In Maria Marta Morelli’s luxurious oil paintings, delicate peonies almost bloom through the canvas. The works represent the Buenos Aires-based artist’s fascination with the cycle of time and how flowers convey youth but also the “unbearable finitude of life,” she tells Colossal. “With their incredible beauty and freshness, although transitory, they fill us with hope and convince us that life is worth living.”
Morelli works as if using a macro lens, and sunlight, in particular, informs her practice. For each piece, she studies its effect on the fresh flower’s textures and colors throughout the day—“Sometimes objects are only an excuse to paint the light,” she says—and photographs the lively blooms, giving her a record to work off of as they wilt.
Often taking a month or two to finish a single work, the artist’s process is puzzle-like. She first examines the blend of pigments and saturation in small, abstract pieces and then places the information back together through painstaking layering and precise brushstrokes. It’s the paint’s second or third application in which she sees her botanics “come to life,” she explains. “I don’t work with more than three or four layers because I believe the painting must keep some freshness too, like the flowers I’m painting. That’s why I try to apply the right color and value I see on the model from the very start.”
Having started painting as a child, Morelli says that formative experience taught her to think about art as its own language. “Images can say much more than words, and even faster, we know that already, and through a painting, you can show many feelings in a single message,” she explains.
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Serbian artist Endre Penovác (previously) wrangles the bleeds of black ink and watercolor in his shadowy renderings of domestic and wild animals. Sometimes delineating a talon or ear with thin markings, Penovác primarily allows the medium to run across the paper, transforming a housecat or chicken into a dreamy, phantom-like character. Many of the works frame the central animal with negative space and utilize the soft, hazy edges to evoke fur and feathers. Originals and prints of his paintings are available from Saatchi Art, and head to Instagram to explore an extensive archive of his ghostly creatures.
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Ebony G. Patterson’s multi-layered works are willfully superficial. The Jamaican artist weaves together a mélange of torn papers, tassels, appliqués, and feathered butterflies to create striking gardens replete with glitter and vibrant hues. “In many ways, I think of the work as the flower and the audience as the bees,” Patterson told Nasher Museum. “The bee is first attracted to the flower because of its color, but it’s not until you start peeling back the layers that you understand what’s happening with the nectar.”
Often set against wallpaper of her own design, Patterson’s mixed-media tapestries and smaller works are immersive and captivating, inviting study of both individual elements and how they interact. Hidden beneath the obvious allure of flora and fauna, though, are more complex, sinister messages of identity, violence, and death. Likened to “secret poisons,” these inferences relate to the anguish and perpetual mourning many women feel, and in her sprawling tapestry titled “the wailing…guides us home…and there is a bellying on the land…,” for example, feminine hands and limbs attempt to grasp for something beyond the entangled mass of jacquard and beads. “Each form bravely assumes a posture of distress, the onerous emotional and physical labor required to conduct acts of devotion, the soul care that grants permission to confront historic and inherited traumas,” a statement says.
Patterson lives and works between Kingston, Jamaica, and Chicago, and she’s included in multiple upcoming shows: What is Left Unspoken, Love opening on March 25 at the High Museum in Atlanta, a solo exhibition at Hales Gallery running from May 5 to June 18, and this November, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Until then, you can explore more of her elaborate works at moniquemeloche, where she’s represented.
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Last week, representatives from 175 nations formally agreed to curb plastic pollution in a momentous move. Plastic has become an increasingly urgent part of the climate crisis, and recent estimates approximate that the total amount of the material produced throughout history exceeds the combined weight of all animals on land and sea. Each year, we collectively generate 300 million tons more waste from single-use containers and similar products, a staggering number in comparison to the 9 percent we’ve recycled and a testament to the harsh reality that the planet is engulfed with plastic.
To coincide with the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting, photographer and artist Benjamin Von Wong (previously) erected a towering, 30-foot installation outside U.N. headquarters in Kenya. With the help of the Human Needs Project, an NGO providing basic services to slums around the world, Vong Wong collaborated with more than 100 residents of the large, poverty-stricken region of Nairobi known as Kibera. Together, they gathered, sanitized, and strung up three tons of water bottles, condiment containers, and other unwanted items that were then suspended from the oversized silver spigot.
Although it shows a minuscule portion of the waste produced worldwide, the resulting installation, titled “Turn Off the Plastic Tap,” is a powerful indictment of consumerism and the lack of environmental protections. “Too much of the plastic conversation revolves around recycling and cleanups, but those only deal with the consequences, and not the root cause,” Von Wong writes. “The real solution and opportunity is getting plastic production back under control by making sure we turn off the plastic tap.”
Watch the video below and check out Von Wong’s Instagram to see how the massive spout was constructed—thanks to a Web 3.0 community called the Degenerate Trash Pandas, which funded the installation, an additional $100,000 was raised for charity, as well—and find more of his projects concerned with plastic waste, like this installation of 168,000 straws, on his site.
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Favoring thread and found materials, Richmond-based artist Hillary Waters Fayle (previously) works at the intersection of textile traditions and botany. “Stitching, like horticulture, can be functional,” she says, “a technical solution to join materials/a means of survival. Or, both can be done purely in service of the soul, lifting the spirit through beauty and wonder.”
Fayle’s practice embodies this sentiment with elaborate and colorful embroideries applied to dried leaves. Lined with brown edges, the perfectly preserved surfaces become more fragile as they age, and the threaded embellishments enhance the relationship between the natural and fabricated. “There is a sense of magic in being able to work with such an unexpected and exquisite material,” the artist says. “The tension in the thread, the type of stitching, the needle, the species, and the season are just some of the factors that may influence what happens.” Recent pieces include ornate networks in blue on ginkgo, floral motifs on eucalyptus, and red dots on golden leaves.
This summer, Fayle’s works will be on view at Quirk Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia, and this fall at Asheville’s Momentum Gallery. Until then, explore more of her stitched works, in addition to leafy cutouts and large-scale murals, on Instagram.
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At once rigidly skeletal and imbued with rhythmic movement, the porcelain sculptures that comprise Shiyuan Xu’s Growth series are intricate recreations of single-celled organisms, molecules, and other micro lifeforms. The Chinese artist hand-builds delicate ceramic works of three-dimensional webbing that swell and surges into amorphous shapes mimicking a range of living creatures. Stretching up to two feet, the enlarged, abstract sculptures incorporate both the universal nature of evolution and change, while directly tying to Xu’s background. “My attempt of using the classical Chinese blue and white and celadon color palette in a contemporary way reflects my own narratives, life experience, and cultural heritage” she shares, explaining further:
The regular and irregular structures and layers of my piece blend in with the memory of my sensations and personal experience. The repetitive and labor-intensive process seems to be a therapy to ease my anxiety and sense of uncertainty while facing constant challenges in the intersections of two cultures.
To create each piece, Xu undertakes a laborious process that involves applying a heavy glaze and then using a knife to scratch the edges away. The removal leaves a line of raw clay coursing through the middle of each segment, and works like “Blue Vein #4” and “Hybrid #1” emphasize that central element with color. “After the piece is fired, I repeat the same process many times, to spray, scrape, and fire again, until the surface texture is accumulating to a very obvious degree,” she tells Colossal, noting that she sometimes replicates these steps ten times—check out the artist’s Instagram for a detailed look at her process.
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Editor's Picks: Art
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