (2021), oil on canvas, 130 x 170 centimeters

“Trip” (2021), oil on canvas, 100 x 150 centimeters

“Dissident” (2021), oil on canvas, 130 x 170 centimeters



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