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.”
There is something unsettling in many of the paintings of Alexis Rockman. His work typically depicts the natural world – wildlife of different sorts in locales as varied. The scenes are surreal as strange groupings of animals converge on a single canvas. However, some sort of order appears to be breaking down and a chaos not often found in nature seems to be gaining ground. Rockman’s paintings illustrate a wider ecological anxiety over our troubled world. In a way he uses his paintings as a form of protest. The work becomes a powerful expression of deep concern that is easy to feel.
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.
Laura Krifka’s work feels both classical and contemporary– a collection of myths that transcend time, stuck on the spin cycle from one era to the next. There is a soft religious quality in each face as he or she slowly responds to pending doom, lurking out of view. Such off stage suspense, feels exactly this way– theatrical.
The dramatic cliche breathes with familiarity, reminding us of our own cyclical head space in relation to history, story archetypes, life, and to our own animalistic emotions or neurotic human obsessions. It’s why we make art and why we repeat ourselves generationally and artistically.
Of her paintings, Krifka states, “I create a world populated with naive and innocent figures acting out their own legend, blind to the dangers around them or those that exist within themselves. In my work the fantasies and clichés of our own world combine and breed, creating a hyperbolic landscape populated by a society lost in their own myth.”
The highly detailed paintings of Valerio Carrubba offer an unexpected combination of styles that strangely complement each other. His scenery and figures seem to emerge from a Renaissance and Baroque tradition. Mysterious hands pull and cut at the flesh revealing each subject’s inner anatomy in a nearly cold way very similar to modern anatomy atlases. The scene as a whole, however, bears the definite influence of surrealism. Carrubba works these various styles and aesthetic sensibilities as skillfully as the oil paint. The boundaries are seamless and carefully worked.
Katie Sims, born in 1988, is an emerging British artist gaining strong momentum in the art world– receiving the Jerwood Drawing Award and Richard Ford Award, Residency at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
According to Pryle Behrman, Sims paintings “pay homage to masterpieces by Mantegna and Poussin, but deconstruct their studied, graceful air through the organic fluidity of her brushwork and the incongruous addition of geometric shapes that further undermine the compositional structure of her source images.”
Additionally, and on a purely guttural level, each piece is paradoxically busy in a faint and strange minimal manner that is truly difficult to execute with a certain consistent visual ease.
Sean Mahan’s refreshing acrylic paintings on wood depict girls as creative spirits deeply empowered by and engaged with their own crafty muses. Unlike the classical order, where female figures were often shown as objects that inspire– here, the buzz of breathing maker is most present within the the young lady subjects themselves. Each portrait shows a confident furrowed brow or contemplative daze completely focused inward on a project at hand, unaware of the artist’s gaze. Their identities appear to be emerging from within, not dependent on an external eye.
It may take a few glances to realize the work of Juan Carlos Manjarrez are paintings and not photographs. Manjarrez captures an amazing amount of detail and realism in his work. His black and white palette coupled with a photographic sensibility only add to his paintings’ hyper-realism. Amazingly, Manjarrez is a self-taught painter – though he has attended graduate school, he majored in architecture. Manjarrez has been exhibiting professionally for the past twenty years.