Art Talk: New Fascinations

In my line of work as an editor at an art magazine, I’ve been exposed to so many artists and wonderful works of art that it is often impossible to keep track of all of them. Add to that my penchant for following as many other art publications as I can through social media, and you get an wonderfully overwhelming flow of art. And it just makes checking Facebook so much more pleasant. I highly recommend it. For this week’s Art Talk, I’ve gathered some of my favorite new finds, from both my publication and others, that have moved me and made me feel alive. Learn about an artist with chromesthesia who paints her favorite songs, a painter that toes the line between abstraction and representation with a unique connection to animals, and an animator who creates his own disturbingly natural worlds.

1. Melissa McCracken

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Pink Floyd, “Time”

When people tell me that they “don’t get” Abstract Expressionism, I actually feel physical pain in my heart. I mean, I know that it’s not for everyone, and that many people are more moved by a perfectly executed landscape than by splashes of colors. But to combine these splashes of colors with music, which I think we all can agree is emotionally visceral in itself, is pure magic. McCracken is a 26-year-old painter based in Kansas City, MO, with chromesthesia, which means she sees colors when she hears sounds. I learned about her through a wonderful interview on Broadly.com, where McCracken discusses her process, inspirations and how they differ from moment to moment, or person to person.

I feel a deep connection with this artist, because it is as if she is reaching into my chest and connecting with my heart through her rich, vibrant paintings. On her website, she describes her work, which is done using a combination of brushes and palette knives, “to convey the swirl of colors embedded deep in her mind’s eye.” Her work is also described as cosmic, which is painfully apparent in each piece. The paintings seem to transport the viewer to another realm, taking us through a wormhole of color and movement, almost like spiritual ascension. If these pieces could not convert critics of the Expressionism movement, I don’t know what could. See more of McCracken’s work at www.melissamccracken.com.

2. Courtney Brims

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“Bo Peep”

I don’t know what it is about artists who combine this fairytale magic with a dark undercurrent of reality, but something about it always piques my interest. Courtney Brims is an artist based in Australia whose pencil drawings are a direct result of her childhood fascination with both animals and mythology. According to the bio on her website: “Courtney’s intricate pencil drawings depict a sweet and sour wonderland that often focus on concepts of reality vs. myth, and the beauty and brutality of the natural world.”

When I first read this, my immediate application was the beloved fable Alice in Wonderland. And just so, many of Brims’s characters depict young women that often seem haunted by their world, who are peeking out at viewers, seeming to search for understanding or just waiting to reveal the rest of their story. Many involve animals in a state of unravel, suggesting the inevitable circle of life and applications of nature in a human world. Each piece is deeply saddening, yet delicately beautiful. And Brims’s hand is at once present and invisible. My favorites include “Mutual Attraction,” “Blossom” and “Tears of a Clown.” See more of Brims’s work at www.courtneybrims.com.

3. Rebecca Haines

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“The Paper Coyote”

I first learned about Rebecca Haines through my work, where I was assigned to write an article about one of her upcoming shows. Through my work, I’ve written about several artists who choose animals and other wildlife as their subjects, but I’ve never heard anyone describe them as deeply as Haines did. The artist was inspired by animals after learning about their specific roles in various cultures, such as Native American mythology. She says in those cultures they are not thought of as less than humans, but rather they occupy important roles in the function of the universe as a whole. Therefore, in her work, Haines seeks to honor the animals, while simultaneously encouraging viewers to step out of the day-to-day noise and stress that we make in our lives, and embody the quiet, primal nature of the animals.

According to her Artist Statement on her website: “I am here to learn from the creatures and to allow others to see what I see by attempting to recreate these exquisite moments of transcendent awareness and wonder through my paintings.” Haines utilizes colorfield techniques along with repeating patterns and often collage, allowing the process to shine through in the final product. At first glance, some of the pieces may seem uncompleted, but each detail serves to heighten the overall emotion, seeming to portray both the animal and its spirit, its aura, in one moment in time. See more of Haines’ work at www.rebeccahainesfineart.com.

4. Rafael Varona

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I’ve only recently begun to explore real meditation through internal calm and focus. But I’ve always felt that slow, repetitive motions were the things that relaxed me the most, gave me something to focus on and calmed my brain. Animator and illustrator Rafael Varona has brought this feeling to a whole new level by adding a narrative.

Varona is known for his series of animations titled Impossible Bottles, which show a story unfolding inside of a capsule frame on a loop. What I think I like most about Varona’s animations are the various textures and that applied to different surfaces within in a very welcoming color palette. The artist draws from various inspirations including technology, industry, nature, progress and his family’s Incan heritage. One of my favorites from the Impossible Bottles II collection is “Mama Killa,” which shows an Incan goddess fuming beneath the world where her people are exploited for the land’s resources by colonizers. According to an artist statement: “As for the original impossible bottles, they show objects that don’t really seem to fit through the mouth of the bottle. I found them to be an amazing inspiration to show animated worlds that are somehow limited or finite, yet include figures that observe their surroundings and experience it….” See more of Varona’s work at www.rafael-varona.com.

5. Isabella Kirkland

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Detail from “Gone.”

I have actually been a fan of Kirkland’s for a long time and I can’t believe I haven’t included her here before. I came across one of her pieces during my art history studies in college and I was immediately struck by, not only her artistic ability, but also by her entire message. Kirkland is another wildlife painter, but stays strictly in the realm of representation. Her pieces act almost like a scientific record, and one can tell that Kirkland has observed her subjects very closely in order to render them as accurately as possible.

The first piece of hers that I saw was “Gone,” which is part of her Taxa Series. “Gone” is a painting that includes images of 63 species that have become extinct since the colonization of the New World, according to Kirkland’s website. The piece has a stark, almost confrontational quality to it, as it is set against a black background. Each piece is reminiscent of the memento moris of art history, that were essentially interiors that showed the passing of time and the inevitability of mortality. Each piece in the Taxa Series is a documentation of the history of nature in the modern world, including “Back,” which shows plants and animals that were rescued from the brink of extinction, and “Descendant,” which shows wildlife that is in decline across the Americas. They are vibrant, incredibly detailed and wonderful to get lost in, especially with the zoom feature provided for nearly every painting on Kirkland’s website. See more of Kirkland’s work at www.isabellakirkland.com. 

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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