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His hyperrealist drawings can’t help but evoke emotion. Compelled by raw, uncensored feelings his passion permeates the page. With every stroke of his pencil, he escorts us into the world of hip hop, inviting us to remember some of music’s greatest stars and recall their lyrics. Perfectly capturing the facial expressions, scowls and accessories of various artists, he expresses the very essence of this specific culture. His drawings of Tupac, Eazy-E, ICE Cube and Biggie are like visual odes to hip hop. But despite popular assumptions, he’s not from any of the socially accepted “hip hop cities, but from Belgium instead. Regardless of having an entirely different lifestyle than most hip hop artists, 32 year old Laurens Jansen’s artistry tells a similar story of the hip hop artists he is drawn to. Using pencil and canvas as his microphone of choice, Jansen’s drawings not only illustrate music’s ability to transcend time, age, ethnicity, and nationality, but it demonstrates heart, passion and legacy as well.
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When I first encountered Margaret Bowland’s paintings, I didn’t understand them. Sure, they were beautiful and very well done, but something seemed off about them. They offered no easy explanation. As I learned more about the artist, I realized she’s more than comfortable with these discrepancies, in fact, she thinks they are beautiful. Bowland is a realist, from North Carolina, she does not paint for her viewers to experience visual harmony. Instead, her paintings are illustrated narratives of what happens to people.
Although she readily admits that her work is always about beauty, Bowland acknowledges it’s almost never beauty in the traditional sense of the word. For her, beauty, only makes sense when it has suffered damage because then it has entered a broken world and has sustained value. Consider a diamond for example. When first discovered, the diamond is rough and most likely tarnished by coal and mining. Though a diamond, it’s value is not yet maximized. However, upon continued refining by fire and heat, the jewel’s worth grows exponentially, making it one of the most desired gems the world has ever known. So it is with beauty according to Bowland.
Bowland’s philosophical and realist perception of art and the world mimics her childhood and education as a young adult. Describing her “contrarian” lifestyle she explains to the Huffington Post that both her parents and college professors could not understand why she didn’t believe. Whether God or Abstract Expressionism, Bowland’s lack of resolution with belief systems is the catalyst for her art. She later admits, “the paintings I make are what come to me. They are born of my searching through this world for a belief system.”
Perhaps Bowland’s most notorious paintings are those of “Anna,” a dwarf, and young black girls with white faces. In each painting, traditional ideals of beauty collide with life’s scars. “Painting the Roses Red,” for example depicts a young black girl adorned in a white dress topped with white roses. Her face is painted white. But to the shock of viewers, she’s covered in what seems and looks like blood. There is no immediate consolation. As viewers gaze at the image, they are left wondering what possible orthodoxy could explain such an image. Without a connection to any particular belief system, the art feels impolite, incomplete and even crude, but the piercing eyes of the young girl and her beauty can’t be denied. The strain for tradition and normality is more than evident. But again, there are no easy answers. After all, why is the young black girl painted with white face? Why is a white woman painting such a controversial thing?
While Bowland never directly explains the use of white face in her paintings, she’s quick to point out the flawed yet socially accepted ideals of beauty: European, fair, long legs, and equally proportioned. As a realist though, she’s very aware of how untrue such a perception is. As such, she paints what her eyes deem beautiful. In an interview with Blouin Artinfo, an online global publication dedicated to understand art, Bowland talks about being a white woman painting black faces. “I am a Southerner raised in the time of desegregation. This is my heritage. The struggles of race were what I lived. There are African-American men and women who loved me and taught me as a child in North Carolina. The mad disparity between the way they were treated and the way they treated me molded my character.”
James Baldwin once said that artists disturb the peace. Whether she intends to or not, the same is true of Margaret Bowland. It’s the misfits, the oddballs and the overlooked that capture her attention. In turn, she captures our attention with white faces on black girls and paintings of nude dwarf women. Whether an instant admirer or not, the unique artistry is compelling. It forces us to questions our beliefs? Why do we find certain things beautiful and certain things disturbing? Why do race, gender, and politics matter? Do they matter? Margaret Bowland creates art that shocks the eye, triggers the psyche, and makes you think again and thinking again, reevaluating and reconsidering is surely a beautiful thing on a white face, black face, or any other face.
The parking lot buzzed with activity as cars pulled into the Mason Fine Art Event Space one by one. Jazzy music beckoned casual yet uniquely dressed individuals inside as the sun retreated into an orange and purple sky. The gallery’s large windows provided glimpses of what awaited visitors inside. Bright green graffiti broadcasting the “ATL” was displayed on one wall while smaller portraits were placed on another. Following the bustling crowd inside, a group of white lights caught my eye. Decorating the window adjacent to the door, the lights spelled out the night’s event: ARTiculate ATL. Whether a first time participate or an ARTiculate ATL veteran, the event’s aim was clear: come see, learn and experience the growing Atlanta art scene.
Located in the Armour Industrial District, the rustic, factory-like design added to the modern, creative ambiance. Almost every corner of the space was covered in art. The music, a nice blend of hip hop, soul and pop, paired with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, made the event feel very much like a contemporary urban museum. The night, curated by Ball-n-Co. LLC and Urban Art Expression, was the organization’s 3rd annual event. Created by a group of four visionaries, proceeds from the event benefit the UAE Youth Artists Program, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and encouraging young emerging artists with financial challenges. Simultaneously, the event allows local artists to broadcast, sell and talk about their art.
Ron Smith, a mixed media artist, talked about the importance of the event. “It’s all about freedom of expression. I’m out here just expressing what I feel, what I think and what I believe.” With a city as diverse as Atlanta, you can only image the vast range of artwork displayed throughout the night. There was art made out of glass, photography, animation, tattoo artists, body art, paintings, portraits, soft sculptures and mixed media. Despite the many different kinds of art on display, Smith was right: there was freedom and there was expression. Jamaal Barber’s bold expressions compelled a lot of people to ask questions about his art. Using techniques the combine text, paint and screen prints, his pieces have an African, ethnic and historical feel to them. Inspired by blackness and stereotypes, he stated, “At what point do I become Jamaal? When do I stop being another face in the crowd?” But not all the artists’ expression were as specific. Angela Ferguson admitted she simply wanted to be different. A quick glance at her Afro-Centric soft sculpture dolls and hanging quilts hints at just how different she desires to be. Other artists were more drawn to telling visual stories.
“Every artist is a storyteller,” Sean Mulkey said as he explained to me his love for jazz. A self taught artist, Mulkey believes the creative process is an artist’s power. With that power and authority, they tell stories and ask questions. As his art told story of a treasured legacy of jazz, Ruby Chavez questioned the many things influencing young children in today’s world. Her paintings showed young children going to war, smoking and drinking. Simple yet controversial at first glance, her work makes you think about choices and influence. “Robo-artist” Marcia Dietz had a different kind of story. Her art, colorful and abstract, was not only created by a robot, but was featured on HGTV’s “Property Brothers” as well.
As the night progressed on, more and more artists put themselves on display. Dance photographer Shoccara Marcus not only told her own story about her love for dance and identity, but displayed her elegant photographs as well. Visual Artist George Galbreath sold a well-loved piece from his collection titled “Bridges.” The piece, a colorful depiction of a bridge, reminded me of the entire night. The event itself was a bridge between artists and their community, between thoughts and questions, between urban and eloquent.
Created for the purpose of emerging artists, ARTiculate ATL is also a bridge connecting generations of artists together. But most importantly, the event was a bridge connecting people with other people, sharing and inspiring each other. One of my favorite pictures of the night was a huge picture of Gandhi placed high up on the wall. As the music played and people mingled, I thought of his quote, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s exactly what these artists were doing – speaking up for the changes, the beliefs, the hopes, the dreams and the aspirations they wish to see in the world.
-Sharita Gilmore & Shannan Rivera
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to step into an artist’s mind. I could never fathom how artists conceptualize their work. Their methodology is often unconventional and experimental, yet they manage to transform an idea or observation into something palpable. In his luminous 1967 piece “Window or Wall Sign,” Bruce Nauman posited the role of an artist with the neon-infused phrase, “the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” The artistic process is both exploratory and revelatory. An ardent creator strives for new insights while refining his or her craft.
His workshops are unbelievably incredible. One by one, everyday people with no artistic backgrounds, hold up masterpieces that they seem to have magically created on their own. The portraits, comprised of all different colors and faces, have one thing in common: each image represents a person the participant of the workshop loves. Whether the finished product reveals a spouse, child or best friend, the art produced illustrates the very core of the art instructor’s philosophy: paint what you love. Full of warmth, creative energy, encouragement and passion, 34 year old artist Kevin Nance-West not only inspires future generations of artists, but he encourages adults to channel their artistry as well. Whether running a workshop, painting abstract designs for a neighbor’s’ home, collaborating with schools or simply painting a portrait of his daughter, West is for the people.
Despite being a professional artist with over 15 years of experience, this Indiana based painter never graduated from college (though he did attend Danville Area Community College). In fact, his journey is as unique as his approach to art. In many ways, his artistry started as a kind of therapy. Diagnosed with stage three cancer, West was forced to reevaluate what was most important in his life. That of course, was his family, comprised of his wife Roshawn Scott West and their daughter Brooklyn. But in lieu of cancer bringing his spirits down, West channeled the little energy he had into his art, by painting what he loved. As if his works of art were tangible expressions of his prayers, West won his battle with cancer. Years later, he’s still painting portraits of people.
West’s artistry embodies a modern style. Colorful and realistic, his portraits carry the essence of the person he’s painted. He has a particular fondness for creating acrylic paintings of celebrities and pop icons. His abstract work, often custom designed, is generally vibrant and illuminating, adding light to almost any room in a home or corporate office. One of his most memorable paintings, “Deception,” demonstrates the vast range of West’s ability. The painting shows the back of a woman’s body. Her bare skin is covered by red streaks tossed onto the canvas. Her hands are wrapped around her body. In a similar fashion, West’s art is tightly wrapped around and involved in his local community. His latest venture, Gifted Custom Art, is one of the many ways West is an artist for the community.
Following his surgery to remove a football sized tumor, West found himself in the garage painting. After printing out a photo for his daughter to paint, he converted the photo into a simplified paint by number image. Within an hour’s time, Kevin envisioned expanding this technique. Today, Gifted Custom Art is the first fully automated paint by number organization. Based in Indiana, the company has branches in Michigan, Illinois and Missouri and is expected to have a location in every state by the beginning of 2016. With every new location, West is inviting people to paint what they love and people are doing just that. Jake, one of West’s younger students painted a picture of his 4th grade teacher. Shocked and amazed, his teacher received the gift with great joy. It’s moments like this that put West’s heart on display. Though talented, he’s not selfish. Instead, he wants to share the gift of art with the world.
Kevin Nance West is the kind of artist that holds the capacity to change the world, one community at a time. Whether hosting date nights, workshops, school or community events, his artistry has always been about connecting people to other people. A family man at his core, cancer, though terrible, has given this artist a new outlook on life. Every day counts and every person embodies talent. Likewise, when people are granted the opportunity to paint what they love, they are bound together by humanity- the same humanity that allows us to express ourselves and understand each other much more than before.
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You’ve seen it in museums all over the country (or even all over the world). There’s a massive, blank canvas staring at you from across the room. As you approach, the “art” is finally realized. It’s a line, the world’s tiniest circle or maybe an impossibly small cube. This is the part where some might say, “How is that art? I could do the same thing.” This is how John Franzen’s art comes across at first; it’s a splash, a line or a speck of paint that is supposed to convey some meaning that I simply don’t get. Then, you see the other side of his art.
A blackened canvas, completely scorched from flames, sits next to another just like it, but why? When we see art like this, the immediate response is that it’s supposed to make us think. Our own interpretations are projected onto the piece, but Franzen has a clear message for his pieces. For “Darkness Archetype,” the collection created by setting fire to canvas, the artist said the following on his website, “Become the unseen, the unknown and the non existence. Beyond borders of perception and awareness, we exist in darkness as much as we exist in light.” And there it is – a simple explanation of what we as an audience might try to over complicate. Existing in the light, letting the flames lick our toes, leaves us in the dark. We then exist scorched in darkness as a result of the light. We tend to think of darkness as nothing; it represents absence, but in Franzen’s collection, darkness is shown as a result of a rather dangerous and destructive light. Instead of thinking in terms of light and dark, existing and not, our presence is fluid. Our existence is fluid and nothingness begins to have meaning.
The collection “Someone Died” is another example of Franzen’s irony-driven work. This is a series of preserved flowers cast in porcelain. In each grouping, the flowers are laid out meticulously – perfectly spaced and aligned by length. As Franzen explained on his website, “All monochromatic, they sleep silently. Dead. Their beauty has been preserved for posterity but only at the cost of what made them so exquisite in the first place: their vitality.” It makes us question the longing for immortality instead of appreciating a living beauty. It makes me think of Botox and plastic surgery – we nip and tuck until a new person emerges – which is fine; do what makes you happy. But where do we draw the line? What makes us want to destroy that which makes us human? Humanity is gorgeous! We come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. The variety alone is astounding. Placed together, we are a magnificent spectrum of life. We replace that life with plastic and fillers, preserving our beauty but simultaneously destroying it.
“Each Line One Breath” is a collection of thin lined drawings. Thousands of tiny lines are drawn mere millimeters apart and the inspiration is something that comes naturally: breathing. By allowing the breath to control movement, a piece is created and no two will be the same. “The line carries the energy of the breath, makes it visible and binds it into matter,” Franzen said of this collection on his website.
Born in Aachen, Germany, Franzen later moved to Belgium with his mother. There, he attended the Robert Schuman Institute where he spent 20 hours a week on art education. He went on to get his Bachelor of Fine Arts and has been making art ever since. Belgium was also where Franzen grew close with nature, which brings some of his themes some context. After looking at all each of these collections, one specific word comes to mind: life. Franzen places such importance on sheer organic existence and actively engaging with it. So, it will come as no surprise that a piece of paper blank other than a single line continues to hold much meaning and depth to the artist.
The “One Line” collection features multiple pieces of a single line in graphite with resin or in 24 Karat gold with gold pigment and resin. This is related to the “Each Line One Breath” collection in that each line is created during one exhale. The idea of creating a single line came from artist Shi Tao, who described a single brushstroke being the origin of everything. According to Franzen, this single line is all lines. “It is pure possibility, constantly defined by that which it is not or has not yet become.”
So, we might be able to draw a line on a canvas, but that kind of insight only comes from years of working with art. It comes from years of existing in the present moment and allowing the art to speak for and create itself. In this way, Franzen is a guide. He is a vessel that art flows through to get to us. Simply put, he’s an artist.