Family Values: 5 Artists Draw Inspiration From Family

Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang

Song Dong photography

Song Dong

Seonna Hong

Seonna Hong

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.

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Cut Paper Art- Unbelievably Detailed Collage Paintings By Brian Adam Douglas

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Brian Adam Douglas paper art3

cut paper art

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.”

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Fauna and Flora- Hand Painted Photographs By Dietmar Busse

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Fauna and Flora # 32

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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)

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God Bless You, Llyn Foulkes: Painter & Musician Extraordinare

Llyn Foulkes - Mixed MediaLlyn Foulkes - Mixed Media

Llyn Foulkes - Mixed Media

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.

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Rudy Shepherd’s Paintings Make Us Think By Feeling

Rudy Shepherd - Paintings

Rudy Shepherd - PaintingsRudy Shepherd - Painting

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.”

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Ecological Anxieties As Surreal Paintings

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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.

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Portraits Exaggerate To Implicate Our Own Theatrical Sensibilities

Tate Ellington - Painting

Tate Ellington - PaintingTate Ellington - Painting

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.

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Paintings That Explore Classical And Contemporary Myth

Laura Krifka - Painting

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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.”  Read More >


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