Posts tagged
with surreal


Magic and Myth Arise from Kristin Kwan’s Surreal Oil Paintings

March 21, 2023

Grace Ebert

A painting of a nude woman surrounded by oyester mushrooms, only her shoulders and face visible

“Oyster.” All images © Kristin Kwan, shared with permission

Kristin Kwan coaxes the magic out of nature in her dreamlike oil paintings. Emphasizing a quiet surrealism centered on plants, animals, and Earth’s landscapes, her works draw on allegories, symbolism, and myth. Suffused with fantastical details, each painting begins “devoid of meaning,” Kwan shares, saying that while they reflect her own musings, she hopes the resulting pieces are open-ended. “I like to think of a painting as some kind of communal scaffold or trellis that meaning can grow on, my own alongside viewers,” the artist recently told Beautiful Bizarre, which awarded her the 2022 art prize for “The Golden Afternoon” shown below.

Kwan is currently preparing for two group shows, one in May at Tugboat Gallery in her current city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and another in August at Seattle’s Roq La Rue. She also has a solo show scheduled for December at Nucleus in Los Angeles. For glimpses into her process and studio and to keep up with her latest works, head to Instagram.


A circular painting of a toad with a massively bulging throat sitting on a mushroom


A painting of a cat holding a yellow bird in its mouth and holding up its right paw

“The Magician”

A circular painting of a young woman wrapped in foliage

“You Are Here”

A painting of two young girls, one facing the view and the other with her back to the viewer, their braids intertwined

“Gemini Season”

A painting of a deer wiht its antlers in the clouds


A circular painting of a unicorn lying down in a sea of mushrooms


A painting of a young girl eating a honeycomb with a fiery sun in the backdrop

“The Golden Afternoon”





Anxious Thoughts and Dreams Occupy the Minds of Johnson Tsang’s Porcelain Figures

March 9, 2023

Grace Ebert

“Cross My Mind” (2020), porcelain, fake grass, and trees, 11.8 × 11.8 × 5.5 inches. All images © Johnson Tsang, shared with permission

Through contorted figures, Johnson Tsang continues to stretch the limits of human consciousness as he blurs the boundary between the real and surreal. The Hong Kong-based artist has spent decades sculpting works in ceramic and steel that explore the liminal and invisible, making thoughts and emotions tangible through minimal forms in white porcelain. Vacillating between the calming and disconcerting, Tsang’s works convey many of the relatable anxieties and coping mechanisms that occupy the contemporary mind.

The artist’s Lucid Dream series frequently presents facial features as cushions with “Comfort Zone” and “Impressed” both featuring slumbering figures squashing the nose and forehead. Other works in the collection are more unsettling and use rubble, duplicates, and aggressive hands to warp the forms. The sculptures reflect Tsang’s own pursuit of spiritual growth and recognize the need to “stop the inner war and face everything that happens with peace.”

This sentiment of acceptance and calm dramatically changed for the artist after he suffered a stroke in January 2022. Following brain surgery, a ten-day coma, and extensive recovery to regain mobility and speech, he’s begun to speak about his health and desire to move forward. He shares with Colossal:

When asked how I am doing, I will playfully answer: ‘I’ve been very busy recently. I’m concentrating on creating a new work, which is my body and my life.’ That means, I’m a sculptor and become the clay that I’m sculpting… I just started a different journey, and embarking on this adventure is actually exciting and full of expectations because I know this particular experience comes only once and I must cherish it. I believe in life. Life is based on love, designed with wisdom, and allows us to grow through experience, so there is always a deeper meaning behind everything, and always with love and kindness —even if it seems not, like (with) a stroke.

Tsang postponed two exhibitions set for last year and is currently easing back into his practice. You can find more of his work and follow his progress on Instagram.


A photo of a face sculpture in white porcelain squashed by a smaller figure sleeping on top of it

“Lucid Dream II, Comfort Zone”

A photo of a figurative face sculpture with grass cracking and taking over one side of the face

“Healing in Progress” (2019)

A detail photo of green grass like material cloaking the side of a porcelain face

Detail of “Healing in Progress” (2019)

A photo of a figurative face sculpture with a cracked, rubble-like side

“Lucid Dream II, Collapsed”

A photo of two white medical masks with faces emerging from the center to kiss

“Still in One Piece III”

Four photos of white porcelain figures, each with a contorted face

Top left: “Lucid Dream II, Searching for Spring.” Top right: “Lucid Dream II, The Moment.” Bottom left: “Lucid Dream II, Self.” Bottom right: “Lucid Dream II, Two in One”

A photo of a figurative face sculpture with a smaller figure appearing to jump into the front of the nose

“Lucid Dream II, Impressed”

A photo of a figurative head sculpture with grass over the face and a small child reclined on his back

“Lucid Dream II, Promise Land”

A photo of a face sculpture in white porcelain with a cracked, rubble-like pieces around the face

“Lucid Dream III, War Zone”




Commuters Go Wild in Matthew Grabelsky’s Uncanny Subway Paintings

February 2, 2023

Grace Ebert

A painted portrait of a horse-human figure riding the subway

“Giddy Up” (2022), oil on canvas, 14 × 16 inches. All images courtesy of Thinkspace Projects, shared with permission

Urbanites know the subway is a prime location to spot the city’s oddities, and yet, a run-in with one of Matthew Grabelsky’s characters would be a particularly wild encounter. The Los Angeles-based artist has spent the last few years rendering human-animal hybrids that nonchalantly ride public transit. Sometimes snacking on a cracker or brushing up on some reading, the characters are surreal, uncanny additions to an otherwise mundane scene.

Grabelsky’s newest oil paintings, which are currently on view as part of Riders at The Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale, California, are hyperrealistic and laced with witty details similar to earlier works in the series. Set on the New York City Subway and London Tube, the portraits are narrative-driven and embedded with pop culture references. The artist shares:

My goal is to create the effect of looking at a scene on the subway as if it were a diorama at a natural history museum. The images present richly detailed moments frozen in time allowing the viewer to closely inspect every element and make connections between them to read an overall story. In this world, people are transformed into part-animal to create scenes that are strange, funny, and endearing.

Curated by Thinkspace Projects, Riders is on view through March 17. You can find an extensive collection of Grabelsky’s commuters on his site and Instagram.


A painted portrait of a father and son human-monkey hybrids riding the subway

“Curious George Takes A Train” (2022), oil on canvas, 16 × 20 inches

On left, a painted portrait of a woman-crow figure on the subway, on the right, a painted portrait of a woman-parrot figure eating crackers on the subway

Left: “Crow-Magnon” (2022), oil on canvas, 28 × 38 inches. Right: “Polly Wanna Cracker” (2022), oil on canvas, 24 × 36 inches

A painted portrait of a dog-human hybrid riding the subway

“Texas Hold’em” (2022), oil on canvas, 12 × 16 inches

Left: A painted portrait of a wolf-human hybrid riding the subway. Right: A painted portrait of two panda-human hybrids riding the subway

Left: “An American Werewolf In London” (2022), oil on canvas, 24 × 32 inches. Right: “Sichuan Express” (2022), oil on canvas, 14 × 20 inches

A painted portrait of a bat-human figure riding the subway

“Gotham Local” (2022), oil on canvas, 12 × 16 inches




Fanciful Characters Inhabit María Jesús Contreras’ Whimsically Illustrated Worlds

January 30, 2023

Grace Ebert

A vibrant illustration of calves pollinating a flower

All images © María Jesús Contreras, shared with permission

Fluffy calves with wings and a knack for pollination, picnicking bunnies, and a cow enjoying a grassy meal at the dinner table are a few of the adorable creatures that populate María Jesús Contreras’ illustrations. The Chile-based artist envisions fantastical worlds of play and whimsy, inhabited by characters that express strong emotions. Saturated with bright colors, her illustrations brim with texture and grainy details that give the scenes a retro feel.

Contreras works between analog and digital mediums, and her process often begins on paper. “In Chile, we have many stray dogs and cats and street vendors. I like to take a notebook and write life (into) my characters,” she shares, noting that she often references the surreal qualities of her dreams in her pieces. “The rest of the process is just drawing, keeping a colorful palette, and working with texture, but most of the time the idea is what takes most of the time.”

In addition to her personal projects, Contreras works with newspapers, magazines, and various brands including Penguin Random House, The New York Times, and The Atlantic on commissioned pieces. You can find prints and other goods in her shop, and follow her latest illustrations on Instagram.


A vibrant illustration of rabbits at a picnic

A vibrant illustration of a cow eating dinner at the table

A vibrant illustration of fish in glass vessel

A vibrant illustration of a butterfly on flowers

A vibrant illustration of a meal steaming in rabbit shapes

A vibrant illustration of plants growing in pots

A vibrant illustration of a goose, fish, and lounging cat in a surreal scenario




Surreal Narratives Energize Karlotta Freier’s Vibrant Dreamlike Illustrations

December 19, 2022

Grace Ebert

An illustration with a person in a garden

All images © Karlotta Freier, shared with permission

Brooklyn-based illustrator Karlotta Freier accentuates aspects of the mundane into energetic, surreal compositions. Often working on commissions for larger editorial and advertising projects, she begins with a mood, narrative, or compelling fact that unwinds into vivid, dreamlike scenes with otherworldly elements. Scale and perspective figure largely in her illustrations, which sometimes position people alongside enormous flowers or animals or use landscapes to amplify the minuscule nature of humans in comparison to the vastness of the world.

Prints of Freier’s works are available from The Honey Pump, and you can find more of her personal projects and commissions for brands and publications like Hermès, The New Yorker, and The New York Times on Instagram.


An illustration with oversized plants and a horse with humans on carpets

Two surreal illustrations side by side

An illustration of a person sitting on a massive flower blossom

Two surreal illustrations side by side

An illustration of a child facing a bus full of kids

An illustration of a person dreaming of fish swimming through a city

An illustration of a person wandering with a dog in a field



Art Food

In ‘Blow Out,’ Artist Genesis Belanger Lures the Uncanny and Anxious Out of Everyday Objects

October 28, 2022

Grace Ebert

Installation views of ‘Blow Out’ (2022). All images by Pauline Shapiro, courtesy of Perrotin, shared with permission

Described as fostering “a sense of lobotomized capitalist productivity,” artist Genesis Belanger coaxes tension from the mundane. Her stoneware sculptures are at once disconcerting and commonplace, depicting the uncanny remnants of a dinner party, medical furniture draped with lanky, limp limbs, and a discount shop hawking carved oranges, a half-eaten cookie, and apples chewed to their cores.

More elaborate than her previous works, Belanger’s newest tableaus are similarly dramatic in subject matter while soft and subtle in visual tone—rather than glazing the ceramic sculptures, she blends powdered pigments into the material itself with a kitchen mixer, a practice that allows her to achieve her signature muted effect. A trio of the artist’s surrealist installations is now on view at Perrotin as part of Blow Out, a solo show that delights in strange theatrics and unobtrusive malice. Detached body parts reside on tables and store shelves in a manner that’s tinged with sexuality, while objects like picnic blankets and tipped bowls appear on the brink of movement. Suspense pervades the otherwise still scenes, exposing the anxiety and fantasy hidden in the banal.

If you’re in Paris, visit Perrotin before December 17 to see the disquieting works in person. Otherwise, find more from Belanger on Instagram.




A Colossal


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