Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and experimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!

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Artists To Know! Installment Four

I really don’t give photography or sculpture enough love. I tend to have my eye caught most by drawings, paintings, and mixed media because it’s what I do and I understand the process, but there is so much more thrilling art out there in every medium. So, for these next couple “Artist To Know” installments I am going to focus on art forms besides the aforementioned. Today is photography’s day to shine. Though there is also a lot of stunning landscape and animal photography out there (I mean come on, nature is amazing!), I chose to feature a type of photography less often explored, utilizing props, costumes, and often times incredibly extensive handmade sets to create a new and different world that the photographer envisions. These photographs tell a story beyond the appreciation of beauty. These are not about capturing the perfect moment, but creating the perfect moment to capture.

Tim Walker

British fashion photographer Tim Walker shot his first fashion story for Vogue at the young age of 25, and has continued shooting for British, American, and Italian Vogue ever since. He has also created stories for W magazine and LOVE magazine. I love the entrancing worlds he creates ranging from the soft and ethereal to the colorful and kooky. As a kid, I always wished there existed a magic television that could record people’s dreams while they slept, so I could watch others’ dreams (curious and nosy kid, for sure ;)). I imagine Walker’s photos are what the recordings would have looked like. He invites you into his dreams. You really have to visit his website and see his series of surreal photographs featuring well-known actors and actresses that he did for W – they are of the colorful and kooky variety, and some of my favorites. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Keira Knightley, and Eddie Redmayne? Yes please.

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard’s first exploration with photography was a series of self portraits he began taking at 16. I find people that are able to simultaneously compose amazing shots and also act as model in them and convey the correct body position and emotion on their face mind blowing as it is. It is clear that each of Stoddard’s photographs tell a story, and the viewer is dragged straight into it, no longer just a passerby gazing at a scene or figure but an active participant in whatever is going on.

Lindsey Adler

Lindsey Adler is a professional portrait and fashion photographer, known for her bold, graphic compositions. What is also cool about her is she loves sharing her passion with others, and lectures tens of thousands of photographers each year worldwide. Not every artist is willing to share their secrets, or wishes to take the time out of creating work to teach others, and I find that very admirable and inspiring. What I was most drawn to  about her work is her super-close-up face shots that turn her model’s face into a work of art. There is obvious careful attention to color, space, and line, even when working with the natural hues and contours of a face rather than adding fantastical artistic details like below.

Kirsty Mitchell

Winner of Lens Culture’s Visual Storytelling Grand Prize in 2014, Kirsty Mitchell worked as a successful senior fashion designer for an international label until personal illness brought on unexpected life changes. It is then that she connected with the camera, and she states that it changed her life forever. Her series “Wonderland”; my personal favorite and the series from which the image below is a part; was inspired by her mother, who sadly passed in 2008. The sets, costumes, and props are hand-created and filled with exquisite details, which is what captivated me in the first place. Mitchell says she found herself creating pieces that echoed her mother’s stories, and the need to create the worlds of her dreams and make them tangible grew. The greater meaning behind these images is evident in the awe-inspiring end results of the project.

Michael Belk

Michael Belk is an accomplished fashion photographer whose work has appeared regularly in Elle, Vogue, and many other publications. He always said of his work “There is no hidden meaning in my photography, no agenda beyond the image itself. I am attracted to beauty …” Then suddenly, his focus shifted away from the model of “art for art’s sake” and he began spending all of his time composing modern day biblical scenes. In an interview with The Christian Post, Belk says of the inspiration for his new passion, “I was in New York prepping for a photo shoot a week after 9/11 and saw many people searching for something.” It was out of this realization that in the midst of chaos people were fearful and didn’t know where to turn, in conjunction with Belk’s own experience of faith in what he calls one of his “darkest hours”, that “Journeys With The Messiah” was born. Belk places the stories of Jesus in a modern day context to communicate timeless biblical themes in a way that is sharply relevant to today’s culture and issues. The strong light source and worn, sepia filter over all the images in this series communicate a strong feeling of sincerity, and seamlessly merge imagination and creativity with history. “Journeys With The Messiah” is beauty, with a purpose.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s photography! Next time, it’s sculpture. Have any favorite photographers I didn’t mention in this group? Give me a shout! I love learning about new artists myself.