Marlene Dumas- Painting


Like last week’s featured artist, Marlene Dumas also uses painting as her primary form of media. She was born in Cape Town, south Africa in 1953, but moved to Netherlands in the late 70s where she later found success as a painter.

Her images largely focus on humanity, and oftentimes highlight the female form. A lot of her works are very bleak and disturbing, as Dumas’s work is described as “intense and psychologically charged.”  Her pieces examine a broad range of human nature, from sexuality to death.

Dumas’s style of painting has been compared to the early 20th century form of Expressionism, with her loose strokes and unexpected colors. An example of an expressionist painting is the well-known piece, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Pictured below, the strokes are long, and freeform, and Munch has clearly taken liberties in his color choice. The entire image creates a very disturbing effect.


When look at Dumas’s pieces, I get a similar disturbed feeling. Though I can appreciate the message and intent behind her paintings, something about them– their colors, their misshapen depiction of the human form– really leaves me feeling, well, creeped out. But, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Like all artists, Dumas is trying to make the viewer think and feel things, no matter how strange, when they look at her pieces.


Purple pose

I think this is a good example of her paintings that just kind of leave the viewer puzzled. The color scheme is very bleak and unexciting (certainly not purple at all, as the title suggests), and the female figure is clearly not realistic. Her proportions are exaggerated, making her look odd and gangly. With the way she is standing, every aspect of her body is entirely visible– the pose is suggestive, almost pornographic. Though I don’t know exactly what Dumas wants to convey here, I’d imagine it’s a commentary on the reality of female sexuality.

Like Elizabeth Peyton, Dumas has also produced images of celebrities. I suppose this isn’t all that strange for contemporary artists, since these figures play such a huge role in our society, for better or for worse. After Amy Winehouse’s sudden death in 2011, Dumas made a beautiful and somber portrait commemorating her.


I like how Dumas varies her portrayal of people– in the painting above, Amy is very beautiful, and looks quite serene. In a lot of her other works, however, like the one mentioned above and the self-portrait below, Dumas can create an ugly, jarring image of humanity.


As I mentioned above, this is a self-portrait of the artist. I honestly laughed when I saw this, because it’s so strange-looking. I think it’s really brave and honest of Dumas to portray herself in this way, instead of glamorizing herself. She is a very interesting artist and I hope to see where her career takes her.


Elizabeth Peyton- Painting


Elizabeth Peyton

Recently, I feel like I’ve only been covering the types of artists we automatically think of when we hear the term “contemporary art.” You know, the artists who create outlandish and nontraditional kinds of pieces, like huge public installations. But, there are a lot of modern artists who choose to use a more classic medium. Elizabeth Peyton, a portrait painter, is just one example.

Born in Connecticut in 1965, Peyton attended art school and cultivated her love of painting, and enjoyed making portraits of her close friends. Her work became popular in the 1990s, when there was a movement back to contemporary painting. She has been compared to Andy Warhol in her graphic, colorful style. Like Warhol, she often depicts celebrities and other famous people in her paintings.

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As you can probably tell from the two paintings above, Peyton likes to painting a huge range of people. She features modern celebrities, historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte, and even recreates some classic paintings. I think the range of her subject matter is really interesting, especially when combined with her tell-tale style of painting.

In some of her paintings, it’s almost as if she makes the subjects look quite similar, even if they look nothing alike in real life. This is because she has an affinity for the “idealized, feminized, androgynous male,” which you can certainly see in some of her more stylized works.

I also think it’s interesting how much Peyton unabashedly embraces pop culture. I don’t think many artists today would find themselves wanting to immortalize people like Justin Bieber or Eminem, but Peyton completely embraces these figures in a positive light.

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Never Say Never, 2013 and Kanye West, 2010

These are two of Peyton’s more famous paintings, probably because they are centered on two mega-celebrities. It’s so interesting to me to see such modern, popular figures depicted using such a classic medium, like painting. Whether or not Peyton genuinely admires these celebrities, or perhaps is just trying to make some sort of social statement, I can’t really tell. Her paintings are always quite zoomed in on people’s faces, and I like the loose brushstrokes she sees. This is particularly evident in the Kanye portrait, in which some areas of the canvas are left blank.

For anyone who says modern art doesn’t take any real artistic talent, I would respond by showing them people like Elizabeth Peyton. She uses painting so delicately to portray a vast array of people– from Kurt Cobain, to Frida Kahlo, to Justin Bieber. Even if you aren’t a fan of modern pop culture, there is no denying that her pieces are compelling and beautiful.


Jenny Holzer: Conceptual Art

Jenny Holzer

I was first introduced to Jenny Holzer my sophomore year of high school in art class. Our assignment was to take inspiration from her concept of “truisms” (which I’ll cover more below), or broad, sweeping, controversial statements meant to make people think. I thought the assignment was really interesting (I wish I had a picture of my pieces to show you guys!) and she was one of the first artists who made me realize that words could have a massive impact on a piece of art. In fact, they could even be an art form all on their own.

Holzer went to several colleges to study art, including the Rhode Island School of Design, where she began exploring what she is so well-known for today. When moving to New York City after college (the obvious choice for any aspiring artist, apparently), she really delved into the idea of using words and installations as her main art form.  In 1977, she began working on her Truisms series, which I alluded to earlier. What’s so interesting about this series is that it was truly interactive artwork– Holzer would post papers around the city printed with her truisms in all capital letters. The truisms were often shocking statements meant to inspire discussion like “FREEDOM IS A LUXURY NOT A NECESSITY” or “THE IDEA OF REVOLUTION IS AN ADOLESCENT FANTASY,” but also more reasonable (and kind of really obvious) things like “TORTUE IS BARBARIC.” I think all of us would agree with that last one (at least i hope so, anyway). Apparently, people had a really strong reaction to her efforts. Oftentimes, a passerby would “scribble messages on the posters and make verbal comments” and Holzer would stand around to listen and observe the effects her work had on people.


An example of a truisms poster.

Her blunt, often contradictory statements took not only the art world by storm, but also the general public, which I think is really admirable since she actively tried to make her work so accessible. I like that Holzer sees art as something that everyone should have the privilege to absorb and react to. She really took that concept to the next level in the 1980s, when she began using light emitting machines in order to project her truisms onto public spaces, like in Times Square or the World Trade Center. She didn’t dilute her messages at all, despite the fact that they were so widely publicized. From the 1980s and into the early 1990s, she continued covering heavy, dark subject matter like death and corruption.


One of Holzer’s projections. I’ve noticed that most of the photographs of these installations are in black and white, which makes the text seem so powerful to me. It’d be interesting to see what kind of vibe these projections give off in real life.

Interestingly, Holzer has been compared to Diane Kruger, a graphic artist who I covered earlier in the semester. They both tackle some pretty intense themes, and use text in their work, so I think that’s where the parallels are drawn. As with Kruger, a lot of Holzer’s truisms have been reprinted on clothing, posters, mugs, etc. Both women have created art that really managed to seep into mainstream life.

I think people are drawn to the rawness and simplicity of Holzer’s work– I know I do, at least. She is unafraid to use controversy as a means to inspire rich discussion and dialogue with uncomfortable topics, which is really, really cool. I encourage you to look up more of Holzer’s work, because it’s so interesting! You can skim through a huge list of her truisms here.



Mariko Mori: Sculpture, Photography

Fans of sci-fi and fantasy will likely be drawn to the artist Mariko Mori. Some of her work looks like it could be a still from the movie The Fifth Element, with its bright colors and futuristic backgrounds. Mori disregards typical standards for modern art and explores what she is interested in, instead. In short, her pieces are really, really cool to look at.


Mariko Mori

Mori was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1967. One of her parents was an inventor while the other was an art historian, which seem to explain a lot about Mori’s passions. She followed in their creative footsteps by eventually studying fashion design, and later art. Her work blew up in popularity in the 1990s, when she was only in her early twenties. At this point in her career, her pieces were largely influenced by manga and presented futuristic “cybergeishas” (is that not the most awesome word, or what?) in modern day cities.




Tea Ceremony III, 1995                                               Subway, 1994

Mori often used herself as the models for her photographs. As you can see, her pictures show these spacey, dream-like characters that seem to be almost stuck in their urban environment. There’s clearly a disconnect between these women and modern society.

In addition to photography, Mori also plays with some more interactive elements with her art. Some of her pieces feature videos and sound– one, known as Pure Land from 1996, brings viewers wearing 3D glasses into a theater playing her film, while they are “treated to burst of cool, scented air on their faces.”


A still from Pure Land. It looks just as strange and whimsical as the experience above sounds. She starts incorporating some Japanese traditions and cultural elements in her art during this time in her career.

Mori further delves into the ideas of spirituality and nature with her project called Primal Rhythm which she began in 2010. She plans on putting one permanent installation on every continent (minus Antarctica), which will be nondestructive to the environment. In doing so, she is trying to embrace the history and culture of each place, by reacreating “modern version of celstial sites.” Her first installation, which was finished in 2011 in Miyako Island, Japan, features a tall, reflective “Sun Pillar” meant to observe the solstices.


Her next project is planned for Brazil. In the meantime, she’s also making art based on some astrophysics-y kind of stuff. Mori’s pieces are looking at different theories of the universe, and are often twisted, spiral shapes which don’t have any set start or end. They are meant to show the “theory that the universe is filled with infinite cycles of energy, and even parallel universes.” She accomplishes them by using 3D printing (another clear indication of her interest in technology) and gives them a white, pearlescent hue. They really do look almost otherworldly.


Ekpyrotic String II, 2014

Mariko Mori is probably the most “out there” sort of artist I’ve covered– and I love her for that. Everything she does is so ethereal and odd… I feel like she’s almost more alien-like than human-like! Nonetheless, her artwork is fascinating, and I hope you enjoyed learning more about it.


Visualizing an Endless Universe: Mariko Mori Makes the Cosmos Life-Size


Vija Celmins- Drawing and Painting

When people think of modern art, I think there’s this tendency to assume that it’s all pretentious nonsense that doesn’t require any skill. Installations featuring a single toilet set, or a painting with only a few strokes of color on it come to mind. But, Vija Celmins goes against this entirely with her incredibly detailed drawings and paintings. She opts to use photorealism in her pieces, and started during a time when abstract and conceptual art was the norm.

Born in Latvia in 1938, Celmins moved to the United States with her parents as a child. She would go on to study art in college, eventually receiving a masters degree in fine art. Her pieces quickly became noticed because they were so unusually realistic. Celmins often copied photographs, which she carried out very accurately, and in doing so, doesn’t really give them “a point of reference, horizon, or discernable depth of field.”


Big Sea II, 1969

This piece is pretty much indiscernible from a simple black-and-white photograph when looking at it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even guess it was a drawing if I hadn’t known about it beforehand.

I couldn’t imagine doing this myself– putting that level of detail and focus into one image…. It’s no wonder that her drawings (which are sometimes pretty big, by the way) usually take months to finish.

Unsurprisingly, people really like Celmins’ art. She is, in fact, one of the “most expensive” female artists living today. Her pieces are very highly priced– a painting of the night’s sky, for example, sold in 2013 for over $2 million dollars at auction!


This is it– the illustrious, multi-million dollar painting. At 19.5 x 22.5 in, the buyer spent about $5,500 per square inch. This isn’t the best image of it, but it really is quite a cool, if not simple, painting.

I think the focus of Celmins’ work is pretty unique, in addition to her style. Her pieces are almost exclusively all centered on nature. From the night’s sky, to a spider web, to the ocean, Celmins captures a sort of serenity in her paintings. I enjoy looking at her pieces for the simplistic beauty she portrays, and appreciate the fact that they don’t have to require a ton of thought.


Spider Web, 2009. Print.

I would guess that the photograph Celmins based this on was old and fading in some spots. I think this gives a really neat effect on the image, because the quality makes it look like simply an old polaroid picture. It’s crazy to me how she is able to capture that look by just using just a pen, pencil, and paint.


Reena Saini Kallat

I think that contemporary art as a whole has a tendency towards making political statements. Sometimes, this involves examining sexism and racism, as with artists we looked at previously. Other artists, though, take less of a specific approach, and just explore trends and ideas present throughout all of humanity. An example of such a comprehensive artist is Reena Saini Kallat, who creates art to examine life in our incredibly globalized world.

Reena Saini Kallat was born in 1973 in Delhi, India. She went to art school in Mumbai, and has come to use a variety of media, like drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture. She has had numerous exhibits around the world– in England, the United States, Spain, and many, many more. I think the reason why people in so many different cultures are attracted to her work because it’s truly applicable to everyone. Her art shows how humans shift and move and connect with each other, and how much this happens nowadays.


This is a very literal example of the themes I was discussing in Reena’s work, but I think it really helps to show her themes of interconnectedness in modern society. In this large exhibition piece from 2015, she “recreates migration routes across the world through a symbolic web of human and cultural movement and exchange.” The Reena often uses wires in her work, as seen above, because, to her, they act “as conduits of contact that transmit ideas and information.” Another part of what makes a piece like this so powerful is the sheer size of it– the expansiveness of humankind feels more palpable when looking at a super-sized map of the world.


Synonym, 2009

Reena has a series of pieces like this, in which she uses rubber stamps painted with acrylics that she then arranges to create a portrait. There is a lot more subtlety behind these images, but it is interesting how she is able to create an entrancing, lifelike image out of only household items. From far away, the portrait is clear, and almost looks like a normal painting, but closer up, the individual contents of the picture become clearer, and less distinguishable, as shown below.


In modern society, I think it’s super important and admirable for artists to create their pieces with their audience in mind– not just their intended audience, but really anyone who might see their art. By integrating such a global perspective into her work, I think Reena is taking a step forward in the right direction. To me, art should be relatable and accessible for everyone. In Reena’s case, she accomplishes this by not only relating to the viewer– but encouraging them to have more of an open view of the world, as well.




Laurie Simmons: Photography

This week I’ll be looking at an artist who, like a lot of modern artists, uses photography to create her pieces. But Laurie Simmons’ photos are not in any way average. Her subjects are often strange, and honestly somewhat creepy (she frequently takes pictures of dolls and dummies), creating an unsettling atmosphere. But, above all, her work is extremely compelling and begs the viewer to look closer.

Simmons was born in Long Island in 1949 and later attended the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Growing up, her family sounds pretty conventional– her mom was a housewife and her dad was a dentist. But, the funny thing is that Simmons’ own children and husband are anything but normal. Her husband is Carroll Dunham, a painter, and her daughters are Grace and Lena. Yup, Lena Dunham is her daughter. If anyone has seen the movie “Tiny Furniture,” directed by and starring Lena, you’ve also seen Laurie Simmons, who naturally played the role of her mother. She honestly pretty much just plays herself, as she’s a successful and offbeat photographer in the movie. I just thought it would be interesting to put that little side note in before I really get started talking about Simmons’ work, because I found it awesome that two such influential women just happen to be mother and daughter!tiny-furniture-movie-780x320

“Tiny Furniture”, 2010

In her pieces, Simmons not only questions the role of women in our society, but that of the everyday American, too. Whether she is photographing dolls, live performers, or household objects, the artist examines the “struggle over identity in an environment in which the value placed on consumption, designer objects, and domestic space is inflated to absurd proportions.” The reason she so frequently uses dolls is because she sees them as almost the epitome of forced female gender roles, and she wants to explore how this may affect women in reality. She once claimed that the reason behind her and other women choosing photography was very deliberate– “I’m not going to say it was a radical act, but we were certainly doing it in some sort of defiance of, or reaction to, a male-dominated world of painting.”


The Love Doll, 2011

Here, Simmons photographs a life-sized doll from Japan. She shows its life over the span of several weeks, doing everyday (and some not so everyday) tasks.

Laurie Simmons Walking Cake II (Color), 1989 cibachrome print, edition of 10 64 x 46 inches (162,6 x 116,8 cm) 69 3/8 x 51 3/8 inches (176,2 x 130,5 cm) frame SW 05119

Walking Cake, II

Simmons also has a series of works featuring oversized objects supported by a pair of women’s legs. It is meant to question the way we sometimes pigeonhole women, associating them with certain, “traditionally feminine”, objects. I think this example is a particularly good representation of that idea.

The artist has achieved major success throughout her life, holding many solo exhibitions, receiving awards, and gaining national recognition. I think her work is fascinating, and I can see why it has captured the public’s interest.

The cool thing about modern artists is that you can see how their work is still evolving and what projects they are working on now. If you’re interested, here is a link to her instagram:




Kara Walker: Painting


At first glance, Kara Walker’s work look like an illustration from a quaint fairytale. It’s only upon further inspection that you realize that there is something horribly disturbing about the scenes she has portrayed so beautifully. As an African- American, female artist, Walker creates pieces that are laden with questions about race, sexuality, and American history.

Walker was born in Stockton, California in 1969, and quickly took a liking to art. Her father was a painter, and she initially stuck to the more conventional, “fine art” that has always been so popular. She attended college in Atlanta, earning a degree in fine art, and soon after obtained a masters degree from Rhode Island School of Design. At this point, Walker had experimented with different forms of media, and began displaying her now trademark style of large, black, paper silhouettes against a stark white background. Walker also remarked that the primary content of her pieces–“pictures that told stories of things—genre paintings, historical paintings”— was developed in her teenage years.


One of the artist’s first major exhibitions was in 1994 in New York City. Titled “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart,” Walker manages to convey the horrid realities of slavery in a single, elegant image. The piece really does tell a story– I feel like it can be read from left to right, your eyes first noticing the wealthy, Antebellum-era couple and then ending with the sweeping female slave.

Though the images may be disturbing, the message is incredibly important, and work to “simultaneously seduce and implicate the audience.” Critics and audiences alike recognized her clever approach to such dark parts of American history (and sadly our present, too), leading Walker to have many exhibitions across the United States and England. In 2007, TIME magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of the year. But, her popularity didn’t guarantee relief from criticism. Her work was boycotted by older black artists who believed her depictions of African Americans were offensive. Just recently, in 2012, one of her murals– in which a black slave is forced to engage in sexual activity with her presumed black master– was covered up in Newark Library in New Jersey. It has since been revealed again.


Confectionary, 2014

This is one of Walker’s more recent pieces. Still utilizing her recognizable style, she creates a narrative so depressing, but fascinating. As with her other works, the meaning is often clearly stated in the title. In this case, the title “Confectionary” is meant to be a wry, ironic glance into what goes into making the daily pleasures we consume every day. She examines this in a historical context, with black slaves harvesting sugar cane that will undoubtedly only be consumed by their white oppressors, but the idea can be applicable to current American life, too. It’s jarring to think that the shirt on someone’s back, labeled with a tag stating “MADE IN CAMBODIA”, was probably produced in terrible conditions, by people who are facing extreme injustices. The mild conveniences of one group are so often created by exploiting the unfortunate circumstances of others, which Walker realizes and epitomizes with her images of the pre-Civil War South.

I think one of the greatest compliments Kara Walker would like to hear about her work is that it inspires action, and I really think it has the power to do just that.



Barbara Kruger- Photography and Design


Though the name may not sound familiar, I’m sure many of us have seen one of Barbara Kruger’s pieces before. She was a huge component in the feminist art movement, and really helped people to question the standards of the day.

Born in suburban Newark, New Jersey in 1945, Kruger eventually went on to attend Syracuse University. After a year, she moved to New York to go to Parsons School of Design in order to challenge herself more. Like many of the other artists I have discussed, moving to the Big Apple greatly helped to propel Kruger’s career. Unfortunately, she wasn’t entirely satisfied with this career path. She was a successful editor and designer for magazines before resigning, later saying “I basically wasn’t cut out for design work because I had difficulty in supplying someone else’s image of perfection.”

Kruger took a leap into the world of the visual arts. She crafted pieces using yarn and ribbons, and even had a solo exhibition. Ultimately, though, she didn’t feel proud of her artwork, and moved to California in 1976 to teach and paint at the University of Berkley. She examined poetry closely, and eventually began writing on her own. This interest in the written word would come to really influence her work, as she moved from painting to what she truly loved– photography and graphic design.

After working in the medium of photography for a bit, Kruger decided to use found photographs for her pieces in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, she used black and white images from popular culture and the media, overlaid with her own text. She criticized the (largely very conservative) political climate at the time, and took stances on issues like women’s rights and American consumerism.

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I really enjoy Kruger’s distinctive style– the black and white imagery juxtaposed by harsh red block of texts. Her work is not subtle. In using words, she is able to very clearly convey her meaning, and her art turns into more of a political statement. She employs first person and third person statements (using words like “I”, “you”, and “your”) that really draw the viewer in, and make them feel like less of a passive observer of her work, but a part of the issues she is discussing. Kruger was able to effectively protest these issues, and capture the attention of the public. Still today, her pieces are often recreated and sold on different items, like mugs and t-shirts, with her permission. This is interesting to me, because it seems to contrast with the message conveyed in “I shop therefore I am.” But, perhaps for Kruger, spreading her ideas was a main priority, despite the means it required. After all, she once claimed, “I’m trying to be affective, to suggest changes, and to resist what I feel are the tyrannies of social life on a certain level.”

The artist and activist is still very active today. She has dabbled into the world of sculpture, and her exhibitions have grown to be large-scale. Kruger alo writes frequently, and has had essays published in recent years. Her work has inspired very many people with its postmodern style, and her messages, whether about feminism, or the act of war, remain as poignant as ever.


Image Sources:




Cindy Sherman: Contemporary Photography

For anyone who is just reading my blog for the first time, welcome!

Last semester, my blog focused on female artists throughout the ages. Each of the women I wrote about were undeniable tours de force– women who were not afraid to do something out of the ordinary, to do something that wasn’t “meant” for them. These women, oftentimes, have been forgotten by history, overshadowed by their male peers. But when I ended my posts with a 20th century artist who really redefined the art world, I decided to explore this ever-changing landscape. This semester, I’m going to delve into the plethora of current female artists that are out there today. I admit that I’m very unfamiliar with modern artists, but I’m looking forward to starting this journey with you all!


Cindy Sherman: Born January 19, 1954, Glen Ridge, New Jersey


Cindy Sherman was born into pretty ordinary circumstances– she lived in a middle-class New Jersey suburb, to a father who was an engineer and a mother who taught English. But none of this normality is reflected in her arresting, sometimes outlandish photographs. The unique nature of Sherman’s work didn’t reveal itself immediately, though. When she was an art major in Buffalo State College in the early 1970s, she found herself doing mostly paintings, as she found “difficulty with the technological aspects” that come along with photography. She persisted despite her initial issues, though, and quickly fell in love with the art form.

Sherman found that photography was a prime medium for conceptual art, a movement that “prizes ideas over the formal or visual components of art works.” The style quickly overtook the art world in the 1960s and 70s, and could be found from more traditional art forms, like painting, to performance art pieces. One of Sherman’s first major bodies of work was called Untitled Film Stills, a project three years in the making. These pieces, I think, are a great achievement for feminism, as they challenge the traditional ways media often chooses to represent women. The stills depict Sherman as different stereotypical female characters in popular culture, questioning how we make women feel like they need to fit into a certain (and often very conflicting) role.

sherman14            still1

Two of Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (#14 and #84)

As her career progressed, there’s a frequently noted shift towards the bizarre and disturbing in Sherman’s work. Disasters and Fairy Tales, a series four years in the making that ended in 1989, shows twisted, monstrous figures that are nothing like the fairy tale characters we’re used to. To be entirely honest, I don’t think critics quite know exactly what the series means– if it even means anything in particular at all. I’ve read that some feel it’s a critique on the inherently (but often ignored) unsettling nature of a lot of fairy tales and classic stories, while others think it “challenged viewers to find beauty in the ugly and the unqualified grotesque.” Nonetheless, Sherman stuck with this pattern of intrigue and creepiness in her work, and released History Portraits several years later. True to its name, the photographs show the artist dressed as many of the subjects in famous historical artworks.                                                                                                                                                        G06A02Untitled-140.1985_large-326x475          sherman-photo-027

Untitled Stills #140 and #224

Cindy Sherman is still very active in her work, and had an exhibit at the MoMa in 2012. She continues to explore the unusual, and was a pioneer for the use of certain methods in photography. Sherman is seen as a legend in the art world today, and is as unafraid as ever to question that which is quietly accepted.