As the second decade of the 21st Century draws to a close, New York retains it’s seemingly immutable position at the apex of global art. With this in mind, it seems fitting to take a closer look at three artists – soon to be exhibiting at our Beyond Borders group show – who are currently navigating this ever-developing scene.
Two years have elapsed since Allison Zuckerman, a millennial artist, was plucked from relative obscurity by the mega-collectors Don and Mera Rubell. Since then she has cultivated a reputation as a kind of art world DJ – like a hip-hop mash-up, her work takes multiple layers and various samples and creates a bold final outcome, one that could be thought of as an art-remix. Drawing inspiration from her contemporaries, such as Marc Horowitz and Jamian Juliano, her paintings are a visual fusion of old and new.
These large scale works take a gallimaufry of female-orientated images from art history and, through the application of paint, fuse them together in collages that juxtapose colourful pop imagery with a sparer, historical aesthetic. Through this marriage of epochs Zuckerman seeks to reclaim female figures from a male-dominated art historical canon, and does so with palpable excitement, humour and love. This willingness to look back in order to move forward mirrors attitudes towards contemporary art in New York: as the city continues its ongoing exegesis of it’s own art history, in order to continue breaking new ground in the future, artists like Zuckerman are becoming increasingly important.
In a similar vein to Zuckerman, Hiba Schahbaz explores the relationship between women and the art historical canon. However, Schahbaz’s work has a decidedly personal bent: she is both subject and artist in her work, reimagining masterpieces through her contemporary female lens. Having specialised in the Indo-Persian technique of miniature painting, her style has grown along with the scale of her works.
She now uses black tea and water based pigment on paper to depict women’s bodies and theological scenes. These Scheherazadian figures stand amidst bucolic backgrounds like beautiful illustrations from religious scripture. Schahbaz’s harmonious paintings offer a platform for women to tell their stories and reclaim their histories. The importance of this kind of work doesn’t need much explaining, which may account for Schabaz’s refreshingly assured artistic output: she knows, as we all do, that this is work of real merit, with real purpose.
Finally we come to Aaron Johnson, whose paintings flit between abstraction and figuration with a fluidity echoed in the curves and contortions of his subjects. In the past, Johnson has stained his canvases with vibrant colours that have contrasted the works inherently stygian nature: infernal, demonic creatures, gnarled by time, twisted and writhed before the viewer. Now Johnson’s edges have softened and the works float in a disarming haze of mellow colour; however these chthonic creatures are still present, peering out from the mist. Johnson uses self-taught techniques that include, among others, “reverse-painted acrylic polymer-peel”.
In a turbulent artistic environment like New York, the process by which artists gain prominence can seem chaotic, desultory, even lucky; therefore it’s comforting that three artists with unambiguous talent have come to the fore, in this case the cream has clearly risen to the top.