Often treading between reverence and ridicule, the mystifying allure of art that reiterates sexual transgression remains suspended within a deviating purgatory of the sacred and the obscene. Buoyantly drifting within the underbelly of normative culture, the erotic and transgressive create a synergetic relationship in a strike against societal conventions. Through a crude presentation of social perversions, the atmosphere created through sexually transgressive art permits an insight that challenges not only sexual precepts, but invites a critique of human behavior irrevocably influenced by social structures. In an explosive resurgence of suppressed sexual impulses, the following artists create frantic, tense and exquisitely obscene renderings of deviations and sexualized social distortions.
Playing on the enticement of the black mirror, or, the darker recesses of our own perceived realities, fascinations revolving around the occult has infiltrated and renegotiated the perceivable world as we know it to be. Contemporary examinations of the occult and mysticism has surged in creating a more modern vernacular of symbology rooted in spiritualism, skewing the tangible under the scope of what is sensed and experienced as opposed to what is seen. Confronting the enigma of the unknown, investigations of the preternatural have transformed the material world through its semi-erotic explorations of the unconscious and the supposed spirit world. Evoking a sense of histories long since passed, fascinations with the paranormal are found not only within its connotations with Surrealism and Dada, but has since found itself increasingly commercialized through a dilution into popular culture.
The following artists present an elusive understanding and reflection on mysticism and the occult. Straying from any form of irony, kitsch or inapt nostalgia, their employment of the occult acts instead as a new means of dialogue and spiritual resolve.
American artist Evan Roth is no stranger to subverting digital culture into progressive art. In the past, Roth has developed a wall of gifs for Occupy the Internet and hacked the internet cache to create self-portraits, both of which fit neatly into his artist statement of “visualizing and archiving culture through unintended uses of technologies”. Drawing inspiration from hacker culture and philosophy, Roth helped found the Graffiti Research Lab, which merges graffiti with technology via projectile LEDs, which he used to famously tag the Brooklyn Bridge in 2008. For his Multi-Touch Paintings series, Roth tapped quite literally into a newly universal habit among people fully plugged into the digital era: that of using touchscreen devices. Created by “performing routine tasks on milt-touch hand held computing devices,” Roth used tracing paper and an ink pad to turn impressions of each finger swipe into stark paintings.
Each of Roth’s ink paintings are named after the task they’re depicting, from an entire wall of levels from Angry Birds to Twitter and e-mail check-ins. By turning mundane procedures we make on a day to day basis on our phones and tablets into textural studies, Roth blurs the line between the corporeal and the digital. One can’t help but be reminded of fingerprinting for identification when looking at the paintings, drawing a connection between the all-encompassing nature of technology in modern society and the lasting effects that may hold over our identities in the future. With iPhones that now literally use your fingerprint to access the device, it seems as though Roth’s paintings are even more prescient now than they were when he first premiered them in 2011.
Vietnamese painter Nguyen Xuan Huy introduces us to the disruptive effects and ongoing legacy of the Vietnam War. His works carry a rooted sense of grotesque which makes it impossible to stay intact. Huy outlines Vietnam’s grim reality by confronting pop art aesthetics with hints of Socialist iconography and heartbreaking results of Agent Orange warfare.
Huy, who is currently based in Berlin, aggregates many aspects of art history by mimicking famous painter’s artworks. Motifs from Matisse’s Dance, Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights, and even Michelangelo’s Creation Of Adam are taken and distorted to outline the traumatic consequences country’s post-war experiences. Twisted naked bodies, guns and dead animals join in a feast of spite and sorrow.
Agent Orange, a poisonous defoliant, was used by the US military and its counterparts to spray on the Vietnamese countryside hoping it will destroy the food sources and thus, end resistance. Only later it was titled the Chernobyl of Vietnam because of it’s irreversible effects, specifically the crippling birth defects. Chemicals used in Agent Orange caused genotype mutations which are present even three generations later.
“It’s insensitive to imagine that because I was born healthy that I am untouched by this issue. <…> So many people are potential carriers of the altered genotype, this is a problem which could affect each and every citizen of Vietnam.”
There’s a pervasive sense of childlike fantasy that seems to underline many pop surrealist works. Make-believe animals that don checkered coats, tight rope walkers and re-imagined cats all vibrate within and beyond the confines chosen by each artist at hand.
The alluring world of pop surrealism frequently ushers in a sense of mythical innocence and humor, unifying the superficial world of popular culture with the recesses of the unconscious. With underlying themes of fragility and the macabre delicately hidden beneath a veil of cultural kitsch, saccharine sweet dreamscapes transform and redefine a caustically bright world enamored with packaged goods. The fantastical worlds created through the lens of the following artists explores the relationship between the seemingly pristine and the accompanying bittersweet decay that dwells beneath it. Featured artists include: Casey Weldon, Mac Sorro, Rafael Silveira, Leslie Ditto, and Britt Ehringer.
Michael Cina has created a world-renowned career by fusing elements of both design and art into a signature style of technically-sound, visually striking, and uniquely glossy works. This approach has brought massive clients ranging from Facebook to Coca-Cola to MTV, as well as fine-art success. His latest efforts involved opening up control of his personal practice, however, as Cina worked side-by-side, though miles away, with a collaborator. For over a year, Cina and New York-based photographer John Klukas worked together to create a new body of work, which they began to call “digitally handmade” – a true synthesis of each creator’s respective styles. This collaboration yielded some twenty works, which are collected in the exhibition, She Who Saw Deep, at Minneapolis’ Public Functionary.
Beginning their complicated collaborative process with photos of the exhibition’s singular muse in Klukas’ New York studio, Cina then took the images and digitally overlaid his handmade paintings in his Minneapolis studio. Working the files back and forth between the two several times, the finished files were often so large and dense that they were as large as 16GB. These pieces were then printed and mounted, where Cina made final edits by hand – embellishing, spraying, drawing, and painting each piece to give them their own unique finish.
The digitally handcrafted images in She Who Saw Deep are then titled around the loose parallel of the Epic of Gilgamesh, “where the hero passes through the absolute darkness of grief, fear and death to be reborn into the light…the resulting works in this exhibit are both a visual and conceptual interpretation of this classic and universal human story.” Public Functionary, which offered support for the printing and creation of the works, is offering unique, limited-edition prints of these collaborative works, which can be purchased here.
Baltimore-based artist Jordan Kasey creates large-scale oil paintings of surreal scenes that include monumental figures and objects. In these strange worlds, her subjects occupy entire compositions and are often distorted by a canvas’ constraints. Although they could seemingly exist anywhere, we see them fused with both the aquatic and natural landscape.
There’s an emphasis on hands and fingers in Kasey’s paintings. We’ll often see pair of hands hugging or carefully cradling colorful, rock-like objects. Fingers on opposing hands match up to form tiny arches that make her faceless subjects look as though they’re plotting something. It doesn’t feel sinister, though, but almost absent of any emotion whatsoever.
While some of Kasey’s works are devoid of identifying details, others replace the expected with the unexpected. Facial features are altered with aquatic rocks, coral, and sea plants. It creates an odd-yet-familiar place whose tightly-rendered subjects begin to approach a level of uncanniness. While we know Kasey’s work is fantastical, it looks realistic enough that we might try and apply logic to it.
Combining photography and painting, Polish-based artist Michał Mozolewski creates intriguing portraits of mysterious-looking subjects. Pictures of pictures of people are scanned into the computer and later remixed and using a variety of methods. They are set against dark backgrounds and the black and white base images have gestural strokes painted over top of them. The hues of white, cyan, and red don’t evenly cover the photographs and Mozolewski uses varying pressure that adds a sculptural element to the work by emphasizing certain features of the face or body.
The effect that the artist’s technique has on the mood of the work is dramatic. Diffused and distorted photographs combined with Mozolewski’s erratic marks make for a haunting and grotesque portraits that are dreamlike at the same time. There’s a lot left to the imagination with these works, and they communicate sadness but at the same time are provocative and overall very visceral.