A visually interesting and literally engaging material many artists are drawn to mirrors and other reflective surfaces for their visually interesting qualities. Based in concept, Dan Graham’s “pavilions” blur the line between sculpture and architecture. Toying with perception the pavilions employ two-way mirrors and glass to engage a viewer and disorient his sense of space.
Inspired by artists like Graham, Danish artist Jeppe Hein is interested in illusion and turning passive visitors into participants. Hein uses mirrors and other reflective surfaces in his work. Finding the place there art intersects with architecture, and technical inventions, Hein often adds an element of humor to his pieces.
With similar interests Alyson Shotz also investigates issues of perception and space by using reflective materials. Often Shotz’s works become visual representations of concepts from theoretical physics (string theory, dark metter, etc). Other times her work exposes changing surroundings. Shotz says of her works such as Mirror Fence, “I’m interested in making objects that change infinitely, depending on their surroundings. The light at different times of day, the weather…what the viewers are wearing, all these are just some of the variables that will make the piece different every time one comes in contact with it. For me an ideal work of art is one that is ultimately unknowable in some way.”
Ryan Everson is a multimedia artist who reveals the sentimentality often associated with an idealized natural world. As he explains, Fear addresses the “abstract emotional states stirred up from specific self reflective moments.” Sometimes apparent, and sometimes camouflaged, Everson’s Fear creates a deeply rich symbolic metaphor for the feelings evoked by fear.
David Altmejd employs mirrors in his works to help him, and a viewer, explore a fantasy world that puts reality into perspective. Depicting mythical creatures, Atmejd blurs distinctions between real and perceived.
Light painting is a photographic technique created by moving a hand-held light source, or the camera, to create images via a long exposure. Artists experimented with the technique beginning in the early 20th century. One artist who uses light in performance is San Francisco artist Eric Staller. He creates and captures vibrant images. Michael Bosanko is another artist who uses light to create art. Using colored torches the way one might use a paintbrush, he captures the images using a long exposure.
Taking the idea to a new level, contemporary graffiti artists are also experimenting with light technology. Lichtfaktor is a collective of light painting artists, performers, photographers and media artists who are constantly pioneering into new territories of expression. Lichtfaktor artists use light, painting photography, media art installations and interactive media performances that blend into an exciting experience. Daniel Lisson, for example, is a designer, illustrator and artist from Cologne, Germany. His Monster Show consisted of a selection of light paintings done at a factory in Cologne. Also in Germany, Graffiti Research Lab is another collective that uses technology to create street art. Using objects like “LED throwies,” these artists engage new media for urban communication.
Body painting is a tedious, but amazing process with stunning results. Incorporating the technique in unique ways, each of these three artists captures beautiful and poetic images after applying paint to skin.
California-based photographer Jean-Paul Bourdier combines the human form with landscape to create a unique visual synchronization. Painting the bodies, posing them just so, and taking the photographs, Bourdier explains that, “arising in each visual event conceived are the geometries generated by the body as a determinant of ‘negative space’—not the background of the figure and the field surrounding it, but the space that makes composition and framing possible in photography.”
Incorporating what is largely traditional painting, Alexa Meade also uses the unique canvas that is the human body. Painting directly onto the skin, Meade creates a trompe l’leil that is wholly unusual. Camouflaging her figures into the background Meade creates optically engaging images that confuse 3D and 2D planes.
Australia-based artist Emma Hack combines painting on canvas, body painting and studio-based photography. Hack’s works incorporates rich visual narrative with magical realism. Also interested in the idea of camouflage, Hack spends approximately 19 hours painting her wallpaper and then anywhere from 8-15 hours painting her subject to throughly explore the subject. The arduous process is time-consuming, but the results are spectacular.
A seemingly unlikely source of inspiration for contemporary artists, figurative sculpture has a long history. From the classical figure sculpture of Greek antiquity to African Yourba figurines artists have always had an inclination to depict the human form. Meeting the challenges of making such an old tradition new and relevant, these contemporary artists re-imagine the human form.
Contemporary master Jim Dine, often categorized as a pop artist, appropriated from art history. He selects icons, such as the Venus de Milo, to re-contextualize for a modern audience. Nathan Mabry draws from archaeology, Dadaism, surrealism and minimalism. He makes references across the art historical timeline, “crashing,” as he calls it, multiple aesthetics together. Interested in the impact of historical and mythological events on our collective consciousness, Katy Schimert creates sculptures that feel like they might have walked out of history. Fascinated with surface, Schimert uses her mediums to make the forms feel new, evoking a unique kind of introspection. Kevin Francis Gray’s work addresses the complex relationship between abstraction and figuration. He combines Neoclassical sculpture with an urban aesthetic. Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist who creates sculptures depicting people and other figures in large, exaggerated volume. The overstated features are meant to be humorous and generate political criticism.
Mary Ellen Mark, Heather and Kelsey Dietrick, 7 years old, Kelsey older by 66 minutes
Mary Ellen Mark, Ned and Fred Mitchell, 50 years old, Ned older by 30 seconds
Julie de Waroquier
Julie de Waroquier
Twins: an almost illogically impossible phenomenon where two people look exactly, or almost exactly, alike. Stories of the bonds twins share are equally as fascinating; experiencing the same thoughts and dreams, or switching places to help one another out. It’s no wonder that both Mary Ellen Mark and Julie de Waroquier were drawn to them as the subject matter for their photographs.
Mary Ellen Mark is a well-known photographer based in New York. Considering herself both a documentary and a portrait photographer, Mark was drawn to twins as a unique subject of fascination over a long period of time. She first travelled to the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio in 1998. Enamored with the idea of making a full body of work on twins, Mark contacted the Festival in 2001 to arrange to do a documentary and portrait project there. Over two years she captured portraits and interviewed her subjects, ending up with over a thousand pages of transcripts. The photos themselves, created with the 20×24 poloroid, are stunning black and white images full of narrative and personality.
Julie de Waroquier is a French photographer and philosopher. Her twin series is titled “Chimeras.” Of it she wrote:
“twins have always fascinated me, and not only because I have a twin brother: they are almost magic, and yet they are real. Indeed, the fact that two people look exactly the same whereas they are not the same person is astonishing. It is like a real dream, or like a miracle. In some past or present civilizations, twins are even considered as gods…or as monsters.”
Capturing her chimeras in dreamy landscapes, de Waroquier’s images take on a kind of mythical feeling of their own, furthering the sense that the existence of twins is both mysterious and special.
An unusual, but symbolic and versatile medium, several artists have integrated books into their practice. Sometimes selected for their formal elements, other times for their content, books have a wide-ranging appeal for artists. The five artists listed below have employed books in varied and distinctive ways to create remarkable works of art.
Abelardo Morell is a Cuban artist who incorporates books into his photography in beautiful and creative ways. For example, he used Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to create photographs uniquely including the book. Jonathan Callan is drawn to books as a medium and creates amazing, formal sculptures that resemble tree stumps, or other organic forms. Cara Barer is an artist who transforms books by sculpting, dying and then photographing them. About her work Barer says, “Books, physical objects and repositories of information, are being displaced by zeros and ones in a digital universe with no physicality. Through my art, I document this and raise questions about the fragile and ephemeral nature of books and their future.” Robert The is a New York-artist best-known for his Gun Books, which usually play a title cleverly off the book carved into the shape of a gun. Isaac Salazar rescues books that have been discarded and carves words out of the pages.
Walter de Maria’s Earth Room, permanently installed at 141 Wooster Street in New York since 1980, is nothing but 250 cubic yards of black soil filling 3,600 square feet. As Jerry Saltz describes it, it is a “majestic work that gives us bodily confirmations of the power of scale, material, natural phenomena, and art.” Indeed, Mother Nature’s material can provide a profound art experience that other artists have also experimented with. Gabriel Kuri uses familiar, everyday materials like newspapers and slabs of grass to focus attention on contemporary consumer culture and the circulation of things like money, information and energy in our global economy. Ruben Ochoa’s works, specifically his “Overturned Foundations” currently installed at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, alter our relationship to the ground and the wall by shifting our perception of space. At The Carriage House at The Islip Arts Museum in 2011 Olivia Kaufman-Rovira installed a watering system that grew giant grass chandeliers over a six week period. The grass chandeliers were interspersed with others made of discarded plastic bottles. The sculptures were meant to comment on resources needed to keep up lawns, how non-biodegradable materials pollute our environment and how important our water supply is. Phoebe Washburn is a New York artist who incorporates organic matter such as sod or plants into her installations, which act as attempts to exert control over the chaotic. Mathilde Roussel’s works, often suspended in mid-air, are grass sculptures that represent the growth and decay of life. Representations of gravity, time and the fragility of existence the works are poetic and beautiful. Sean Martindale replaced cracked city tree planters in Toronto with grass, making it appear as though it had spilled out over the planter. A kind of street art, the planters brought beauty and attention to an otherwise damaged part of the city. Mylyn Nguyen is an Australian artist who gives form to imaginary figures by sculpting natural materials such as moss, pebbles dirt, twigs etc.
Drawn to the material for aesthetic or symbolic reasons, many artists have incorporated glass or dinnerware into their work. Julian Schnabel is probably the most prominent artist who has incorporated dinnerware into his practice. He created his famous “plate paintings” in the 1970s/80s and they became some of his best-known work. Judy Chicago’sThe Dinner Party is another famous instance, but with a feminist theme. Chicago depicted place settings for 39 mythical and historical well-known women. Each setting features symbols relating to a specific woman’s accomplishments. Josiah McElheny creates finely crafted, handmade glass objects that he uses to make museological displays depicting one’s attempts to learn about historical peoples from their household possessions and objects. Molly Hatch is an artist and designer who grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont. She studied ceramics alongside painting, drawing and printmaking and incorporates all of them into her work. Jason Kraus uses glasses and flatware to generate reiterations of the same setup. For instance, for his installation at Redling Fine Art Kraus served a nearly identical meal for the first seven nights of his exhibition. After the meal he would clean the dishes and stack them inside a plywood cabinet, creating remnants of an ephemeral performance. Esther Horchner is an illustrator whose clever teacups depict bathing figures. Cheryl Pope incorporates dinnerware and other objects in unexpected ways. Her Balancing Stacks, for instance, was a performance where a woman stacked dishes on a precariously balanced table. Like the feminization of a ritual like clearing or setting the table, Pope uses her stacks as a symbol for something destined to collapse.
Each of these artists finds symbolic or artistic value in the typically utilitarian objects. Using these almost universally recognizable items for art and performance enables a kind of storytelling or metaphor that is unique to each artist.