10 Contemporary Artists To Get To Know

Because their work is current, you can engage with them in-person, rather than at a distance

by Kari Adelaide Razdow

Getting to know and admire the work of contemporary artists may be rewarded by a dialogue based on incidental meaning, as self-made pathways through time and space unfold, not at a distance but in-person. Such encounters with artists and their work can help instantiate tactile reflections. Some of the mentioned artists in this list below have exhibitions now on view, while others are developing work in their studios for forthcoming shows. Yet, each of the following 10 artists has a vision and practices which are deep, whether archetypal, philosophical, or playful in approach.

Work by Peter Clough

Peter Clough's recent performance, "Odalisque," at The Invisible Dog Art Center, in Brooklyn, included projections falling across the body as a moving sculpture, combining aspects of bondage with a reflexive vision of self that verged on an inspection of consciousness. Occupying a custom-built cage which doubled as a reclining couch, and wearing bondage paraphernalia, he cast a "dom" in the performance's speaking role, wearing a 3D printed mask of Clough's own face. Implying a sexually charged interaction with one's doubled personae reveals a recursive mirroring, as the Narcissus myth is expanded outward into a generalized essences of being, and "Odalisque" adds another cycle in Clough's ongoing inspections of the way that the articulation of self-hood cascades through dramatic structures of storytelling. As a queer artist, activist, and curator, Clough's investigation of personal trajectories likewise reverberated in his remarkable curatorial effort navigated by flashlights, "The Unspeakable: A Dark Show," which included more than 40 artists at the Pfizer Building, last fall. "The Unspeakable" was replete with deeply suggestive manifestations of unfolding aspects of self as well as community, which was experienced like an ecstatic and omni-directional Elysian rite and bacchanal. Earlier this summer, his solo show, HEAD, was on view at Haul Gallery, in Brooklyn.

Work by Mira Dancy

Mira Dancy's current solo exhibition at JOAN Los Angeles, titled Herfugue, locates the poetics of femininity, embodiment, fluidity, and archetypal images within the city landscape. Dancy depicts the female figure in large scale drawings and neon, as giantesses in soliloquy, seemingly confronting, reforming, and basking in the immanence and futurism of surrounding skyscrapers. Dancy reframes the city by crafting a densely patterned manhole cover in black sand upon the gallery's floor, mandala-style, with the hand-traced word HERFUEL at its center, as well as a black sand drawing of a rose, sprawling in sooty elegance with flame-licked extensions of leaves, stem, and petals. Dancy investigates the embodied experience and connection to urban spaces in towering neon sculptures which shimmer with poetic amalgams, re-codifying commercial apparatus as a proclamation of synthesis and feminism. She explores these nuances through hand-drawn poetry that coils down JOAN's interior columns, including the following lines, "Her amalgam amalgamated -- / Ambiguously altered / She switched her fiction off // She lit / She burned / She extinguished // Herfume / Herfuel / Herfuse // A city inside (tall metallic she) / Seeks temporary refuge in an alternate you …." Dancy is represented by Night Gallery, in Los Angeles, and recent solo exhibitions include "Self Seed" at the Lumber Room, in Portland, OR and "Sawblade to the Sun" at Galerie Hussenot, in Paris, France.

Work by Damien Davis

Damien Davis' work converses with both modern art and material history to bring a personalized exploration of cultural-historical representations of blackness into focus. Davis uses contemporary fabrication techniques, such as CNC routing of colored plexiglass, as the basis of his constructions, often fastening symbolic elements upon panes of bright color with glinting steel rivets. While Davis' materials and techniques recall industrial processes, they are anything but hard edged, instead entering into conversation with the rhythmic poesis of abstract expressionists as well as the warmth of modernist history painting. Davis' collections of historical and contemporary notations evoke a substrate of meaning glimpsed and collected, and as they amass they reveal the way that lexical notions float on waves made through time. A solo exhibition of his work, "Color Cargo," is now on view at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and Latchkey Gallery will present a solo booth of his work at the 2019 UNTITLED Art Fair, in Miami. Recent solo exhibitions include "For Demetrius" at the Sugar Hill Museum, in Harlem, and "Fun With a Purpose" at the Prattsville Art Center.

Work by Richardo Gonzalez

Ricardo Gonzalez's recent exhibition at Daniela Elbahara gallery, in Mexico City, established a focused presentation of sublimated oil paint portraits, this time framing his exploratory, gestural abstraction under the guise of the show's title "Fumes," or smoke. Many of the canvases on display, while anything by centrally composed, seem to revolve around the burning cadmium end of a lit cigarette, while figural elements and smoky formlessness hover around the periphery of the canvas, establishing vague notions of the human form. Often, a variably sinister and laconic grinning face is set back in the work, a hallmark of Gonzalez's portraiture. Gonzalez weaves an impressive nostalgia though his palette, where a juxtaposition of color is playful, yet congeals to a sepia, lo-fi quality that feels cinematic and frames the present in a memory of the past. Gonzales is represented by Asya Geisberg Gallery, in New York.

Work by Karen Heagle

Karen Heagle's paintings, portraying unsung predatory animals such as hyenas and vultures, suggest a parody of consumerism but she also weaves in aspects of spirituality and symbolism; her work engages deeply with feminism, life cycles, sexuality, and queer identity. Years ago, her partner, artist Elizabeth Insogna inspired aspects of divine feminism by introducing her to the idea of Himalayan sky burials, where carrion birds help a body decompose. Not simply illustrations of a chosen subset of wildlife, Heagle's work conveys a confrontation of death and a transcendence beyond this world. Some of her longstanding inspiration is found in mythology as well as in the book of revelation, where magic, reincarnation, salvation and resurrection, in Heagle's words, "support each other even though they go against each other." Heagle's use of gold and copper leaf symbolize sacred elements, and repulsion also comes into play, with depictions of limp prey, such as pheasants and deer, and frenzied carcass feedings. In her recent solo show at Sargent's Daughters, in New York City, titled Invocations, the gaze of vultures, a sacred bull, a fox, and hyenas, look outward, each conveying a stillness of human-like portraiture; they've moved past the moments of waiting, and are crowned with gold leaf, gilded like saints.

Work by Lucy Kim

Currently an Artist in Residence at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Lucy Kim engages with the question of vision and representations the human body, as well as recorded observations of embodiment and simulacra that conjure awe and absurdity. In her process, she's steadfast about experimentation, and she's now working on painting with the use of melanin (or eumelanin derived from cuttlefish ink), as pigments. As an interdisciplinary artist, Kim is primarily interested in panting, but her influences also derive from what she has described as "the authoritative presence" of photography. Through sculpture inspired by photography, she expresses an interest in portraying "presence without aesthetics." Kim combines mold-making and casting with painting, and her recent work in the ICA included direct, silicon molds of a plastic surgeon, a fitness trainer, and a geneticist, flattened into a chosen arrangement for a final mold, then compressed from 3D to 2D. By facilitating transition through compression, she's distilling presence and creating transformed, uncanny, sci-fi like specimens.

Work by Lauren Luloff

Lauren Luloff's silk paintings reveal a masterful wistfulness, as flora, trees and bodies of water are her primary muses. Luloff recently pivoted away from painting bleach on bedsheets, and her new paintings on silk, shown earlier this year at Ceysson & Bénétière in Paris, are generative, brighter, more chromatic and sweeping, while maintaining her wellspring of inspiration (blooms, stems, leaves, branches, reflections) and signature textile balance. Various patchworks of silk are sewn together, mounted and composed as sculptures, either propped on two legs of wood, framed or hung as tapestries. In her silk paintings, inklings of plant classification and ambiguity intermix, and a spirited charm of nature comes across. As plein air paintings, the work conveys enchantment, with inferred traces of Luloff's daily footsteps to her chosen landscapes and far-in-between patches of solitary spaces. Luloff's work is intensely meticulous, with brightly executed landscapes and explorations of plant-forms that become botanical, sprouting totems. These totems sit like austere bait, and each has a quiet, chromatic life-stir that is both earthy and ethereal. Earlier this summer, Halsey McKay Gallery, in East Hampton, offered a presentation of Luloff's small scale paintings, and her paintings on silk were included at Derek Eller Gallery, in New York, alongside stunning works by Clare Grill and Kathia St. Hilaire.

Work by Paola Oxoa

Paola Oxoa's paintings on mylar include twisting roots and sinuous prisms that are littered by bright pinpoints that ward off dizziness. Along with drawing inspiration from curating and running Mother Gallery, in Beacon, she credits two modalities of working which inform her practice and feed off of one another. In one mode, she says, "images come to me all at once," frequently after waking, and she draws this on newsprint and files it away, in preparation of manifesting it in a painting, when the right time arrives. Alternatively, she starts work not knowing what may emerge, but yet begins by "painting or bringing energy onto the paper." She reflects on how her work is abstract, perhaps merging geometry with figure, but she's "not abstracting from something in reality" and instead is "bringing the energy of life into the field of painting." Oxoa's crisp distortions and labyrinths includes both the material and immaterial, entailing a desire to explore beyond the ellipses of image...even though the illumination of seeking may very give off an invisible glow, undetected by others. In Oxoa's paintings, images pulsate with repetition and are filtered by waves of interiority, enabling perspective that traverses unseen depths, allowing for a glimpse of "the deep."

Work by Zoe Pettijohn Schade

Zoe Pettijohn Schade's paintings, recently on view at the deCordova New England Biennial, involve layers of repetitious patterns, with ordered compositions of organic and inorganic subjects that are partially eclipsed by one another, stacked and floating in a procession of visibility and dissolution. Schade's patterns and gouache palettes are precise and dazzling, and the spell-binding density of her paintings give off a sense of orbital energy as well as deep-seated chaos. Her fusion of images, such as feathers, skulls, statues, and monkeys, ricochet off of one another and interconnect, merging and settling into systems of focal points and established space. The paintings offer a constellation at large and they are exquisite in their abundance of detail. Schade is represented by Kai Matsumiya, in New York, and her work was recently included in the exhibition, "Less is a Bore: Maximalist Art & Design," organized by Jenelle Porter and Jeffrey De Blois, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in Boston.

Work by Brian Wood

Brian Wood is a native of northern Saskatchewan now living in New York City and the Hudson Valley, and his painting process engages with modes of perception in what he describes as "pre-linguistic images" and "pre-verbal thought." His painting practice has evolved to portray the detection of a firmament that seems hidden and not easily accessible, and as images, they're potent and visceral. Given his desire for an image (or experience) that precedes language, it's interesting that he frequently collaborates with poets, inviting narrative, even though he may avoid illustrative or fantastical tropes. As the poet Robert Kelly writes, "When I look at a Brian Wood painting,…it opens a place in me where I've never been before. There's an otherness. The feeling is of a huge abundance of color shaped, shaped color – inviting me in. It doesn't want to be looked at, it doesn't want to be seen at all. It wants to be inside me."

In his paintings, there is no story to untangle; yet, his primordial vision can be found through the reappearance of forms and physical constants, including membranes, talons, bulbous ensembles of flesh, tunnels, and translucent orbs; each coexisting with questionable gravitational attraction at play. The space in the paintings seems cosmic and bodily – not quite landscapes, not quite universes, and not quite events. Even given this sense of absence, he seems to arrive somewhere both far off and familiar, if not specific and precise. Wood's solo show of drawings was recently on view at Arts + Leisure Gallery, in New York.