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Contemporary artists cast a wide shadow over the world of art. They work in a wide-range of mediums from photography to video to visual arts and often comment on modern-day society. Artists of today reject traditional art ideals and challenge critics to question whether the art is interesting or provocative instead of is it “aesthetically pleasing” or “good.” Beginning in the 20th century, artists turned away from realistic expression and more towards abstraction. The nine creators below are amazing contemporary artists, each unique in the way they represent today’s society — and definitely worth a follow.
Who: Ashley Longshore
Where: New Orleans, LA
Accomplishments: She’s published a book, released her own line of furniture inspired by her art and garnered a huge following. Celebrities like Blake Lively, Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek are all collectors of her work.
Why you should follow: Longshore’s art is as vibrant as her personality; think: bright, loud and bedazzled. She’s a pop artist with a feminist agenda who has a hankering for the F word. Sometimes her favorite word makes an appearance on her pieces (Like A F***G Rockefeller). Subjects include Anna Wintour, Audrey Hepburn and Wonder Woman — all of whom she paints over and over. Longshore perfectly captures the shock value in all her paintings by mixing religious imagery with pop culture icons or simply colorful backgrounds with risqué phrases.
Who: Takashi Murakami
Accomplishments: Murakami has partnered with celebrities and fashion lines; he created Kanye West’s Graduation album cover and has been a longtime collaborator with Louis Vuitton. Anime has always been a huge inspiration for him and that’s evidenced in his paintings and sculptures which often feature anime-inspired characters interacting playfully (and sometimes hostilely).
Why you should follow him: Takashi Murakami is a Japanese contemporary artist whose visionary works blur the line between fine and commercial art. He creates paintings as well as sculptures and dabbles in fashion and merchandising as well. He’s been in the art game for over three decades and has a tremendous showcase of arts in his varying mediums.
Who: Camilla Perkins
Where: Brighton, UK
Accomplishments: Camilla’s list of clients is extremely impressive: She’s been commissioned by magazines, clothing stores and brands like Samsung. These days, she teaches a workshop for illustration and has been featured in publications from around the world.
Why you should follow her: Her use of bright colors mixed with anthropomorphic animals, stylish people and colorful objects make her images pop. While she captures images of everyday people or objects, she brings them to life via her imagination. Camilla draws a lot of inspiration from African countries and its residents, and some of her more recognized pieces feature the dapper men of the Congo and exotic color schemes inspired by the Soweto township of South Africa.
Who: Ai Weiwei
Where: Beijing, China
Accomplishments: Ai is known as much for his activism as he is for his artistic merits. He’s a contemporary artist who’s dipped his toes in many artistic mediums, specifically documentaries on social justice, visual arts, photography, music and architecture. He’s been awarded many honors from a Lifetime Achievement award from the Chinese Contemporary Arts to Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award.
Why you should follow him: Ai has one goal: to educate people on injustices from around the world. His most recent documentary, Human Flow, puts a spotlight on the refugee crisis that affects over 65 million people from around the world. He regularly turns to social media and Instagram to help politicize his social agenda and currently has public works on display across New York City.
Who: JR (pseudonym, identity unknown)
Where: Born in Paris, current location unknown
Accomplishments: Where to begin? JR has received awards and been commissioned to make art all over the world. With over 1 million followers on Instagram, he is one of the most widely followed street artists. French newspaper Le Monde described his work as “revealing humanity.” He’s produced dozens and dozens of exhibitions around the world, made feature films, released books and even has his own iPad app. In 2010, he won the TED $100,000 award for artists who “wish to change the world.”
Why you should follow him: JR is an artist whose goal is to make a difference around the world. He has said that “the street is the largest art gallery in the world,” and often uses public spaces to display large black and white photographs. Most recently, JR placed a large photo of a Mexican child peering over the border wall in Tecate, Mexico; the child appears to be using their hands to look over the wall on the California side. He also has a 75-foot ballerina in NYC as well as many other large photographs in countries like Cuba, Brazil, Palestine, Tunisia and Iran.
Who: Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval
Where: Los Angeles, CA
Accomplishments: The duo has been collaborating together since 2002 and is best known for their public art installations which range in size from large-scale spectacles to playground and performance pieces. Their work can be seen in The Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia and most recently, they’ve expanded their repertoire beyond visual arts and installations and have dabbled in virtual reality and animation. In 2014, they released their monograph, We Are FriendsWithYou, which spans their career and includes contributions from big-wigs like Pharrell, who’s been a long-time collaborator with FriendsWithYou.
Why you should follow her: FWY has one goal: to spread the positive message of “Magic, Luck, and Friendship.” Their art features a whimsical touch and a lot of their works feature toys; they refer to their toys as “friends” to invoke a sense of playfulness and self-reflection. Their sense of positivity and playfulness is apparent on every post on their Instagram — the inner child is begging all of us to follow FWY on Instagram.
Who: SWOON (aka Caledonia Curry)
Where: Brooklyn, NY
Accomplishments: SWOON has been in the art game for 14 years and is a classically trained visual artist and printmaker. She’s garnered fame for her street art, but her signature works include recycled newspapers shaped into life-size human forms, each one taking weeks to complete. She has works featured in museums all over the world and has been commissioned to create pieces for exhibitions in cities like New Orleans and Brooklyn.
Why you should follow her: Museums across the country are sweeping up pieces of SWOON’s work. She’s known for her modesty and didn’t even tag her artwork at the beginning of her career. Now, she’s very active in the art world and hosts various events like a march through NYC where participants played instruments made from recycled garbage. Her artistic process is simple: she believes that art is an immersive, provocative and transformative experience for its participants.
Who: Toyin Ojih Odutola
Where: New York City
Accomplishments: Toyin has had her work featured numerous galleries and exhibitions around the country and currently, her art hangs in the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC, which marks her first solo museum show. Her artwork has been featured in several books and she has her own forthcoming title on the horizon as well.
Why you should follow her: Toyin’s multimedia images focus on the sociopolitical construct of skin color. Her art often evokes images of her African decent and living as a black woman in America. She refers to her art as conceptual portraiture — her images focus on imagined characters rather than portraying real people. Some of Toyin’s images are solely black ballpoint pen on paper. She’s collaborated with the singer Solange Knowles and has had her art featured on the show Empire, garnering her even further recognition.
Who: Kehinde Wiley
Where: New York City
Accomplishments: The only portrait artist to make the list, Kehinde is known for painting likenesses of heroic black figures from around the world. He’s slated to paint Obama’s official presidential portrait, which will hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in DC, where Kehinde’s already had an exhibit of his work before. Kehinde has won several Artist of the Year Awards from various art institutes and has had dozens of exhibitions on display around the world. His notoriety skyrocketed after his art was featured on the hit show, Empire, on Fox.
Why you should follow him: Kehinde is known to paint his subjects, particularly men, in a flamboyant manner. He believes this gives his subjects a worldly power they may or may not posses in real life. This goes hand-in-hand with him heroicizing his subjects, such as he did with his portrait of Michael Jackson who poses and gestures like a noble king. Critics are anxiously awaiting to see if he will capture Obama in a flamboyant light or a more reserved portrait, as he’s also done in the past.
All photos courtesy of the respective artists via Instagram
Who are your favorite artists to follow? Sound off in the comments, below.
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