One current trend taking over the art world is gender. Many contemporary artists are using their practice to question gender norms. It reflects a wider societal shift: increasingly, we are challenging traditionally feminine and masculine ideals to blur boundaries. Meet 6 emerging figurative artists who re-define gender identity through depictions of the body, dress and everyday objects.
Sydney-based artist Kim Leutwyler is known for her colourful paintings of LGBTQ-identified and queer-allied women. Many of her subjects are close friends, pictured against bold patterns in a celebration of diversity. Androgyny, body art, gender confirmation surgery and piercings are not uncommon among the people you see in her work.
Kehinde Wiley uses heroic portrait painting to address the image of young African-American men. His work challenges media representation of black masculinity as synonymous with violence. Instead, he embraces differences in gender. His subjects come casually dressed in everyday clothing, with tattoos and wristbands on show. Often painted against floral wallpapers, he powerfully repositions black male bodies as objects of desire, eroticism, and vulnerability.
Olivera Parlic is a Serbian artist who transforms everyday items into subversive sculptures. In many of her works, she displaces objects associated with domesticity, questioning the expected role of women in the home. In others, fetishistic sculptures are fashioned from hair, rubber gloves and high heels, highlighting – rather than suppressing – women’s sexual desire.
Roxana Hall’s performative paintings depict women in the home. She disrupts the traditional setting by picturing her characters in surreal, strange and surprising poses. Often, you will see them with their mouths open (which is an extremely rare sight in any portrait). In place of demure, prettified housewives are loud, laughing women. Many of them appear slightly sinister.
Kim Jae Jun
Korean artist Kim Jae Jun’s surreal paintings are inspired by Korean K-pop culture and digital worlds. Hyper-sexualised bodies emerge from a modern dystopia which reflects on the internet era, contemporary culture and taboos. Instead of inviting the viewers’ gaze, erotic bodies are cut off and disrupted by thorny branches, animals or a car crash. Gender mutates within multiple narratives and strange juxtapositions.
Joe Hesketh’s large, narrative paintings challenge clichés of women. Instead of portraying so-called ‘ideal’ figures, she paints strong women in all shapes and forms. In many of her images, she uses exaggerated, cartoon-like proportions to poke fun at the overly-sexualised representation of women in art history.
Anna was born in Moscow in 1984. She came of age in the post-Soviet Russia where apart from doing academic drawing and painting she studied linguistics, philosophy, and psychology. She continued her art training at Central Saint Martins. We catch up with Anna to discuss her life as an artist and how recent motherhood has affected her practice.
Your work shifts between the figurative and the abstract. How did your practice evolve to be like this?
I am drawn to abstract art as it communicates by bypassing the words and formalised understanding of the world. It is a meditation, a pure creative output that comes entirely from within. But at the same time, I find figurative elements in my work to be a powerful tool to trigger a response. It is like working with both cerebral hemispheres.
You often describe your work as drawing on philosophical ideas, contemporary science, the infinite and the unconscious. Could you explain how these themes have come to hold such prominence in your art?
The unconscious is a huge part of the non-representational part of my work. Something you are tapping into as an artist while working and something you are addressing through the canvas presented to the viewers. The rest is down to curiosity. I was always interested in understanding both the workings of our minds and the world around us. Not so much current affairs but timeless questions and the transcendent.
As a new mother, how have you managed to spend time creating art?
Becoming a mother turns your world upside down and you lose yourself a bit. The first time I had 2 hours on my own to start a new work I faffed about so much I barely finished a pencil sketch. So motherhood forces you to become much more organised.
You also start appreciating the simple little things you took for granted - like sitting still and staring at the sky, a morning coffee ritual, a lazy afternoon. My latest series The Lightness Of Being is a collection of charming moments of dolce far niente that reflects this craving for idleness and hedonism.
Artists often find the prospect of starting a new canvas daunting, is this true with you?
You can’t be too precious with the white canvas, however perfect it is in its minimalist all-encompassing purity. I usually plan what I want to work on and gather some visual references before I approach the canvas and then start. Of course, there are moments of hesitation and self-doubt but I just remind myself I can always edit or start over. Like with the writers' block - the way out is to carry on working.
How do you push yourself to work outside your comfort zone?
Going from abstract to figurative was the biggest push in recent years. I’ve taught myself to paint a human body, technically it was definitely challenging and out of my comfort zone. I love experimenting with mark making in my abstract canvases. I’ve used vintage tools found in flea markets, feathers, clothes labels. Some really interesting textures came out of these experiments and certain developed techniques are now firmly part of my practice.
If you could own any artwork from any artist, past or present, what would it be and why?
The latest work I was obsessing about was by Pieter Vermeersch, I would love to have one of his gradients on a marble slab in my living room. I remember seeing it at Freeze for the first time and it was such an oasis of calm amongst the cacophony of visuals.
Our Curator at Large, Hector Campbell, has been scouring every corner of London to find the best up-and-coming artistic talent. Discover Hector’s latest exhibition recommendations below.
1. SHADI AL-ATALLAH, FUCK, I’M STUCK!, J HAMMOND PROJECTS:
2. ANNA READING, THE POTHOLE: MARK TANNER SCULPTURE AWARD SHOW,
3. ADAM HENNESSEY, BLEMISH, NEW ART PROJECTS:
4. NEVINE MAHMOUD, BELLY ROOM, SOFT OPENING:
Harriet is a London based abstract artist, working with acrylic and mixed media on paper. We ask Harriet about her concepts, style, sources of inspiration and process. Read on to find out more.
Did you know that art can improve your well-being? Throughout history, artists have used art as a therapeutic outlet for their mental health issues. Today, GPs are prescribing art classes as a means of overcoming anxiety and depression. Whether you want to be more creative, find a new hobby, or make space for mindfulness, an art class could be the answer. Here are 5 of the best art classes in London.
Alexandra Gallagher is a British artist whose work celebrates the surreal and the bizarre. Her thought-provoking paintings and collages explore the realms of dream, memory and the imagination. The artist allows her imagination to run in any creative direction resulting in visually appealing works that are evocative of the Surrealists while offering a contemporary take on both the materials and the subject matter. We ask the artist 5 questions about her work and life as an artist.
Hector Campbell, our new Curator at Large, has his eye on the latest and greatest contemporary exhibitions, and he's always on the lookout for promising up-and-coming artists. If you're in search of your next art fix, here are current London exhibitions that Hector recommends.
The Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) entitles artists who have produced an original work of art to a royalty (payment) each time their art is re-sold through an art market professional or auction house.
Heidi Thompson was born in Vernon, Canada. After graduating high school she moved to Europe to study. Her extensive education includes a degree in photography from the University of Art & Design in Zürich and some time at the Hungarian State University for Fine Art. We catch up with Heidi to find out more about her process and the philosophy underlying her awe-inspiring art.
Meet Philip Vaughan, the artist behind the landmark 48ft tall Light Tower which sat above the Hayward Gallery from 1972 to 2008. Philip has been involved for the last 10 years or so in an effort to restore the Light Tower. It was a rare example of a large contemporary kinetic artwork on the streets of London but it was never returned after it was taken down from the roof of the South Bank gallery for renovation.