At times strangely numb, and at other points echoing a modernist affection for the coldest of structures and surfaces, the most recent work by Philadelphia painter Erin Murray certainly doesn’t lack in focus. Murray’s fixation on the bland, eerily coded architecture of American cities reveals an underlying criticism (or slightly tongue-in-cheek reference) to the simultaneous banality and sinister intentionality that exists in the spaces around us. Rather than allowing these ever-present backdrops of contemporary life to fade quietly into the background, she brings them forward in the hopes that the viewer will find the same suspicious significance in each graphic, expertly rendered façade.
Where her graphite works are dark and slightly ominous, the lush, surrealistic landscapes Murray has sketched out are deliciously disorienting. As a group, they reflect a curious interest in space, place and structure—something that might eventually push Murray’s works off the page and into the 3D realm.
Alicia Savage captures her life with a surreal twist that pushes beyond the static point and shoot. From absurd flights of fancy to soft reflective moments, each self-portrait conveys an independent sense of travel or transcendence: movement that emphasizes the importance of dreaming in relation to personal exploration and documentation. Conceptually, it’s that simple– but technically, it’s a little more challenging. Her exquisite use of color, light, setting, and digital manipulation curiously compels us to enter these departures with great anticipation.
Emile Morel creates surreal digital illustrations reminiscent of whimsical childhood fantasies such as The Neverending Story and Where the Wild Things Are. His illustrations depict dream worlds, often with children, and heavily feature anthropomorphic characters rife with bestial and primal imagery. His work is evocative of fairy tales, complete with a dark and foreboding element encapsulated in the “grotesque” nature of some of his figures and human animal hybrids. Intimate and highly allegorical, Morel’s attention to detail, especially in this medium, is impressive.
Kim Tucker’s ceramic sculptures are burly messes of gender– exorcising primal desires, akin to a Bukowski or Fante novel, with a dash of Freud, but crafted with more of a surrealistic feminine charge. Each nude, for example, sexually and emotionally gestures at our gentle need for communion from one body to the next, illustrating psychologically how we bleed failure, rejection, isolation or loss.
KCRW’s Laura Schumate laments on each figure’s soft absorption: “There’s a desire to protect them like your own children or a friend, while acknowledging their familiar sorrow within yourself.”
On that note, the entire menagerie evokes not only Tucker’s inner children, but also our own, as they engage in “psychological storytelling”– narrating open wounds we are inclined to protect, lick, mother, or share: a deep commiseration over the tragedy of bodily confinement.
Ron Ulicny is a Portland-based artist who creates “viscurrealistic fabrications”, sculptural works that draw their impact from surreal change-ups in material selection. A vintage bowling pin is sliced open, and a nocturnal forest is inserted into its midsection. A hand saw’s blade is replaced by multiple paintbrushes. I wasn’t necessarily surprised, when going through the artist’s portfolio site, to find quotes from Jasper Johns, Magritte, Duchamp, and Rauschenberg, each of whom are pretty clear influences on Ulicny. But, even in emulation, Ulicny’s work is completely singular. He knows his materials so well (where does he find some of these things?), and his execution might be a little cleaner than some of his heroes. You’re gonna want to check out more of the artist’s works, so find a selection below, but hit up his website and tumblr to get the full picture.
Min Kim’s collages tend to evoke many feelings at the same time. While they seamlessly combine an almost naive poetic narrative with impeccable skill and adult morals, they offer us a visual language founded both in Korea and America. Kim’s manga-like figures seem to exist in a world where flora and fauna blend together with the earth and the sky, constantly evolving into each others forms. She combines the emotive strengths of Asian comics with the heritage of the psychedelic surrealism of the seventies.
The story of western contemporary art is only of use to her in the most superfluous way, she certainly doesn’t dwell on the past. Instead she looks for visual traditions in different cultures and tries to express their essence in her work. This cultural potpourri is translated to her own language of form and technique, which may be as diverse as her inspiration. We can view the end result as a whole of vibrant color, skilled paper craft and a sense of honest innocence. The stylized figures in her works are often drawn in grey, in contrast with their surroundings. Still, the stories she tries to tell are about blending, about the changing of form and about always becoming. These seemingly contradicting choices symbolize the feeling of being both the same and the other. A feeling all too common in today’s multicultural civilization.
French artist Gregory Chiha’s gripping and curious works conjure dark, imaginative inquiry. Realistic backgrounds are populated by vague, distorted figures depicted with thick, abstract, primary-colored strokes of paint. Dense forests and calm interiors stand solid and immortal in stark contrast to the fleeting vision of denigrating souls that vaporize amidst forces unknown. At times they seem aware of their morphing physicality, holding up their hands as if to shield their faces; other times they stand with arms loose and at their sides, giving in and letting themselves be overtaken by this unstoppable force. Some subjects appear to be participating in everyday motions when the event occurs: lounging in the living room, playing in a room strewn with children’s toys, staring into a mirror; others are roaming through sylvan groves – perhaps they went outside to address an unnerving sound or vision? One figure sits at the kitchen table staring at a loaf of bread; the subject ignites, though the bread, indissoluble, withstands. Are these figures ghosts trapped in limbo? Are they in the midst of taking their own life, or victims of an unspeakable tragedy such as a modern day Pompeii? Could these paintings be the depiction of the exact moment of death? Whatever is the nature of their contents, Chiha’s paintings lead to an abyss of theories subjective. However, their immediate intuitive impact stands inarguably emotional and compelling, dark and disturbing.
Christian Rex Van Minnen’s remarkable paintings showcase a mastery of traditional oil painting techniques that are paired wildly with a fascination for historical painting, witty humor, and a strong inclination towards the grotesque.
His still lives pay homage to Dutch vanitas painting yet, even using modes of traditional depiction, they expand to encompass modern sensibilities through the addition of present-day objects and graphic symbols; rainbows, uncanny mushrooms, Cretaceous plant life and hearts and stars accompany decaying flowers, rotted fruit, and scenic lands far away.
His portraits reference the unconventional Mannerist painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo, as well as contemporaries such as Glen Brown and Ivan Albright. Like his still lives, Christian’s portraits are conventional in composition and style, yet his subject’s faces are unrecognizable, malformed and undefinable. They are constructed from a cluster of earthly refuse; human and animal skin, organs and entrails, fruit, insect parts, fur, and textiles come together to emanate feelings of unease, horror, and wonder through intricate, realistic depiction.