The summer show at Leila Heller Gallery Dubai, titled Surface Issues, and guest curated by Maximillian William, brings together new works by young artists, Coco Capitán, Reginald Sylvester II and Magda Skupinska.
The three contemporary artists have diverse practices and distinct visual languages. The show looks at the different ways in which they have explored the surface in terms of materials, media, textures and imagery, while also inviting viewers to go beyond the surface, and contemplate the underlying social, cultural and political issues addressed by the artists.
The artworks include photographs and mixed media paintings on canvas and paper, that express the concerns of a new generation of artists, and speak about their fresh approach, as well as their appreciation of art history.
Milk and Chocolate, Mount, by Magda Skupinska 2017
Skupinska was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1991, and is now based in London. She graduated in Fine Art from Central St. Martins, London and is doing her masters in painting at the Royal College of Arts. She is interested in exploring the tangible and fragile quality of organic materials, and often uses natural materials such as spices and fruits along with traditional media in her work.
The three paintings she is displaying in this show, are abstract compositions, featuring simple forms and earthy colours that evoke a feeling of balance and harmony. The interesting thing about these paintings is that the artist has applied organic materials such as sandalwood, bee pollen, peppermint, chilli, milk and chocolate on her canvasses to create a unique sensory experience for viewers. But by using these tangible, perishable materials in her work, she also invites viewers to look beyond the surface and contemplate the beauty and fragility of nature, and the degradation of the environment caused by human activity.
Unlike Skupinska’s mellow, meditative, minimalist canvases, Sylvester’s compositions are a chaotic mix of bright colours, and complex emotional narratives. The African American artist was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina in 1987, and studied graphic design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
His paintings deal with issues of his black identity, and of life in the digital age, especially the addictive and obsessive nature of the digital world. They are filled with abstracted figures, childlike scribbles, and tangled, disembodied limbs. Through his spontaneous, expressive brush strokes, vibrant colours, distinct textures and forms, amusing self-portraits, and quirky titles, the artist speaks about his personal experiences, thoughts and feelings.
He is showing a large acrylic and oil painting on canvas titled, Debauchery in the Club, an acrylic and oil pastel painting on paper titled, Distraction, and a set of small paintings, titled Beginning and End to our Problems. The artworks tell stories about the rhythms and struggles of daily life in his community, about uncomfortable experiences such as his first visit to a strip club, about people that inspire him, such as his favourite sportsmen, and about his concepts and ideas as an artist. They offer insights into the mind of a young man who is coming of age, and trying to figure out what life is about, and an artist who is looking for original ways to express himself.
Debauchery in the Club 2017 Acrylic and Oil on canvas by Reginald Sylvester
Capitán was born in Seville, Spain in 1992. She received her Master’s degree in Photography from the Royal College of Art, London in 2016, and currently lives in London. Her art practice straddles the fine art and commercial art worlds, and includes photography, painting, and prose. She is a well-known fashion photographer, who has worked with international brands such as Gucci, and her work has appeared in prestigious publications such as the New York Times Magazine, M Le Monde, and Vogue.
Due to her experience of the commercial art world, Capitán is keenly aware of the persuasive power of imagery in shaping our perceptions and desires. The works she is presenting in this show explore the imaginary possibilities of photography.
Her subjects are familiar objects and places. Yet beneath the glossy surface, her unique visual language challenges traditional means of representation, creating narratives that explore the boundaries between reality and images, questioning our perceptions, and her own role as an artist in creating these perceptions.
In a work titled, Marlboro in Carlyle New York, she has photographed a packet of cigarettes lying on a plush sofa. The abstract composition, in various shades of brown, reflects the luxury of the Carlyle Hotel in New York, and recalls memories of the night life once associated with it.
The photograph highlights the texture and rich feel of the upholstery, and the resonance between the lines and colours of the sofa and the cigarette packet. The timeless feel of the image, contrasts with the contemporary packaging of the well-known brand of cigarettes, blending the past with the present, and playing with classic perceptions of luxury, and an aspirational lifestyle. Similarly, in a diptych, titled One and Three Cans/Ads, the artist has photographed a woman holding a beverage can, and drinking from it, playfully combining art history and contemporary culture.