Text phrases, words and letters abound in contemporary art, ranging widely from direct witty phrases to text that has become illegible in its adaptation. With increased crossover between different fields of art, the craft of editing text in literary arts is a skill and practice that has been incorporated into the visual arts more frequently. Jenny Holzer is an artist who comes to mind in this regard.
However, in this article I am examining the other polarity of text in art. As an artist who regularly uses text in my own art work, I am always interested in discovering the ways in which other artists step beyond the all too prevalent witty-one-liner on the wall into an artistic language that is far more expansive and uniquely cultivated. The artists included here demonstrate the beautiful grey area that emerges between abstract painting, graffiti, constructivist painting and the written word, to name a few. Here text becomes a vehicle for additional forms of communication, used as a foundation to expand upon with the artist’s particular vision or agenda.
Wendy White, Feodor Voronov, Glenn Ligon, Annie Vought, Jose Parla and Jel Martinez are all artists whose work takes text and language and pushes way outside the box. Wendy White’s use of the lines and structure of letters themselves is deconstructed and echoed in lines that emerge within her abstracted and color washed work. In the images of her work shared here, I particularly love the way in which she goes beyond the canvas in architecturally reconstructing the text-like elements along the border.
Moroccan painter Zakaria Ramhani creates large-scale portraits using Arabic calligraphy as a medium to convey form. Ramhani uses the beautiful painterly forms of Islamic calligraphy to depict and further expound and question political issues, Muslim identity, Islamic piety, text and image in the Muslim culture, amongst other things. Through his technique, the artist defies and contradicts the religious taboo on figuration, which is, to say the least, a very scandalous thing to do. These works are part of a collection called May Allah Forgive you, a name derived from childhood memories of his father, a landscape painter, trying to avoid working on commissioned portraits of the human figure for religious reasons. His father would explain to Zakaria that ‘only god will forgive’ him for the sins he committed whilst painting the commissioned portraits.
Ramhani’s earlier work, precisely a piece called You Were my Only Love (2012), incited much controversy, as the work questioned religious tradition and the prevalent coercion at hand during the last couple of years in Egypt and the Middle East. The piece was banned from last year’s Art Dubai.
Zakaria’s first U.S. exhibition opened November 6th, at the Julie Meneret Contemporary Art (JMCA), a new gallery on the Lower East Side in NYC.
It’s really easy to hate on Thomas Kinkade. His landscape paintings, which boasts themselves as “paintings of light,” are dull, wooden, and nearly all the same. Wholly uninteresting, Kinkade’s paintings beg to have a little pizzaz added to them. Luckily, artist Jeff Bennett has solved this problem. He’s added the Star Wars Imperial Forces to Kinkade’s work. Storm Troopers, Star Destroyers, and more invade the candle-lit houses, babbling brooks, and flower gardens. Houses are set on fire and landscaping is trampled. And, throughout it all, you are cheering for the historically “bad guys.”
Bennett’s keen Photoshop skills allow him to seamlessly integrate the two worlds, making them believable and thus very entertaining. In a way, this series mimics the typical good vs. evil story. The exception is that who we perceive as good and evil is turned on its head. You’d think that tranquil Thomas Kinkade paintings would be harmless. But think again. Kinkade, with his lowest common denominator work, overpriced and mass produced chachkies, and greed (in 2006, his company was convicted of defrauding two Virginia gallery owners), is really the bad guy in this scenario. The Imperial Forces are helping destroy banality. (Via Adweek).
Luxury car brand, Lexus, has figured out a way to transform driving into art. Literally. In a new project titled Art Is Motion, the company combines art, software, and driving as a way to produce a painting as you commute to work. Lexus gave long-time art collector Walter Vanhaerent a new Lexus IS 300h hybrid vehicle that creates auto-generative portraits of the driver. As Vanhaerent drives, the car paints. Art Is Motion is part marketing and part art experiment.
The software used for Art Is Motion measures Vanhaerent’s speed, acceleration, and hybridity. It takes this data and converts it into brush strokes, which are modeled from the style of Spanish multi-media artist Sergio Abilac. The artist is really enthusiastic about this new technology. In a video interview, Abilac refers to the software as cloning his creative process. It’s not meant to be derogatory, and he seems genuinely excited at the prospect of this new technological assistant generating his work. It allows him to make things he would never had time to make otherwise.
The way the software renders a portrait is all based on how Vanhaerent drives. If he feels like speeding (using the gas engine), then the portrait is going have a lot of warm colors with abstract brush strokes. If Vanhaerent decides to relax and enjoy the scenery (using the hybrid engine), then that too will be reflected. His portrait will have smaller, detailed strokes with blues and cool greens.
The car features a large LCD display that dynamically paints Vanhaerent’s face as he drives. On the Art Is Motion website (www.artismotion.com), Lexus has recorded a few trips. In 2 minute long video segments, the portrait is recreated, showing us the speed the car was traveling, and more. By watching it, you really start to understand how much the style of driving affects the outcome of the portrait. (Via Gizmodo.)
Korean artist Rim Lee creates The Mess of Emotion, a haunting series of oil paintings that combine performance, photography and oils. The multi-faceted paintings work well within the themes the artist plays with, as they literally show the woman’s tortured yet delicate essence driven by emotional distress quite beautifully.
Lee plays model for her photographs; these [photographs] are then referenced in her paintings. The act of transferring the realistic image onto a canvas [a surface which usually allows for unworldly expression] indicates an unyielding desire to break free from the idea that judging character solely based on interpretations of physical characteristics and movements is in part, wrong.
Aptly so, the paint acts as a conduit for emotion and expression; the paint washes over Lee’s hyper-realistic physical portrayal, creating a dialogue between the two polarities.
The heavy-expressionistic brushstrokes fill the canvas with texture; they rise above anything else, as to indicate relevance on behalf of the otherwise invisible mental anguish she is going through. [via My Modern Met]
Dimitri Kozyrev’s paintings are captivating, to say the least. His color precision from plane to line and surface to sky balances the ephemerally abstract beautifully with a hardened environment. This compositional fracturing feels like ice cracking on the pond, disrupting the reflection or illusion of us and our structures, before we crash into a new reality.
This “crash” echoes of Constructivism or Futurism, with deep contemporary critique on not just the disruption of landscape during wartime, but maybe even more so, the distortion of self, identity, and technology in relation to art and activism as these terms relate to the avant-garde, painting, and intention in today’s milieu.
On this note, Kozyrev elaborates:
“I have titled this body of work ‘Lost Edge.’ I use the word ‘edge’ because I draw a comparison between the notion of the avant-garde in war and the art world. In the early 20th Century, the avant-garde was at the height of its importance in both realms. Now, however, I maintain that just as the concept of the military avant-garde has been “lost,” because of changes in methods of warfare, the avant-garde in the contemporary art world, has also lost its edge.
“The source material for this body of work is images of ruins of the once mighty fortifications of the Mannerhiem Line, built to protect Finland from the advances of the Soviet military avant-garde. Finland’s attempt was valiant and not in vain; this war and the lives that were lost in 1939 are largely forgotten. The fortification lie in ruins, and nature is slowly reclaiming them. Similarly, the ‘cutting edge’ of the contemporary art world seems to have become blunted. Viewers of the avant-garde work of many visionary artists of the early 20th Century were shocked, challenged and inspired by The Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ and ‘Fountain’ of Marcel Duchamp. Because of changes in society, like changes in warfare, it has become difficult for today’s contemporary artist to generate the same level of response without resorting to vulgarity.”
This weekend on Beautiful Decay we want to welcome you over to the dark side, where a vast amount of artists are churning out contemporary art fueled by the fire of Metal. A multitude of artists these days are making art inspired by the crushing sounds and dark spirit of Heavy Metal, Death Metal and Doom music, all of which weave in and out of several other genres.
I’ve been a huge fan for a while now of the work made by artists Skinner, Ben Venom and Martin Durazo, which are strongly informed by Heavy Metal. This past week after chatting with artist and Beautiful Decay owner, Amir H. Fallah and artist Skinner and reaching out on Facebook to learn more about artists tied into this music scene, I was turned onto a breadth of incredible artists. A lot of artists working with metal as inspiration have strong crossover into design and illustration, album art, posters (especially for the band Mastadon), band merch and murals. There’s also a strong genre of work that explores dark spiritual matter, mythology and death that is absolutely captivating. You can expect upcoming coverage of these sub-genres in coming weeks.
To be a visual artist is to also be a researcher. It is observing, questioning, and ultimately drawing conclusions that are reflected in a body of work. Not surprisingly, Alex Roulette begins new series with research. He gathers a large collection of source materials, including found images like vintage postcards. He photographs environments. They are all incorporated in his landscape paintings, which explore a place that is quasi-nostalgic for many of us – the suburbs. Roulette’s hazy, dream-like atmospheres allow us to draw upon our own memories and remember a time when things maybe weren’t so complicated.
Roulette’s paintings are of quiet moments. He’s depicted silent meetings, teenage hijinks, stormy nights, and more. They are meticulously detailed and his technique is reminiscent of Old Master paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. While this type of rendering is not the most innovative approach to painting, Roulette’s obvious skill and talent for crafting a narrative make it hard to take your eyes off these paintings.
The longer you look, more details present themselves. You begin to question the intent of them, guiding your mind beyond what is painted. Where does the road in Crossroads (directly above) lead? What is down in that lake? Furthermore, what is inside the colorful structure in Backdrop (below)? We are supposed to ask these questions. Roulette wants us to find these images subtly uncanny. It’s not just in those strange details, but in our vantage point. He’s composed the compositions in a way that makes us the voyeur. We spy on a woman from a motel as she sits in a parking lot. Our view of swimmers is obstructed by plants, like we are seeing something shouldn’t be. It feels exciting and a bit strange.