Art Talk: New Fascinations

To start off the New Year, here we have another installment of “New Fascinations” to kick off the Art Talk column. This week includes a painter of fantastical worlds, an encaustic artist who reinterprets her childhood fascinations, narrative portraiture and some hauntingly realistic portraits in gold leaf.

1. Mary Alayne Thomas

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I am taking full advantage of my job here by further plugging an artist I recently learned about, whose work is beautifully rendered and wonderfully whimsical. The Portland painter grew up around art and creates watercolor paintings that are layered over with silkscreen and encaustic, giving each painting a silky patina that adds to its fantastical quality. Inspired by childhood stories and her own rich imagination, Thomas’s works combine portraiture with woodland animals and flora in a style reminiscent of the Art Deco masters. My favorite works of hers are definitely those in which flowers, animals and other items are intwined in a woman’s hair — such as The Butterfly Charmer and The Librarian —they just seem to add so much more depth to the woman they are paired with. They are simply beautiful. See more of Thomas’s work at www.maryalaynethomas.com. 

2. Sam Octigan

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Sam Octigan is an Australian painter that creates unique compositions that deconstruct portraiture and show the hidden narrative beneath. Octigan’s website states that his work “seeks to delve deeper into the alchemy of what makes an arresting image to an audience, while exploring his own personal interests in memory, history, growth, home and truth.” What I really love about Octigan’s work is how the figure offers a framework while simultaneously blending into the background of the narrative, while in reality, the narrative lies beneath the figure. To me, the works seem to portray the secret thoughts, musings, memories and places that live in our minds and play on our thoughts as we navigate everyday life. See more of Octigan’s work at samoctigan.com.

3. Audrey Kawasaki

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Audrey Kawasaki’s delicate paintings of women on wooden panels are at once beautiful and foreboding. I can’t really think of a better way to describe her work than the description included under the Info page on her website. Her manga and Art Noveau influences are obvious, yet enhanced by the underlying textures offered by the wood, which add an ephemeral affect to the already nuanced images. Kawasaki also includes graphite “doodles” on her website, which focus more on the face of the women as opposed to the full-bodied nudes that haunt her paintings. Whether they are among forested land, frolicking animals or sea creatures, Kawasaki manages to create unique and immersive scenes that draw you in like the sirens of mythology. See more of Kawasaki’s work at www.audrey-kawasaki.com.

4. Pamela Wilson

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It is rare to find a painter whose work resembles photographs in such a way that it is almost unnatural, uncanny. This is exactly what painter Pamela Wilson’s work is: portraits of odd people in unnerving situations that seem to simply be a record rather than a creation. I first came across her work through Hi-Fructose magazine plugging a show for some of her new work that utilized gold leaf, which gives them an antique look that reminds me both of vintage photographs and the vintage illustrations of sideshow and freak show attractions. The article describes them as haunting, and they are — as if the figures are spirits looking for redemption. As described on her website, Wilson “believes that letting ourselves explore the inherent ‘distortions’ in reality is part of whta gives us heart, and balance.” See more of Wilson’s work on Hi-Fructose here and at pamelawilsonfineart.com.

5. Julie Heffernan

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I think it is impossible not to be moved by Heffernan’s immersive and colorful landscapes that seem to reverberate with life. Heffernan spent her life in the West where she was inspired by landscape masters that focused on portraying grand, sweeping images of their surrounding world. But while they focused on the simple facts of what was in front of them, Heffernan delves into her imagination, creating worlds around what she sees and experiences — perhaps to escape. In her own words: “My recent work is focused on making sense of the world around me. … We are slowly making our world unlivable, and I want to bring to the surface the destructive action, waste and contamination that is generally invisible to us.” Her work is so gorgeous that I cannot help but stare for several minutes on end, simply losing myself in their vibrant, ephemeral beauty. See more of Heffernan’s work at www.julieheffernan.net.

Who are your favorite contemporary artists? How have they changed your view of a certain medium or style? How do you discover new art? Let’s talk.

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