I’m not going to pretend like I know half of whatever or whoever Llyn Foulkes is about, I’m just going to take a minute to honor his incredible presence in the art world for over 50 years.
What makes Foulkes so special is that he creates art at his own pace, and he creates it how he wants to, whether it’s music or painting. This “early master of Pop” is revered not necessarily because he’s a household name like Andy Warhol– but because of his journey in the art world and his ability to stay strong in his own truth and sense of character, despite social or monetary pressures.
Paul McCarthy’s installation in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of LAURENT FIEVET/AFP/Getty Images
Tam Wai Ping
This last decade in art has turned out a ton of larger than life sculptural work, specifically in the realm of inflatable sculpture. As adults, we never seem to get over the pure bliss of bouncy houses from our childhood, and as art lovers we are drawn to these works, made from thin plastic that are able to tower over us once filled with air. Artists have used this medium to make shocking and conceptually multilayered statements, such as Paul McCarthy’s “Complex System,” a building-sized pile of poo that made international headlines when it deflated in Hong Kong this past spring, leaving behind quite the brown mess. Other artists have merged inflatable sculpture with architecture and infused it with an interactive element that takes the classic “bouncy house” into a sophisticated architectural wonderland, such as Alan Parkinson (also known as “Architects of Air”) has done with his Luminaria. Other artists included below are: David Byrne, Eder Castillo, FriendsWithYou, Florentijn Hoffman, Chad Person, Tam Wai Ping and Geraldo Zamproni.
This Labor Day Weekend, enjoy the following parade of images that reviews some of the most exciting and celebrated inflatable sculptures that have emerged within the past ten years.
On the surface, Rudy Shepherd’s work appears simple, some might even argue amateurish. However, spend a little more time with these pieces and the lines starts to deepen with a raw energized intention, especially when paired next to one another in a specific series such as this one titled “Psychic Death.”
What is a psychic death? It sounds devastating. I look this up on the Internet and discover it’s a term relative to fearing one’s own physical death, a collection of energy manifesting negatively as anxiety in the body. To experience psychic death is to endure a dualistic sense of panic and release– or to embrace a deep personal concept of power and loss. This is what Charlie Sheen, Osama Bin Laden, and Columbine have in common, and these painted images are not just about them, but us as a society. How do we as a nation move beyond headlines and examine our own psychic death? Rudy Shepherd doesn’t just want us to think about it, he wants us to think by feeling, and this is what great art does.
According to his website, Rudy Shepherd’s work “involves investigations into the lives of criminals and victims of crime. He explores the complexity of these stories and the grey areas between innocence and guilt in a series of paintings and drawings of both the criminals and the victims, making no visual distinctions between the two. By presenting the people first and the stories second a space is created for humanity to be reinstilled into the lives of people who have been reduced to mere headlines by the popular press.”
Lauren Semivan’s black and white photography raises the dead, feels rich with ritual, and sullen from the earth. To say it is simply an abstract psychological expression would be too easy. There’s something else happening here that is magically archaic, and it’s not just the finely tailored compositions that carefully, yet seemingly casually, dig at our remains by arranging drawn fragments, bodies, vegetation, bones, and string, against a sparse backdrop. This “something else” is movement or play not just in the environment, but as or with the environment, a dreamy surreal fade that lingers.
Technically, each image is a true representation of not just what collects, but how the collection becomes. Shot with a purist sense of photography’s past, Semivan uses an early 20th century 8 x 10″ view camera and, without digital manipulation or any touch-ups at all, develops prints from a scanned large format negative. The ephemeral result, interestingly, pushes on our own anthropological or archeological impulses as a species– asking us to engage and connect with our ancestors, creatively, scientifically, and divinely.
Of her work, Semivan states, “In scientific disciplines, a line is classified as an event. Something as primitive as a scrawl on a surface reveals an aggregate of events, intersecting and changing course. Drawings made on the seamless backdrop describe an emotional space. Science is inherently experiential, as is art making. Knowing and feeling are not separate, and the whole of the environment can be used as a pedagogic instrument. Observatory elegantly draws upon a tension that exists between irrational and physical worlds. Within each image, ghosts of previous drawings.”
Tomas Saraceno is a master of transforming a space and infusing it with an interactive surreal quality. His installations that are constructed to provide viewers with the experience that they are walking on a cloud are absolutely captivating. The soft dream-like magic of his work is more tactile and intimate, however, in this paper installation Cloud House featuring cloud like formations made only out of smaller geometric matte paper structures.
When I first looked at Yossi Loloi’s “Full Beauty” project, I felt conflicted, and, admittedly, a little irritated. Loloi’s whole mission statement is something we, as women, are constantly being reminded of– how the media is a horrible liar, how all women’s bodies are beautiful, how the art world is sexist too, and how we need to subvert to change and love our bodies, love ourselves. Right? Right! So, how might we do this? According to Loloi, one way, is to examine unconventional imagery such as his own collection of beautiful obese women, commercially lit in relaxed settings.
Of his intention, Loloi’s website states, “I focus on their fullness and femininity, as a form of protest against discrimination set by media and by today’s society. What larger women embody to me is simply a different form of beauty. I believe we own ‘freedom of taste’ and one shouldn’t be reluctant of expressing his inclination towards it. Limiting this freedom is living in a dictatorship of esthetics.”
What Loloi says is not horrible, not terrible. It’s quick, easy, and makes perfect sense. Scroll through the photos and you will see that these women certainly are strong and brave to share bodies that, on the surface, are not generally appreciated. I love the female subjects for embracing this. In fact, the women’s bravery is the most redeeming aspect of this project.
Tate Ellington, known primarily as an actor, is also a self-taught painter, with an exhibition history that expands from NYC to Los Angeles. Working from doodles, conjured from found magazines, photographs, medical reference books, and/or an automatic sense of line, using mostly oils as his medium, Ellington inevitably focuses in on facial nuances, stating, “It’s what I identify with the most, so naturally, they come more.”
Each portrait carries a sharp bend of drama, as though the artist is implicated or interrupting more so than puppeteering the performance. Likewise, this is what strong acting does. In this way, Ellington seems to connect his two artistic loves, asserting, “In acting you are supposed to look for the truth of a character or of a situation. You can also be called to exaggerate the truth, if necessary. I think this is what I try to do with my paintings. I try to find the person by exaggerating him or her.” Each stroke is not just about the surface, but a discovery, or search for our own sense of play or performance as human beings.
Photographer Julie Blackmon is the eldest of nine and current mother of three. Drawing inspiration from her own life experiences and also the paintings of Jan Steen, a 17th centure Dutch genre painter, she creates rich tableaux of family life.
Bypassing the idea of parenthood as a prison sentence, trapping the adult away from his or her “real” life, Blackmon, instead, reminds us of how valuable domestic life is to our own sense of dreaming– examining the home as a magical place where fantasy and reality merge together to empower community, creativity, and inner exploration. It is a place that we can remember fondly, lovingly, and longingly. Even if our childhood was less than perfect, there are still flashes of brilliance in the everyday quiet interludes that Blackmon seems to address with ease and specificity.