Many contemporary artists incorporate materials traditionally associated with craft into their art practice. Craft, often segregated from the high art world, is used to describe a pastime or profession that requires skill and concentration. Fine artists involve styles such as knitting, crocheting, beading, ceramics and many others practices to create their works. The effects of using these generally intricate and time-consuming techniques are impressive as works by these five artists demonstrate.
Shane Waltener was trained as a sculptor and now makes beautiful and haunting installations using yarn. Many of his works are engaging and beg a viewer’s participation. Over Here, which mimics a giant spider web, references a technique called Shetland lace and is made of fishing line. Sherry Markovitz is a Seattle-based artist who incorporates buttons, feathers, fake pearls, shells, sequins, seed beads and other items to animal heads or dolls. Markovitz says that she “was never influenced by the contemporary art world,” and indeed, her works created from hours of labor and scouring flea markets for material feel as though they walked out of another place and time. Elaine Bradford uses crochet to create otherworldly sculptures. Her installation at the Vinson Branch of the Houston Public Library, for instance, consists of an elephant and a gaggle of Canadian geese, all sheathed in crochet skins. The work is fun and playful, but also sophisticated and clever. Orly Genger, most recently known for covering Madison Square Park in New York with a massive installation consisting of 1.4 million feet of layered, painted and hand-knotted rope last summer, is an artist who employs traditionally “feminine” activities to works that reference artists like Barnett Newman. She titled her Madison Square Park installation after his Who’s Afraid of the Red, Yellow and Blue? series from the 1960s. Edith Meusnier is a French textile and environmental artist who transforms nature into installation spaces. She uses craft installations to raise questions about sustainability and the vulnerability of nature.
There is a long-standing tradition of artists blurring the boundary between art and design. With institutions such as MOMA featuring an entire department devoted to architecture and design, it is considered an important part of art history and culture.
I recently heard New York Times art critic Roberta Smith lecture and she mentioned that it’s a shame our society doesn’t place more emphasis on visual literacy education. If we did she believes that everything in our world, from buildings to city layouts, to objects, would be more aesthetically pleasing. Here are some instances of artists who emphasized the concept or appearance of an object rather than simply its function, bridging the gap between art and design:
Donald Judd, one of the leaders of Minimalism, has an amazing legacy in design. Another well-known architect who creates highly designed furniture is Frank Gehry. Roy McMakin is a Seattle-based artist who usually incorporates an element of verbal pun. McMakin’s designs feature an overarching investigation of how perception influences meaning. Hannes Van Severen and Michael Beitz both create captivating, surreal furniture. Artists like David Shrigley and Adam McEwen work humor into their design-work. Even artist Yves Klein has a table, created under the direction of his widow, that features his famous blue. Damien Hirst designed a chair replete with his signature butterflies and Yoshitomo Nara designed “doggy radio,” a fully functional radio in the form of a dog.
It’s not uncommon for artists to create functional objects, but those objects do often stand out for their elevated level of design and conceptual consideration. If indeed everyone put as much thought into form as they did function the world would probably be a much better looking, or at least a more visually interesting, place.
Kinetic art features movement that is dependent on motion for its effect. It comes in multiple mediums including mobiles, machines and virtual movement or canvases that extend the viewer’s perspective. Wind, a motor or the viewer generally drive moving parts or dynamic perception.
Kinetic Art has origins dating back to the late 1800s where Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet were the first to experiment with emphasizing the movement of the human figure on canvas. In the early to mid 1900s artists began to create mobiles and other new forms of variable sculpture. Individuals such as Max Bill, Alexander Rodchenko and Alexander Calder solidified and defined the style.
Today artists all over the world create kinetic art and sculpture. Latin American artists Jesus Rafael Soto and Luis Tomasello both explore illusion, space and perception. French artist Laurent Debraux experiments with magnets, metallic objects and other elements to create works dealing with surreal imagery. South Korean artist U-Ram Choe likes to make kinetic works that mimic forms and motions found in nature. Bob Potts creates sculptures that gracefully recreate the movement of flight or boats. Anthony Howe employs wind to bring life to his massive sculptures.
Whether independently mobile, or reliant on a viewer’s perception to create an optical illusion, each of these artists and their works are inspired by a unique fascination with perception, movement and dynamism.
Photorealism, also known as Super-Realism, New Realism, Sharp Focus Realism or Hyper-Realism, involves artists employing photographs to create their paintings. The style evolved out of Pop art as a sort of resistance to Abstract Expression and Minimalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Photorealist artists create works that are hyper illusionistic; compelling viewers to wonder and marvel at the work’s resemblance to reality. Employing a variety of techniques artists seek to generate paintings with a high level of representational verisimilitude. Photo realists use the camera or photographs to gather information. They may also rely on a mechanical device to transfer the image to the canvas, such as a projector, though the artist still requires a high level of skill to complete the work. Usually employing multiple photographs, artists involved with the style are interested in technical or pictorial challenges that might include unique surfaces or textures.
Pioneers of the movement include painters such as Richard Estes, Robert Bechtle and Tom Blackwell. One of the best-known photorealist painters, Chuck Close, works using a gridded photograph. A spinal artery collapse in 1988 left Close severely paralyzed. After the injury Close continued to paint, creating large portraits in low-resolution grid squares created by an assistant. From afar, these squares appear as a unified image, but in pixelated form.
Today there are a myriad of artists practicing photorealism including Jason de Graaf, Alison Van Pelt,Paul Cadden,David Kassan,Gregory Thielker,Diego Fazio, Bryan Drury and Ben Weiner . With the advancement of technology, contemporary photo realist artists are able to achieve paintings that exceed the capabilities of photography—capturing details the lens may not, or achieving an extraordinary level of precision. Often these photo realists are referred to as hyperrealists as the images resemble one, or an amalgamation of, high-resolution photographs. Inspiring and impressive, photo realists’ works tease the imagination and challenge perception.
Louis Fortier’s works are that kind of fascinating that is all at once grotesque, perhaps even borderline repulsive, and so incredibly bizarre that you can’t look away. Devoted to the head, Fortier has spent the past decade exploring the subject. Using numerous wax or plaster heads, made using his own as a model, Fortier manipulates, deforms, collapses and reconfigures the head’s natural shape. The repetition of the body part reveals a deep fixation with the human face, identity and individuality. Probing into an analysis of genetic manipulation and cloning Fortier’s heads speak to the idea of multiple selves, or the personalities/ lives we might have had.
This idea of numerous variations on a single motif also raises questions about the idea of chance and unpredictability. Removing the casts from their mould before they are solidified, Fortier then allows metamorphoses to occur. Fortier seems to be wondering about the idea of nature versus nurture and where the artist’s hand fits into the equation. Partially directing the manipulation and partially leaving the results to chance, each of Fortier’s heads becomes a different variation of himself. In making these atypical self-portraits, Fortier analyzes the artist’s ability to destroy and create his identity.
Nobuhiro Nakanishi produces beautifully mesmerizing atypical landscapes. The Osaka, Japan-based artist creates the works, which he called “Layered Drawings,” by photographing a scene over a period of time. He then laser prints each image and mounts it to acrylic. Subtle changes emerge in each frame, and once they are layered they portray an untraditional landscape. As a viewer walks passed the work he or she experiences, to some degree, the passing of time within this particular place.
Interested in the way sculpture is defined by the thought, awareness and the method it employs, Nakanishi seeks to analyze the way we perceive the world. Experiencing a photographic landscape is generally a two-dimensional process whereby a viewer stands in front of an image. She can then empathize with the artist, seeing what he saw in the captured scene, but the experience is always a viewer looking at a flat surface. With Nakanishi’s works, the results are wholly different. The more physical, dimensional aspects of Nakanishi’s sculptural landscapes contain infinitely more detail. The effect is a richer experience. Our minds momentarily transport us to Nakanishi’s foggy forest in the morning, or to his hill overlooking a gorgeous sunset. Nakanishi’s landscapes trigger our memories and senses in a way traditional landscapes cannot.
Guy-Olivier Deveau’s sculptures would be fascinating in any medium, the fact that he works with sand and ice makes them that much more appealing and interesting. Deveau started out sand sculpting as a summer job in Quebec City so he could earn money to finance his education in the filed of philosophy. Now that he’s a sculptor full-time the Canadian artist travels around the world creating his ephemeral sculptures and competing in competitions. Though he also works with wood, snow and ice, Deveau appreciates sand as a medium because he feels he can achieve his desired texture, shadow and edges. Indeed, his final products are amazing feats considering their medium. Each of his sculptures takes approximately three days to create and each requires an immense amount of patience. Deveau starts with a sold sand block and slowly and carefully carves from that.
Deveau will often include themes relating to philosophy, mythology or psychology, incorporating his interests along with his talent. For instance, his most recent sculpture made on a beach in Texas, Bleeding, features a horizontal face, seemingly melting back into the ground. The agony and expression of the face are remarkable taking into account that they were carved out of sand. Though his was one of many sand sculptures created for Sandcastle Days 2013, the sophisticated emotion of Deveau’s Bleeding allowed it to stand out as eye-catching and thought provoking.
Katharina Fritsch is a German-born artist who transforms quotidian objects or mundane figures into something new. Using manipulation of scale and color along with repetition, Fritsch’s sculptures are usually hand-molded, cast in plaster, reworked, and then cast again in polyester. Her time consuming process creates results that are uncanny and strange.
Interested in psychology and the expectations of visitors to a museum, Fritsch’s work both appeals to the popular imagination, and a more conceptual thought process. One of Fritsch’s most popular works, Rattenkönig/Rat King (1993), a circle of black polyester rats that stand 12 feet tall, was included in the 1999 Venice Biennale. Both funny and frightening at the same time, works such as Rattenkönig/Rat King border on reality and illusion. Much of Fritsch’s work has an unsettling, often religious, association that is deeply psychological. Fritch’s sculptures tug at our deepest fears or most vivid dreams.
Usually pulling imagery from her world, subjects are often otherworldly in appearance, seemingly fantastical, like something out of a dream or a distorted memory. Her more recent installation, Hahn / Cock installed in Trafalgar Square in London is located across from Nelson’s Column. The Column is a monument built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Fritsch’s giant blue rooster is meant to comment on the masculinity and public pomp of the square. Again, funny with its double entendres and absurd appearance, Fritsch’s sculpture is also deeply unnerving. Installed this past July for 18 months there is plenty of opportunity to check out Fritsch’s installation.