The paintings of Victor Castillo have a unique eerie style. He began drawing from a young age inspired by cartoons, comics, and album covers. Castillo finally attended art school but found himself disillusioned with his time there. After leaving school he spent some time working with an experimental art collective in his native country of Chile. Next Castillo relocated to Barcelona, Spain. It is in Barcelona that his signature style solidified.
His painted world are most noticeably populated by children wearing clown-like masks: a red nose protrudes from a white face and any eyes are conspicuously absent. Though the masks smile, there is something disturbingly insincere about the expressions. Castillo carefully sets up each scene of his paintings almost as a sort of visual parable. A small narrative unfolds hinting at a larger message. Political themes such as greed or abuse of power begin to emerge within the symbolism of each piece. Castillo makes use of narrative tools often found not only in painting, but also comics. A statement from a past solo exhibit at the Jonathan Levine Gallery further explains the symbolism behind his paintings:
“In this exhibition, Castillo’s allegorical visions of the current socio-economic world crisis come in the form of spooky children’s tales. Through acrylic works on canvas and drawings on paper, his cast of masked, hollow-eyed children serve as a vehicle to convey ominous narratives of survival, greed and indoctrination. Inspired by vintage animation, his paintings are like theatrical sketches of tragicomic situations. With cartoon-like figures in the foreground and lush, classical landscapes in the background, Castillo’s dramatic baroque lighting completes the effect of exposing corrupted innocence.”
The lush, vibrant colored pencil drawings of Joe Sinness portray screen and stage stars, queer icons, and online erotica submitters, combining them with antique or thrift store items, flowers and jewels to create carefully constructed tableaus. The technical ability of the Minneapolis-based artist is what one immediately notices, and it is only after that the viewer must attempt to make sense of the laboriously drawn scene before them.
Sinness creates each still-life by hand before photographing and then meticulously executing them with Prismacolor pencils. “I want each still life to have a visual richness or lushness to highlight and celebrate the figures or kitsch objects presented (and I use the term ‘kitsch’ with the utmost seriousness)”.In works like the Shining Indiscretions triptych (seen above), Sinness created a loose mythology which the work is based on, but does not depend upon. Titled from a Tennesse Williams quote (“All good art is an indiscretion.”), Sinness built hundreds of scenes imagining what a queer,flamboyant spirit such as Williams might physically look like, eventually settling on a triptych of shapes formed from gold lamé. The triumph of this triptych is that the viewer most certainly does not need to know this backstory to enjoy the work, because the images are so visually striking and meditative that they speak for themselves. However, they also have a strong conceptual intention and purpose which informs the work for those who wish to dig deeper.
Sinness continues, “I am interested in how objects and people seeking fame become consumable products, a paradox that sees their artistic endeavors pursuing immortality become disposable and commodified. My imagery and subjects are first looted and then loved… In mining these subjects and devotedly recasting them together in shrine-like still lifes, they are given new life in narratives which mirror their subject’s original aspiration and desire for fame and immortality.”
Artist Nathan Walsh‘s paintings of urban environments seem impressively realistic. The attention to detail in turn demands the viewers attention to small pockets of each canvas. Varying textures, reflections on water and glass, effects of light are all captured so acutely, it’s nearly mesmerizing. Exploring each piece is similar to exploring that little patch of neighborhood as a tourist. However, it is Walsh’s careful attention to perspective that set his work apart. It is easy to understand why he may often be lumped in with a larger group of Photorealist painters. However, close consideration of his work reveals Walsh isn’t set on a meticulously faithful reproduction of a photograph or scene. Rather, he seems to endeavor to depict the idea of a space, the feeling of depth.
In his essay on the artist, Michael Parasko expounds on this and writes concerning Walsh’s use of perspective:
“The way Walsh constructs pictorial space takes two forms. The first is a horizontal extension and the second an illusion of depth. Both are exaggerated so that neither method results in the reproduction of nature; yet in such exaggerations Walsh has sought to create believable space. We are convinced into thinking these are images of the world as it is, but the truth is that space in these paintings is not really like the space we inhabit at all. They seem to prove Quintallian’s old adage, ‘The perfection of art is to conceal art.’…Although there is real quality in the way Walsh extends space in this lateral way, my personal view is that Walsh’s most individual works are concerned with the illusion of deep space within the canvas. In these there is a real sense of an artist balancing the need to maintain the illusion of reality with the desire to push the illusion of very deep space to its limits.”
The saying “home is where the heart is” very rarely relates to contemporary art. And though the works featured here are not directly about home, they are informed to some degree by immediate family,relationships and experiences that stem from it. In a global spectrum of east meets west these five artists come from genres ranging from Chinese Avant Garde to lowbrow painting, from surrealism to contemporary portraiture, to name a few. The paintings, mixed media works and digital media stills of artists: Song Dong, Brooke Grucella, Seonna Hong, Aaron Holz and Zhang Xiaogang exemplify the diversity with which the artists’ loved ones have become not only the subject for the works, but also at times part of the process, as well as a platform to tell a story that becomes increasingly universal.
I recall visiting the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco a couple of years ago to see Song Dong’s massive solo exhibition of works made with his family members as subjects, as well as a massive installation that incorporated decades worth of of family possessions as material. His work is deeply personal, with a strong narrative thread, and truly draw you into his world with their reverence and profoundly flawless execution. Zhang Xiaogang’s works from his series Bloodlines uses other family portraits as a vehicle for conveying the experiences of his immediate family that they experienced as he came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Each piece in this series has a thin red line that weaves throughout the composition, symbolizing the connection of heritage and family.
Artist Brian Adam Douglas makes use of a unique process. Before exhibiting at galleries, Douglas began his practice on the streets of Brooklyn under the name ELBOW-TOE. His distinctive style was easily spotted as he used wood cuts, charcoal, collages, and stencils throughout New York City. Douglas has since further developed his process, style, and subject matter. He has retained his painterly style that could be found in his street art and paintings. However, Douglas now applies this to a special kind of cut paper art or collage work. In fact, he prefers to call it “paper painting”. Douglas paints individual parts of paper precise colors and carefully cuts them. All of these small pieces are then often adhered to a wood panel to create one painting-like composition. While he has often focused on individual people, Douglas has now ‘zoomed out’ in a sense. His work now often encompasses entire landscapes or scenes. These scenes frequently touch on natural disaster and specifically the way people cope with them. The statement of his current exhibit at Andrew Edlin Gallery further describes this style:
“Virtually all of the works in Douglas’ new series deal with the rebuilding of life and purpose in the wake of catastrophic deconstruction brought on by natural disasters and climate change(including overt references to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy). They are not merely about the breaking down of things but about an innate capacity to cope with disaster and the rehabilitation of purpose. Spending up to half a year on a single piece, Douglas’ laborious process demands a pictorial integrity where nothing is wasted and everything serves his intensity of purpose. Forgoing the relative ease and fluidity of the brush stroke, the artist methodically builds his compositions through shards of color incised from sheets of paper he has painted, forging a novel way to combine painting and collage into a singular hybrid.”
Dietmar Busse is a German photographer who lives and works in New York City. It’s rare to encounter a body of work as wholly original as his extraordinary series, Fauna and Flora. An amalgamation of photography and painting, the pieces in the series manifest a beauty that occasionally veers into dark, dreamlike realms. Busse began painting (with photographic developer) on his prints. The resulting images so artfully meld the otherwise quite distinct media that they appear to coalesce — creating, in a sense, a new medium.
With no formal art training, Busse was long intimidated by the idea of painting. But in the last few years he began extending his experimentation even further, applying photographic retouching colors and inks to his prints.“Having a strong foundation in photography,” he says, “somehow gives me the courage to explore. The photograph serves as the foundation for the painting, capturing something about a person’s energy and spirit the way only photography can. The painting starts where photography can not go.” It is these co-mingled pieces that comprise Fauna and Flora.
“I did not set out to [focus on those concepts]. These were just the images I found myself making — and it made sense, for fauna and flora are what I grew up with, and what I relate to.” (via)
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.
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.”