From paintings and photographs to film and fashion, art is a fully sensory form of storytelling — and the best of it doesn’t just make us feel something; it says something. Like anything that’s been around for millennia, art continually changes, grows, and takes on new shapes and forms. In this series, Shondaland steps into today’s world of art and gets a taste for the trends, themes, and people who are making contemporary art what it is — now and for centuries to come.
Visual art serves as a portal into an artist’s mind, a gateway to their belief systems about the subjects that transfix them. To pluck a narrative from the veritable merry-go-round of impressions that exist only in their minds, then to gather the necessary materials required to bring those impressions to life, is a miraculous feat of brain-eye and hand-eye coordination. Thus, the visual art world is a conceptual wonder-ground of ideologies and executions — when we gaze at an artist’s work, we gaze into their intentions.
Fortunately, the digital marketplace has exposed art tastemakers and curators to more unexpected and diverse artists than in decades past, and those artists are seizing the opportunity to forge a path to notability more rapidly than ever before. We wanted to make you aware of seven visual artists who intend to make an indelible impression on the art world — and have already made great strides.
Markosian’s photography and videography is deeply personal even when it isn’t autobiographical. Her evocative, cinematic approach captures the essence of her subjects so intimately, we can practically hear their innermost thoughts. Born in Moscow, Markosian has traveled to the ends of the Earth to tell stories of faith, displacement, estrangement, illness — stories that otherwise wouldn’t have been told, including her very own. A Cuban girl’s quinceañera after surviving a brain tumor; a gathering of villagers in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a glimpse of the Virgin Mary. These subjects are treated as intimately as photographs capturing a visit with the Armenian father Markosian hadn’t seen in 20 years, or Santa Barbara, a film about her own mother’s story of survival in leaving Russia for the United States with her and her brother in tow. Like many artists, Markosian also works commercially, with her photographs having been featured in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. She’s also published two photography books, won numerous illustrious photography awards, and has shown her work in such spaces as the International Center of Photography in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Les Rencontres d’Arles, an annual French photography festival.
Tawny Chatmon, Photo-Based Multimedia Artist
Tokyo-born, Maryland-based Chatmon’s stunning portraiture combines photography, digital collage, illustration, semiprecious stones, and paint while also employing 24-karat gold-leaf accents that nod toward Byzantine religious paintings and art nouveau master Gustav Klimt. A self-taught commercial photographer, Chatmon captured her father’s battle with cancer until the end of his life, which inspired her to use her camera to create art in lieu of commerce. Today, Chatmon’s portraits are holy, regal presentations of Black women and children (many works feature her three children, relatives, or models she knows well), reverently framed in gold vintage, antique, and contemporary baroque-ish frames she collects from estate sales, consignment and secondhand shops, galleries, and auctions. Chatmon tells Shondaland that she would love those who see her work to walk away with feelings of “grace, beauty, pride, and love.” She continues, “I want my work to be viewed as a celebration of who we are. I want the viewer to be deeply touched by the work and to look further than the beauty and more into the meaningful intentions and messages embedded in each piece. I think that art in all forms has a way of penetrating our hearts and minds, and that is what I hope my work does for anyone who experiences it.”
Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers), Multimedia Artist
Born in Chicago and based in Los Angeles, Rashid (also known as Frohawk Two Feathers) is a multifaceted storyteller who captions his works — comprised of illustration, painting, and sculpture — to construct alternative historical narratives of the Frenglish (a portmanteau of France and England) Empire (1648-1880). Spotlighting marginalized people and women of history within reimagined colonial scenes, Rashid uses his own take on Egyptian hieroglyphs, tea-stained Spanish colonial manuscripts, and Persian miniature painting to mark the timing of his works. His goal is to “give a face to the marginalized people of history because history is not the binary that people think it is. It’s very nuanced,” Rashid tells Shondaland. “All the stuff that we think that we know is not really true. Basically, I just remade history in a place where minorities, people of color, and women are seen. I’m not trying to change history — all the horrible stuff is still in there, like slavery, violence against women — all these things are still inherent in my narrative. It’s just different. There are some joys and some victories, and not from people with powdered wigs and pink skin.” With upcoming shows at Half Gallery in New York and Blum & Poe gallery in Los Angeles, Rashid hopes his work inspires people to reconsider historical narratives. “I just want to be more honest with people, and I want people to be more honest with themselves,” he says. “Ultimately, what I hope they take from this is that the world is always going, and it only ends once. You can always change the narrative — you don’t have to control the narrative to change it, but everybody has that power, and nobody can take that power away from you.”
Jen Stark, Designer, Sculptural and Digital Artist
Florida-born and Los Angeles-based, Stark uses optical illusions inspired by mathematical pattern systems and fractals to immerse viewers in her own brand of organic psychedelia. She plays with shapes mimicking molecular structures, using bold, vivid patterns of primary colors and black and white that morph and meld into shapes that hypnotize you while challenging your perceptions of movement, dimension, and space via sculpture, sculptural installations, installations, and NFTs. Recently on view at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn, New York, Stark’s creation Cascade is a 6,000-square-foot interactive and immersive installation exhibit that’s the ultimate Instagram capture. What’s more, three Cascade moving digital images have been auctioned off as NFTs at quite a decent price point. Stark’s hypnotic vision has extended to pens, phone cases, T-shirts, holographs, wine labels, murals — any surface you can imagine. Along with the William Vale, you can find her work in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the West Collection, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, and MOCA Miami, among others.
This painter and collage artist’s large, lush, lyrical works of fertile, disjointed botanicals and landscapes utilize layers of paint, ink, and embroidery to express her frustrations about marginalization. Based in London and inspired by Western, Japanese, and Chinese historical painting, Yearwood-Dan creates messages that are delivered through the lens of modern-day impressionism of sorts. Her vibrant scenery is seemingly captured in movement with a blend of deliberate, delicate strokes and expressive lines, augmented by embroidered observations about racial or gendered notions of collective identity and history that lend context to the romantic tumult. “My hope is that people engage with the understanding that Black women are nuanced, and that’s also reflected in the work they make and wide variety of subject matters and aesthetics they explore,” Yearwood-Dan tells Shondaland. “I want the viewer to really just look and spend time with the work, finding snippets of text and allowing those and the colorful motifs to mean something personal to them. I want them to trust what they feel when they look at the work and, of course, honor my intentions but also sit with how introspective it makes them feel.” A graduate of the University of Brighton, Yearwood-Dan did a Harper’s Bazaar UK cover using Margaret Atwood’s poetry in a collaboration with the writer last year, and has shown at galleries including London’s Tiwani Contemporary and, most recently, at Marianne Boesky in New York.
Clare Celeste, Installation Artist, Illustrator, Environmentalist
Celeste’s immersive work reflects her commitment to raising awareness about our many looming environmental crises through honoring nature and history. Each installation is something of a biosphere — immense, delicate, and intricate inter-weavings of collaged flora and fauna comprised of hundreds, maybe thousands, of hand-cut vintage naturalist illustrations from the 1900s. The result is a safe, beautiful world in which Mother Nature is revered, not punished. It’s Berlin-based Celeste’s form of environmental activism, her way of preserving life as we know it before it goes extinct. “I use pre-industrial illustrations to both inspire viewers with the beauty of the natural world as it was before the extinction crisis and also to highlight how very threatened our biodiversity is,” Celeste says. “Many species are extinct or going extinct in my artworks. Additionally, I also want to remind people that we are all interconnected with biodiversity and that we are part of these ecosystems — we are nature, not separate from it — and our survival and futures are intertwined.” Her whimsical work has been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine and The Guardian, licensed by Crate & Barrel, and can be seen on wine bottles and in storefronts.
Smith is a self-made artist in every sense of the phrase. Her evolution as a painter is as much of a disruptive and feminist DIY tale as the establishment of her former punk band, Mecca Normal. Every day, she produces a haunting, hundred-dollar 11-inch by 14-inch acrylic-on-canvas board headshot of a woman exclusively available to Facebook bidders — all they have to do is post “Mine!” or “Me!” for a shot at one, and she handpicks the lucky recipient. These paintings sell within five minutes of her posts, with sometimes hundreds of bidders chomping at the bit. Profits from groupings of larger portraits and the occasional poetic, moody, blurry landscape go to her soon-to-be-established Free Artists Residency for Progressive Social Change, a place where artists can stay for free as long as they intend to “change the world.” Smith tells Shondaland she started painting self-portraits at 13 — both of her parents were professional painters — but in art school painting was regarded as a bit “passé.” “I got sidetracked, started a DIY feminist punk band, and developed an attitude that my paintings weren’t for other people to see, let alone buy,” she explains. During an arduous part-time retail stint in 2015, she got the idea to do what she’s now doing, and, in a profile of the artist in The New York Times, she’s aptly described as “subverting art-world economics, $100 at a time.” In her own words, Smith says, “I have no interest in painting likenesses of specific people, or in documenting smiling faces attempting to be attractive. I paint more complicated expressions and emotions. The faces are the subject, but there’s a lot going on with composition, technique, and color.” Though she’s thrilled for the media coverage, Smith was most excited when a former museum director from the Smithsonian and Guggenheim praised her technique. Never underestimate the power of a punk pedigree.
More from Art in Today’s World: A Shondaland Series
What Does Immersive Art Mean for the Future?
The Future of Art Collecting
The Art of Getting Dressed
Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a multifaceted storyteller whose work has been featured in The Cut, NBC News Better, Time Out New York, Medium and The Week. Follow her on Twitter @soapboxdirty.Get Shondaland directly in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TODAY