“Tabby Tyrant” (2021), mixed-media assemblage, 31 x 31 x 9 inches. All images courtesy of the artist and Joshua Liner Gallery, shared with permission
A bejeweled tabby presides over Kris Kuksi’s sprawling new landscape teeming with retro figures, ornate baubles, and mass-produced trinkets all blanketed with a thick coat of metallic paint. The Lawrence, Kansas-based artist (previously) melds found objects into complex, frieze-style assemblages that are infused with themes of “historical narratives, biblical subjects, animal worship, architecture, symbolic views on commerce and development, as well as human psychology and behavior.”
Titled “Tabby Tyrant,” the fantastical work is replete with juxtapositions: the individual and the collective, peace and war, industrial and classical architecture, and historic and modern. Minuscule soldiers wrangle a winged figure, a mouse swallows a human whole, and a team of warriors is outfitted with anachronistic weapons, although every action is in service of the feline ruler. Depicting disquieting and eerie actions, each scene is presented through opulent, gilded tableaus.
For more of Kuksi’s densely layered artworks, pick up a copy of his book Conquestand follow him on Instagram.
If you’ve walked the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the last few decades, you’ve probably spotted the wide-eyed monsters and mischievous dragons of David Zinn (previously). Since 1987, the artist has been drawing chalk-and-charcoal creatures in site-specific works that wash away with the rain. Drain pipes become robotic dogs, a pillar morphs into a giant pencil, and a green monster pops out of a brick walkway.
Tomáš Libertíny prefers to collaborate when recreating iconic busts and sculptures, although his chosen partners don’t join him in the studio. The Slovakia-born artist tasks tens of thousands of bees with forming the porous outer layers of classic artworks like the “Nefertiti Bust,” Michelangelo’s “Brutus,” and a large jug based on the “Nolan amphora” at The Met.
Encased in honeycomb, the resulting sculptures generate a dialogue between the newly produced organic material and art historical subject matter. Libertíny’s “Eternity,” for example, is based on a 3D model of the original portrait of Nefertiti and is “a testament to the strength and timelessness of the ‘mother nature’ as well as its ancient character as a powerful female reigning against the odds.” Similarly, the artist’s “Brutus” rests on a Coca Cola crate, a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, although his iteration diverges from the original as it questions “the fragility of fate and finding salvation” in modern times.
“Brutus” (2020), natural beeswax, wood, plastic, 160 x 70 x 60 centimeters
Currently based in Rotterdam, Libertíny provides professional beekeepers with a frame that the insects then colonize during the course of months and in the case of “Eternity,” two years. “I have to guide the building growth like you would with a bonsai, slowly string(ing) the workflow into places where you deem ideal,” he says. “The final result is always a surprise as it is not something you can completely predict like would with traditional craft techniques. It happens that I have to look at the finished piece for a couple of days in order to appreciate it fully.”
Beeswax as a material is inherently contradictory, the artist notes, because of its simultaneous ephemerality and durability—Libertíny’s sculptures have the potential to remain intact for thousands of years if maintained properly—a duality he’s been exploring since he began the Made by Bees series in 2005. “A beeswax candle is for me the best example of pure design. Absolutely nothing is styled about it. Everything about is a science of keeping the flame burning,” he says, explaining that the candle served as a catalyst for the ongoing series.
What brings you hope? That’s the central question behind a new group exhibition presented by Port City Creative Guild. Couriers of Hope boasts more than 120 original pieces from more than 90 artists—the list includes Rosanne Kang Jovanovski, Andrew Hem (previously), Sean Chao (previously), and Yoskay Yamamoto—all rendered on vintage envelopes. Prompted by the mail art movement of the 1960s, the exhibition features an eclectic array of watercolor, pencil, and mixed-media illustrations that transform the miniature canvases into the artists’ vision for the future, whether through relaxed otters, peaches, or vivid portraits. Many of the works prominently display original postmarks and stamps and serve as a reminder that communication doesn’t have to be digital.
Students from Long Beach Unified School District have the opportunity to acquire one of the envelopes by trading their own response to the artists’ same prompt, with the guild providing art supplies for participants to ensure that everyone has access to the initiative. The show was curated collectively by a Long Beach Museum of Art, Creative Arts Coalition to Transform Urban Space, Flatline, Inspired LBC, The Icehouse x Ink and Drink Long Beach, Arts Council Long Beach, Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum, Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum, Compound LBC, and the Creative Class Collective.
Couriers of Hope will be on display in the windows of the Psychic Temple of the Holy Kiss in downtown Long Beach and on the guild’s site for virtual viewing from January 19 to February 28, 2021.
By Sean Chao
By Megan Boterenbrood
By Adam Harrison
By Bodeck Luna
By Christine Yoon
By Hilary Norcliffe
By Judy Kepes
Left: By Jonathan Martinez. Right: By Kelly Yamagishi
“As a product of an American father and a Mexican mother, I am influenced by the conflicting expectations I have received as a woman within my two cultures,” says artist Nicole McLaughlin. From her studio in Marion, Massachusetts, McLaughlin combines historically domestic crafts—ceramics and fiber art—into striking sculptures that explore identity and heritage, particularly in relation to gendered expectations, traditions, and the changes that occur as generations pass.
In her mixed-media works, the artist contrasts the soft, pliable fibers with the fragility of the plates painted with blue-and-white motifs. Dyed in subtle gradients and earth tones, the loose threads are woven through the sloping ceramic edges and knotted in the center. McLaughlin explains how it’s important that the utility of both elements is removed once combined:
(The vessels) serve as vehicles for fiber. As the fiber flows from, weaves into, or frames the ceramic, it distorts the functionality but becomes a meaningful component as plate and cloth merge. The vessels contain an expression of femininity and an essence of personal and cultural history.
These dichotomies in the materials also reflect the artist’s experience eschewing “the feminine ideals of my Mexican identity,” she says. “I am a force, and I think I tend to push the boundaries of what might be within the female expectation in Mexican culture.”
Currently, McLaughlin is serving as a teaching fellow at Tabor Academy. She sells some smaller ceramic pieces in her shop, and you can follow her work on Instagram, where she also shares glimpses into her process.
Deep within Leang Tedongnge, a cave tucked away on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, archaeologists discovered this mulberry-hued painting of a warty pig and two hand silhouettes potentially belonging to the artist, which is now believed to be the oldest figurative work in the world. A study published in Science Advances this week says the impeccably preserved rendering is at least 45,500 years old, which predates previously discovered depictions of mythical creatures in the region. Those prior findings date back about 43,900 years.
Questions remain about the exact age of the work and who made it. Archaeologists from Griffith University, who helmed the mission, utilized uranium-series dating to determine how old the speleothem, or mineral deposits, of the cave is rather than the actual painting. There’s also debate about whether modern humans are responsible for the renderings, a question that’s complicated by the fact that the only skeletal remains that date back at least 45,500 years in Sulawesi belong to early hominins.
Dr. Adam Brumm, who co-authored the study, told The New York Times that researchers expect to discover similar artworks in the region, although the cave paintings are deteriorating at a rapid rate and could fade before they’re ever uncovered. “It is very worrying, and given the current situation the end result is likely to be the eventual destruction of this ice age Indonesian art, perhaps even within our lifetime,” Brumm said.
All images courtesy of People’s Pottery Project, shared with permission
People’s Pottery Project (PPP) has a simple mission: “to empower formerly incarcerated women, trans, and nonbinary individuals and their communities through the arts.” The value of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, though, reaches far beyond the ceramics studio where its members carefully sculpt and glaze dinnerware to sell from its warehouse.
At the heart of PPP is mutual aid, a form of community support and solidarity that rapidly expanded at the onset of the pandemic but that has a rich history in political movements. The initiative is multi-faceted—it currently employs three people full-time and two part-time, and formerly incarcerated folks can drop in to help in the production process and be paid for their contributions. Depending on COVID-19 guidance and the ability to meet in-person, PPP also hosts community classes. As restrictions lift in the coming months, the organization plans to expand these offerings as it strives to stabilize its income and connect with more artists.
The project began when co-founder Molly Larkey hosted free pottery workshops for women, trans, and non-binary folks, many of whom were experiencing homelessness. “It was immediately apparent that people who came to class needed to be paid for their time: not only to value their creative contribution toward the organization that was starting to take form but as a way to put money in their pockets,” Larkey says. Many of the gatherings simultaneously sparked conversations about job opportunities and housing options, which offered additional support beyond the group’s creative practice.
Two attendees in these early days were Ilka Perkins and her wife, Dominique, women Larkey knew through her volunteer efforts with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an organization that works tirelessly to have people who are incarcerated be released through commutation, parole board support, and legislative reform. Larkey offered Perkins a job as an artist assistant prior to Perkins’ release from the California Institution for Women in 2020. Soon after, the two co-founded PPP.
lka Perkins (left) and Susan Bustamante glaze bowls
Today, the organization sells 10-inch plates and bowls in three sizes—every item is made entirely by hand so the pale blues and earthen tones vary on each dish—with plans to create new products and special packaging that details the issues communities are facing. These include DROP LWOP (Drop Life Without the Possibility of Parole) and SURVIVED & PUNISHED, two abolitionist campaigns that current PPP employee Susan Bustamante, who previously was serving a life sentence, is involved in.
Many of the fully functional ceramics are sold for $50, a price point that aligns with PPP’s goals. The idea is “to share our beauty and creativity, to employ as many formerly incarcerated people as we can in meaningful creative work and make our ceramics accessible to anyone and everyone,” Larkey says. “We are hopeful that our art will also function as advocacy so that people learn more about the issues affecting us and our loved ones who are still incarcerated.”
As for future endeavors, Larkey is optimistic about the possibilities of artists getting involved in mutual-aid efforts as a way to support their neighbors. “There is a real need for creative skills but the most important thing—and I can’t stress this enough—is to be involved with a community over a period of time,” she says. “The groundwork has been already laid by the people most impacted by systemic oppressions such as the prison industrial complex, and they will be the ones who know what is most needed.”