love and bandwidth

15 inspiring humans [part 1 of 3]
July 14, 2009, 11:41 am
Filed under: art, design, inspiring humans, objects, reviews, toy

Finding beautiful, strange, unique and well, compelling stuff in the art world can be hard going. One generally has to wade through a lot of mediocrity and history burdened work to find what one really likes. During my Art History degree, I felt especially at odds with the scope of work I studied. Although ideologically it was all ‘interesting’ and  historically and theoretically relevant, little of it was inspiring [for me, as someone who is also interested in practice side of art]. For my liking the focus was too specific, narrow and safe with gapping oversights geographically, socially and in currency [when does something become history and worthy of study in a history education?]. So, anyway, ever since I’ve looked other places than in my degree for muses [by muses I mean people who give me creative contentment, over people I quote directly in my work – as I’m not an artist myself].

If you are like me [not that anyone would want to be], you will have pretty particularly criteria for ‘goodness’. I won’t run through what my criteria are but generally it’s something which floats a bit under the radar, usually from the lowbrow sphere and the design fringe. I tend away from any egos or easily digestable guff which strives to be overly mainstream or just simply lacks a sense of context, awareness and story.

I thought I might share some of the people that do it good for me, as more of a stocktaking exercise if anything else. Rather than generate a long list, maybe more interesting  from a readers perspective is to do a bit of a show and tell, with pretty pictures and short descriptors. Anyhoo, I’ve narrowed my chosen pretties to 15, and here’s the first five.

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alexgross [click on image to enlarge]

1. Alex Gross. His work fits within a Neo-Surrealist interest [which I’m very fond of], full of weird symbolism, dream-like imagery and allegory which defies easy description. Quite consciously, Gross seem to mix seamlessly between different realist aesthetic gestures, both eastern and western, to establish his elegant fairy tale worlds that transcend time. These worlds are filled with characters, usually individuals or couples in specific historical dress and with subtle gestures and expressions. Very rich visually, with lots of little cues to decipher. He’s done some commercial works too, most notably the cover for Blonde Redhead’s 23 album. [check out his  galley site].

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[click on image to enlarge]

2. Erwin Olaf . I admire photography which can immediately evokes a sense of discomfort. The portrait work of Erwin Olaf definitely achieves this in spades. You are witness to subjects which feel detached even dislocated though ambiguously emotional [even sinister], on the tip of a dramatic outburst or disquiet. This is heightened by the tensely static nature of the subjects. They pertain to an artificiality which feels exact like clinically poised mannequins. There is a strong sense of nostalgia for  50’s / 60’s Americana, browns, brights, textures and patterns like a manifest catalogue page, except with a sly and grim tone. His work feels like that of Duane Hanson, except, not sculpture and with settings [oh and not about making Americans look pathetic]. Check out [particularly] his ‘Grief’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Rain’ series. Great [link to his site]

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joelpeterwitkin[click on image to enlarge]

3. Joel-Peter Witkin. Birthing  deformities, contorted forms, headless corpses, meaty stumps, shriveled genitals, fused skeletons, …  still life, plaster, drapery, leggings, costumes,  … not everyones cup-of-tea. Shocking by nature and faux pas to normality. But, once you get over that, there is something very poetic going on in Joel-Peter Witkin’s work. It’s a ‘disagreeable beauty’ [as someone has described]. Although gruesome, they are unsensational and technically inerrant, deliberate and uniquely elegant. The treatment is gritty, scratched and bleached, suggesting a replicant of an early photographic chemical process. Consequentially, this effect feel quite painterly, matching the staged nature of the work, as often homages to classical paintings or compositions. [link to gallery page].

It you like this, check out also Jeffrey Scott’s photography which has some mild similarity, though more industrial, mechanized and circusy. [link]

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[click on image to enlarge]

4. Stephane Halleux. Sculpture, as an arty form is not one I usually gravitate to. There is something rather charming and eerie about the work of  Stephane Halleux though which definitely holds my interest. Strange characters, dystopian devices / apparatus, oddly contoured vehicles, sea portals, flayed wings, tubes, weapons, heavy materials [metal, leather, bolts, stitching] … very cool.

Halleux’s work, I think, is classified as ‘Steam Punk’. From what I gather this is a sort of loose fantastical speculative genre of fiction. It is a sort of alternate history [not taken] of steam power and experimental, manual, elaborate technologies, rotating houses, flying and time machines [strong allusions to Jules Verne, HG Wells et al.]. All bizarre future gazing, but kinda engrossing.

Halleux’s work feels a lot like stuff  I’ve seen before, particularly French in origin, City of Lost Children [or anything by Jean-Pierre Jeunet], and even Triplets of Bellevive, for the exageration aspect, + from the US, Henry Selick’s work, namely the Coraline film. Halleux’s site has oodles more examples all equally amazingly inventive and intricate. [link to Halleux’s site] – bear with it, I know Flash intro … so 2001.

If you like these, you might also like the metal animal sculptures of Andrew Chase [also in the steam punk mechanized aesthetic, link] and even more at the Device Gallery [link]

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[click on image to enlarge]

5. James Jarvis. Easily my favourite designer of vinyl toy collectibles. Jarvis’s characters are uniquely memorable; slickly styled with plump bodies and beadie eyes and all with obvious, strong personalities. Some have societal roles, specifically those in the large ‘In-Crowd’ [a series of pop culture archetypes — Bobbies, Metallers, Ruffians, even Crusaders and Greco-Roman Wrestlers]. Each figure is supported with wild backstories and quotes.  His most popular character is King Ken, a rambling Ape, which comes in a number of sizes and colourways.

The only downfall I’ve found of Jarvis’s toys [who are branded under Amos Toys], is the price tag and availability [they are limited run, collectables]. Once postage is figured in, you’ll be looking at a minimum of $100 for the bigger ones, that is if you can find them*  [not too likely in NZ; only the common mini King Ken’s which about $20 something]. So for birthdays, Christmas, you now know what to get me. Check out the Amos Toys site for the full range of goodies [link].

* Don’t quote me on this, I’m likely to be wrong.

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Alrighty here is the first five, sorry, there is no logical order. These begin to give a picture though of what visual stuff floats my boat. I have ten more inspiring creative humans lined up  in two further posts to come. I’m keen to hear from you on particular individuals, groups, trends whatever, which inspire you [for me and others to check out]. Please leave comments.


1 Comment so far
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[…] and they really nailed the running action perfectly. I’ve alluded to Jarvis’ work before as a toy designer / illustrator and this is another mark and extension of his excellence [nb. this […]

Pingback by James Jarvis’ Onwards « love and bandwidth

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