Fantasy Meets Photography In The Striking Images of Zhang Jingna

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Sometimes it seems that the more successful one is as a professional artist, the more important personal projects become. Such is the case for photographer Zhang Jingna who has partnered with video concept artist Tobias Kwan and several guest artists for the project “Motherland Chronicles.” A weekly project, the series of 52 images has recently been completed.

“It’s an exploration of sort. An attempt at putting together elements and themes I’ve loved since I was a child. It has a bit of a don’t-want-to-forget-my-childhood-dreams sort of thing going on; since I’ve been working for almost 7 years now, I don’t want to lose track of who I am, but it’s easy to as you grow and do too much commercial stuff, you know? So it goes back a lot more to my creative roots, more illustrative and painterly, like artworks that inspired me to create. Loosely linked together with hints of dark fantasy.” (Source)

The themes for the series developed organically. As the weeks progressed, the fantasy element became pronounced, colored with Jingna’s affinity for manga, Japanese rock, and fashion. The artists’ whose work she was inspired by includes Antoon van Welie, Suemi Jun, George Frederic Watts, and Yoshitaka Amano, and their illustrative influence can be seen in the work, particularly in the even light. Each image takes between 5–7 hours and a team of 5–6 people to complete. In her fascinating blog she writes about the process of beginning a personal project, using “Motherland Chronicles” as an example, and gives excellent, step-by-step instructions on what to consider and which pitfalls to avoid.

“Pictures always start from a single point; it could be an item, a piece of jewellery or even just a vague idea for a concept. Say I want to do a shoot with firs, I’ll ask myself questions such as: what kind of environment am I creating? What types of fire can I make? How does my character interact with it? What type of character does that? At the same time I do research on art, costumes, culture and sometimes also myths and legends.” (Source)

Jingna and Kwan hope to have a book for “Motherland Chronicles” completed and ready for sale in early 2015. (Via Juxtapoz)

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Bryan Lewis Saunders Creates Self-Portraits On Different Drugs

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In 1995, artist Bryan Lewis Saunders decided to create a unique self-portrait every day for the rest of his life. In 2001 he committed to taking a different drug or intoxicant every day before making his daily portrait, calling this sub-series “Under the Influence.” From absinthe and cocaine to cough syrup and computer duster he sniffed, swallowed and smoked his way through interesting art and into mild, but reversible, brain damage.

Though these are only a small fraction of the collection of over 8,600 self-portraits, they have received the most attention, resurfacing in the media over and over throughout the years. Saunders has mixed feelings about this, telling Fast Company:

“To be honest I’m not proud to be on any drugs in any pictures. I think drugs make me look really ugly. And I’m really a six trick pony, but the world only likes one of my tricks. Each year 500,000 kids around the world discover drugs and so the virus never dies.”

The portraits themselves are fascinating. Is it possible that one day of a psychotropic medicine would have such a clear effect? Are some of these images influenced by Saunders perception of the drug, and not the actual effect of the drug itself? Does it even matter?

“For hundreds of years, artists have been putting themselves into representations of the world around them. I am doing the exact opposite. I put the world around me into representations of myself as I find this more true to my Central Nervous System.”

This is art, not a science experiment. If the idea of the drugs has more of an effect on the art than the drugs themselves, that’s Saunders’ artistic prerogative. The work is provocative and often more than a little bit haunting. The brain spilling Saunders on Abilify and the dark, isolated, limbless Saunders on Nitrous Oxide/Valium represent disturbing and disturbed states of mind. Though he no longer takes drugs in the pursuit of art, the self-portrait series continues, and continues to fascinate.

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Captured In Mid-Air Lilly McElroy Throws Herself At Men

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The title of Lilly McElroy’s photo series “I Throw Myself at Men” could not be more literal. The photos, taken by her partner in the project, capture her mid-air as she lunges at various men. She throws herself into the air with abandon and trusts that these strangers will catch her. It’s an act of immense bravery captured on film. No, she’s not saving lives or fighting demons, but McElroy is risking rejection and public humiliation in the name of art, and that takes a strength of conviction that I find breathtaking.

Initially, McElroy arranged the photo sessions using Craig’s List, but found that the spontaneity of going to a bar, asking a physically large man to participate by trying to catch her at the very last moment, letting the bartender know what was happening, and then tossing herself in the air resulted in better images. The other bar patrons weren’t in on the project—the sight of the airborne McElroy and the flash of the camera were the signals that something was going on.

“I am, at the moment, part projectile and part foolish romantic. These images are documents of a hopeful and violent gesture, a demand that the possibility of a connection exist. The men often look terrified or at least slightly surprised. My role as aggressor is clear and I think my leaps acknowledge the basic human desire for contact.”

The awkward position of her body, the stoic tension of the male catcher, the illuminated bar scenes—all work together to make a captivating yet uncomfortable tableau. When they’re pictured, it’s the onlookers that make this series for me, though. Outside of the art making they smirk and gape—McElroy’s unexpected grand gesture of connection misunderstood and unappreciated. This spectacle of literally throwing herself at men mimics the small, sad desperations of women figuratively throwing themselves at men. By exaggerating the impulse, McElroy regains the upper hand. It is a supremely feminist performance, one that takes chances but never relinquishes power.

“The photographs, videos, and installations that I produce, while trying to interact, acknowledge the possibility of failure — that someone might not catch me, that a connection might not be made. It is that possibility that keeps things interesting. In the end, I want to make the viewer laugh, but I want them to understand that there is more at stake, that everyone is implicated – including me.”

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Artist’s Self Portraits Spanning Over Five Years Document The Painful Progression Into Alzheimer’s Disease

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Alzheimer’s Disease is sometimes called The Long Goodbye, a gradual loss of memory, self, and eventually, life. When artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s he began to make a series of self-portraits that would continue for five years. Looking at the pictures in chronological order is looking at a life diminished by degrees. As his technical skill ebbed, so did Utermohlen’s apparent sense of self. Still, the urge to create persisted.

In an essay about the self-portraits, Utermohlen’s wife, Pat, wrote:

“In these pictures we see with heart-breaking intensity William’s efforts to explain his altered self, his fears and his sadness. The great talent remains, but the method changes. He sometimes uses water-colour and paints a series of masks, perhaps because he could more quickly express his fear. In both the oils and water-colours these marvellous self portraits express his desperate attempt to understand his condition. There is a new freedom of expression, the paint is applied more thickly, art-historically speaking the artist seems less linear and classical, more expressionist, and I see ghosts of his German heritage.”

Worldwide, nearly 36 million people have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia—almost everyone will be touched by Alzheimer’s in some way during their lifetimes. Although Pat Utermohlen told the New York Times, “It’s so strange to be known for something you’re doing when you’re rather ill,” it was also a testament to William Utermolen’s ability as an artist that he was able to transcend his own experience, even unknowingly, and create work that was at once profound, heart-breaking, and universal.

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Joel Tretin Makes Jokes With His Camera

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Joel Tretin calls himself a Photo Humorist and that description seems perfectly apt. His photo series Stranger in Paradox “looks at what’s true and totally screws with it.” At first glance, the pictures seem deceptively straightforward—portraits of the city shot in a somewhat generic ad-agency aesthetic. Hidden in plain sight are the visual jokes: a parking ticket on the windshield on a sports car in a building height ad; a carousel over a revolving door; an elephant walking though the green murkiness of a subway. The Photoshop manipulations are mostly seamless—it really looks like that woman is pushing an eight-seat stroller, and that sporty yellow cab looks real next to its stodgier brother. A stack of cars make the most of a lone parking space.

The subtlest images make you work for them. A lit Wall Street façade, American flags… oh, there. The don’t walk sign is flipping the bird. The traffic sign points to the “Road Most Taken” an apparent play on Robert Frost’s Road Less Taken.

Photo manipulation in art is often used to create surreal imagery. And these pictures are surreal in that they portray things that are unreal and often fantastic, but the photos lack the intention and technique that transform pictures into fine art. Which seems to be just fine with Trentin, who says:

I am a failed stand up comedian, who now tries to make people laugh through photography.

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Kate Tucker’s Colorblock Paintings

Artist Kate Tucker’s work has amazing colorblock layering in her pattern pieces, as well as her more representational works. She has intricate drawings and bold paintings that together are seriously impressive. Her series “Counterfeit Sanctity’ has tons of versions of the same drawing in different color, pattern, and media that are mesmerizing when seen together.

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