Amy Douglas is an English artist who restores old Staffordshire figures into eccentric recreations. Staffordshire figures were found throughout British homes in the 19th century, often bought at county fairs and collected as “toys” for the mantelpiece. When they arrive to Douglas—broken and eroded away by time—she modernizes the pieces by adding touches of present-day quips and scenarios. Each one has been given a title that makes them humorously unique; for example, “I Lost My Head” depicts a beheaded man joyously swinging a wreath decorated with various craniums; “Chicks Rule” features a chicken-headed figure riding a horse with a human face.
The humor of Douglas’ work is often subtle, fostered in the cultural disparity between past and present. Part of the fun is also tricking the viewer into believing they are seeing a bizarre original work. Douglas works with the destroyed objects to seamlessly blend modern relevance with a traditional, domestic art object. “Many of the techniques, materials, and recipes I use have been in the hands of the craftsman for centuries,” she writes on her About page. “In our more increasing, intangible, fleeting, [and] modern existence, I think people do not look properly and do not acknowledge the craftsmanship of work. I like the idea of making people look twice” (Source).
In April, Ward van Gemert and Adriaan van der Ploeg of the Rotterdam-based design studio Nightshop will be showcasing their unique “décor” at the Robert van Oosterom Gallery: large-scale rugs made out of colorful foam. Each one is created from the artists’ unique blend of urethane foam, which they put into syringes and squeeze out into spiraling and cross-hatched designs. Once the foam dries, it fuses to the adjacent “thread” and thereby creates a solid piece. There are currently seven carpets completed, and the artists plan to finish three more by the exhibition.
While the rugs appear functional (and comfortable—perhaps due to that soft, clay-like appearance), the artists have stated that they’re “they’re more objects without a clear use,” intended to be viewed as art pieces (Source). As colorful curiosities, they blend the traditional art form of carpet weaving with modern kitsch; the are reminiscent of everything from playroom décor to a carpet as seen during a psychedelic trip. On their studio’s About page, Nightshop professes to “bring aspects of ‘low-culture’ into their designs,” thereby “investigating the boundaries between good and bad taste” (Source). The foam rugs bring our attention to everyday objects, highlighting their innate design characteristics and artistic, culturally-relevant merit.
Joanna Black, a photographer, entrepreneur and collector in Edinburgh, UK, uses surrealist images to show us what ugly doesn’t look like. Her “Black Teeth White Heart” series is a compilation of Black’s nose, eyes, lips, and even toe nails in a style that is hauntingly beautiful.
In describing “Black Teeth White Heart” Black begins by saying, “people always told me I was ugly.” As a child, Black suffered from an acute form of scoliosis, causing her to live, sleep and play in a waist to neck metal brace. Her brace in addition to blackened teeth, which were caused by a treatment of tetracycline, were devastating. In an artist statement she recalls the pain of being pitied by adults and mocked by her peers. By the age of 13, however, the brace was removed and her teeth corrected and she left behind that “ugly girl.” It seems impossible that Black, now the owner of Miss Bizio, a couture vintage clothing shop in the Stockbridge neighborhood of Edinburgh and partner at Black Appointments Executive Search, could be ugly or pitied. Relatively new to professional photography, Black has already been shown at the Rencontres d’Arles (2015) and the International Photography Awards (2014).
In “Black Teeth White Heart,” Black takes intensely close photos of her body that, while pinpointing her physical idiosyncrasies, leaves you feeling like you are gazing on your beloved. Reminiscent of Dora Maar portraits by Man Ray in the 1930’s, many of her black and white photos capitalize on Black’s ability to be completely at ease in front of the camera while simultaneously executing the shot. Others are developed to include shadows and graininess and, at times, seem to allude to the many x-rays that Black must have undergone throughout her childhood. Her color photos are more playful and sexual, accentuating her mouth and parted lips. Close photos of her staring eye feel more medical than voyeuristic and her toes a reminder of our fragility.
While “Black Teeth White Heart” covers a lot of photographic ground, the core of the piece, an investigation into beauty, comments on the singular perfection of our features.
Los Angeles naive Andrew Hem paints epic, supernatural scenes that use color and movement to create moments of the otherworldly. His paintings are utterly breathtaking and feature a true knowledge of color theory and master a saturation that runs similar to the impressionist works of 19th century Europe. His treatment of flesh and rounded rendering of the human body is reminiscent of an Eastern aesthetic — creating ties with his Cambodian heritage. His vibrant figurative work holds similar notes to the powerful paintings of Dana Schutz; both painters using a pastiche of painterly traditions to create works that are undoubtedly contemporary and unmistakeable their own — their paintings hold no boundaries due to the sheer talent they hold as painters. Hem’s work is alluring and demanding. He brings his viewer around the world, creating works that depict scenes from Asia, South America and the United States. Each piece captures a moment of pause and perhaps, even enlightenment. There is a true essence of ethereal energy within these works. For example, his pieces such as Igloolik, Close to the Edge, Lost and Found and Civic show bodies in motion, unnatural flotation. There is a fairytale like element in his work — like each painting is a new scene within a story about Hem’s fantastical life. Experiencing the work of Hem is like peering into the unknown, maybe witnessing something sacred and hidden from the common eye.
Artist Lauren Gallaspy creates unique and dynamic ceramic sculptures that play with notions of fantasy and duality. Her work, beautiful, adventurous, and full of a sense of wonder, invokes magical moments of nonsensical, yet somehow perfected, chaos. Her intention lies in finding balance in seemingly irrational binaries. She explains, “the things that I love and the things that I fear refuse to balance out. They scrap like cats, cloak and conceal like kudzu, terrify and delight, like a large, shaky lake or a dog swimming hard towards a floating ball.” The artist uses this tension to create creative and inventive ceramic sculptures, which are not only experimental by nature, but break boundaries of traditionalist methods of pottery. Experiencing Gallaspy’s work is like an investigation. Each color, each angle, each new treatment of material is expressive and fascinating. Her work screams out for a quiet attention, being open ended yet intimate. Her work emphasizes the complexity of humanity, the ups and downs of just simply being. She explains;
“My work is about that imbalance: the vulnerability of living things and the sometimes violent, sometimes pleasurable, almost always complex consequences that occur when bodies and objects in the world come into contact with one another. I use ornamentation, obsessive mark-making, and decorative imagery as a kind of devotional or transformational act, a way to render interior spaces and intense psychological experiences physically.”
Dan Bannino is an Italian photographer who translates ideas into visual stories, often through the creation of eclectic still lifes. Featured here is a new series titled Niche of Wonders, which explores the lives of musicians throughout history. From Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Alice Cooper to Taylor Swift, Bannino has constructed “shrines” that explore their individual quirks and hobbies. We discover (among many other things) that Roger Daltrey is an avid fisherman; Nikki Sixx uses photography as a creative outlet; and Grandmaster Flash collects mugs as souvenirs.
Niche of Wonders makes us wonder how musicians live every day, outside of the talent and stage presence that has made them famous. In a statement provided to Beautiful/Decay, Bannino encourages us to imagine what they are like “when the show is over,” so that we can consider them as unique individuals who channel their personas and ambitions into other projects. If we imagined niches for two recently-deceased artist, for example, we would perhaps see chess pieces for David Bowie, and a collection of Nazi memorabilia for Lemmy. In a playful call to curiosity, Bannino states, “Be prepared to change your thoughts about your favorite rockstar, and perhaps next time you could even consider to buy them the right Christmas present.”
Photographer Lynn Lane captures dancing spirits in a series of haunting photographs. These site-specific images were created to evoke the history of the Wynne Home Arts Center, a 19th century mansion located in Huntsville, Texas, 70 miles north of Houston. Wynne is now a performance and gallery space and its history serves as a counterpoint to the contemporary works it exhibits.
Imagining what life must have been like in a small town over 100 years ago, Lane collaborated with dancers in capturing photographs that invoke the memory of the past inhabitants of Wynne House while also utilising the unique characteristics of the house as a backdrop. Stairways and attics provide opportunities for the dancers to tell stories while floating in mid-air.
These photographs, developed specifically for site specific project were created in collaboration with NobleMotion Dance choreographers Andy and Dionne Noble, lighting designer David J. Deveau, and dancers: Alexis Anderson, Mark Chaves, Jennifer Mabus, Brittany Thetford-Deveau, Tristin Ferguson and Travis Prokop. Lynn and Dionne co-choreographed a dance in response to the work that was performed in the gallery space as well.
Based in Houston, Lane works primarily in the arts shooting performance as well as documentary and fashion work for designers. He is the official photographer of the Houston Grand Opera and has worked with opera companies across the US and dance companies around the globe. His work is regularly featured in magazines and newspapers internationally including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Opera News, Dance Magazine and many more.
We’ve featured the paintings of German artist Martin Eder before, such as his portraits of female warriors and erotic kitsch. Another notable work of his is an installation known as “Hallucination,” which was shown in the Dimensions Variable exhibition at Berlin’s Galerie Eigen + Art in May 2013. The installation features a massive sculpture (6m x 10m x 10m) made of twisted black metal that appears to hover above the ground prior to impact. Like an ominous void, the object resonates with stillness and terror, unsettling the psyche with its violent yet silent presence.
The press release for “Hallucination” likens the object to Plato’s Cave, an allegory in Western philosophy that centers around the development of cognition and one’s sense of reality. Eder’s structure resembles a cave, a negative cavity that produces tension between abstraction and reality. Its liminal status (not falling, not making contact) makes it an object of infinite reflection; it becomes a symbol of a distant threat while also operating as a source of knowledge. Our physical relationship to the object—standing in a room or a hallway with it, for example—shapes how it manifests itself in our imaginations.