Now more than ever, the dialogues of the day play out through the visual arts. Here, the artists who lead the cultural conversation and ask the important questions that push us all forward.
Fabiola Jean-Louis, “Revolutionary Dress Top” (2016, sculpture)
Linling Lu, Painter
Lu in her studio
Ask painter Linling Lu about her muses, and she can’t help but mention Bach and Beethoven— riding artistic shotgun with Georgia O’Keeffe, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. Born in the mountainous region of Guizhou, China, Lu trained as a classical pianist for 12 years before arriving in the United States in 2006. “Music has been an important source of inspiration—it helps create inner strength and movement under the peaceful layers of paint,” she says.
From top: Linling Lu, “One Hundred Melodies of Solitude, No. 98” (2020, acrylic on canvas), 85 inches in diameter; “One Hundred Melodies of Solitude, No. 173” (2019, acrylic on canvas), 67 inches in diameter; “One Hundred Melodies of Solitude, No. 175” (2020, acrylic on canvas), 72 inches in diameter.
Lu’s peaceful layers, often in uniform circles, have received the adoration of private and public collectors in recent years; her work is part of the permanent collection at the U.S. embassy in Beijing and is currently showing at The Delaware Contemporary; exhibits at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center follow this winter. Lu’s fans likely see her commitment to precision, color and grace. “I grew up on various geographical and cultural soils, so this allows me to see a wide spectrum of colors and study them in different forms and contexts,” says Lu. “My first art teacher was my grandmother, who made traditional pleated dresses for a living. I watched how she turned ordinary materials into works of art filled with love and passion.” The artist, who now lives in the D.C. area, says she wants her work to provide “mirrors” for viewers, allowing them to witness a state of balance and what the heart wishes to see. “I hope to exercise and expand the feelings of color from physical, temporary encounters to metaphysical, timeless experiences that nurture a solitary individual and heal the damages from the chaos and uncertainty of life.”
Agnieszka Pilat, Painter
Agnieszka Pilat assesses her portrait of Spot, a robotic dog, with the subject itself: “Nude Descending a Staircase” (2020, oil on Belgian linen), 90 inches by 56 inches. Pilat also taught Spot to paint.
Agnieszka Pilat has seen the future of art, and it is robotic. This bicoastal artist (San Francisco and New York) has made it her life’s work to reflect the world’s real power brokers: our collective machines. Pilat, who grew up in Poland, arrived in the United States and was immediately impressed by the scale of America’s industrial sector—our factories, shipyards and mammoth machines.
Agnieszka Pilat, “Vitruvian Man in Turquoise” (2021, oil on linen), 78 inches by 78 inches
“Living near Silicon Valley, I witnessed a huge power shift happening in front of my eyes: machines and technology coming to great power and influence,” says Pilat. “As a classically trained painter, I felt a desire to abandon human portraiture for machine portraiture. Why? In art history, portraiture mirrors the arc of civilization, reflecting hierarchies of power. These machine portraits show the real elite with increasing power today—technology.” Pilat’s technological muse isn’t fleeting; it has now become her artistic mission as she awaits the next wave of innovation, whether it’s artificial intelligence or augmented reality.
Pilat in her studio
“My machine portraits are a study in human nature. They reflect a belief that machines are a manifestation of man’s need for heroism,” she says. As a self-proclaimed machine chaser, Pilat goes where the machines live, including the USS Hornet aircraft carrier; The Museum of Flight in Seattle; Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.; and even Google X, where she earned a residence with Waymo, the self-driving car. At Boston Dynamics, she even collaborated with Spot, a robotic dog, which engineers, with Pilat’s help, taught to paint.
Agnieszka Pilat, “Sistine Chapel in Gold” (2021, oil on linen), 50 inches by 48 inches
“I thought of myself as a master artist, a teacher to an intelligent machine, and this is very much in the vein of what was happening in the guilds in the Renaissance, where young students would come to study with old masters,” she says. The results are astonishing, and collectors thought so too: Spot’s “B70 Self-portrait 02” recently sold at Sotheby’s for a hefty sum, proving that humanity’s love affair with machines, even cuddly ones, continues.
Kerry James Marshall, Artist and Professor
Back in 2016, when the Museum of Contemporary Art presented Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, the first major retrospective of Marshall’s work to be shown in the United States, many Chicagoans had no idea who the Windy City artist was. How things have changed: Touring to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Mastry made Marshall (@kerryjamesmarshs) an art world darling for his astonishing largescale paintings of African American life and history.
Kerry James Marshall, “Black Artist (Studio View)” (2002)
Soon enough, big-name collectors were snapping up his works (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs famously paid $21.1 million for Marshall’s “Past Times” in 2018), and the accolades haven’t stopped coming since. Now, this pride of the South Side is taking another impressive step toward becoming a household name, as the 66-year-old has been commissioned to create two stained-glass windows for the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. Given that they will replace two windows that honored Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, it’s a doubly impactful assignment for the Black artist.
The Museum of Contemporary Art’s collection of works by Kerry James Marshall includes pieces like the 1995 series “Scout (Boy),” “Scout (Girl)” and “Cub Scout”
“Right now I don’t have a clear concept of what I think I will do,” he told The New York Times in September after the commission was announced. “It will have to be work that is able to synthesize a multiplicity of ideas and sentiments about what the country represents for all of us. There will be some kind of imagery that presents itself as an invitation to reflection on the meaning of America now.”
Kerry James Marshall, “7am Sunday Morning” (2003)
Whatever the final form of the windows turns out to be when they’re unveiled in 2023, it will cement this talented Chicagoan as one of the most significant American artists at this moment in history.
Kerry James Marshall, “Souvenir I” (1997).
Naama Tsabar, Mixed Media Artist
In Perimeters (through April 17), her new exhibition for the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, Israeli-born artist Naama Tsabar urges us to break the silence by drawing attention to often-muted voices of minorities and contributing to the feminist and queer discourses of the day through sound, movement and space. As experiential as museum experiences get, the showcase of new and site-specific work centers on Tsabar’s most recent series, Inversions, which is informed by ideas the artist has been exploring since 2006.
Naama Tsabar, “Inversion 1” (2019)
At the Bass, Tsabar will investigate the intersection of architecture and music, showing viewers how sound moves beyond walls and buildings through installations that lend themselves to professional collaborative performances as well as for experimentation by the public. Among the works to look out for are those under the Melody of Certain Damage umbrella, which are meant to cite iconic moments in rock performance history. Made by smashing guitars in her studio, these pieces are used to create new playable instruments and emphasize the reconstruction and repair that occurs after trauma.
“Melodies of Certain Damage (Opus 3)” (2018)
Betye Saar, Multimedia Artist
L.A. native Betye Saar in her studio in 2019. Saar, 95, first became interested in making art during the Depression and continues to explore different mediums, from assemblage to watercolor. Betye Saar: L.A. Energy will be shown at Frieze Los Angeles in February 2022.
Betye Saar’s journey to becoming an artist started early on, although it wasn’t necessarily by choice. “At Christmas, I was always given art supplies as gifts,” she explains. “I was jealous that my siblings got bikes and things, but now I realize my parents were fostering my creativity.” Saar, 95, grew up during the Great Depression in Los Angeles, where the city’s landscape served as inspiration. “When I was a bit older, I would visit my grandmother who lived in Watts and I would see Simon Rodia constructing his Watts Towers,” Saar explains. “I thought they were beautiful and fantastical and yet made out of broken dishes and pots. They definitely made a big impression on me.”
Betye Saar, “Black Doll in Mystic Space” (2021, watercolor on paper), 24 inches by 18 inches, unframed
After attending college at UCLA, Saar dabbled in costume design for a spell. “Then when I was getting my master’s, I stumbled upon the printmaking studio and fell in love with that process. I just kept being creative and trying new processes,” says Saar. “Then when I was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts [grant], I realized, OK, I’m an artist now.”
“Gliding Into Midnight” (2019, mixed media assemblage tableau), 22 inches by 36 inches by 138 inches
In the ’70s, Saar discovered the works of Joseph Cornell for the first time. Similar to the materials of the Watts Towers, “he took all this junk and made it into... beautiful art,” she says. “Gradually, I became more attached to making assemblages because that was where I found a true melding of drawing, painting, printmaking, collage and sculpture. It was in that intersection where I was able to find my art.”
“Legends in Blue” (2020, mixed media assemblage), 10 inches by 10 inches
Themes of Saar’s work range from mysticism to race and heritage, and in the ’70s became more political with the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “My art was my form of protest,” she explains. “I began making art about racism and it was my aim to depict Black people in a positive light. In “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima” (1972), I replaced her broom with a rifle as a symbolic call to arms to battle racial injustice.”
“Mti” (1973, mixed media floor assemblage), 42.5 inches by 23.5 inches by 17.5 inches
Sadly, society is still struggling to move forward. “The Black Lives Matter movement is exposing the systematic racism in the U.S. and recorded instances of racism are hard to dispute,” she says. “I... will continue to make art that hopefully will get people to think more about equality and love.”
Currently, Saar—who has solo exhibitions at ICA Miami, Fondazione Prada in Milan and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, and whose work is included in group shows at LACMA, SFMOMA and more—is interested in combining her watercolor pieces with objects, creating larger 3D assemblages. “I’m thankful that my art has somehow reached a variety of people in different ways,” she says. “Some people appreciate the political aspects of my work and garner strength from that; others connect with the mystical and spiritual elements. I’m fortunate that I get to do what I love to do, which is to make art. I’m 95 and still doing it. I hope that encourages others to find what it is they love to do and then go out and do it.”
Tim Tadder, Photographer
While Encinitas, Calif.-based photographer Tim Tadder rose to fame for his commercial work, shooting everyone from Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles to NBA champion Stephen Curry, it’s the vibrant images he creates by bringing both paint and photography together that has brought his career to an exciting pinnacle—showing at Art Miami for the first time.
Tim Tadder, “United States of Purple – Divided” (2020, photograph on Epson Premium Luster 260 photo paper)
“For me, this is an unbelievable opportunity and blessing to get the chance to be among the best contemporary artists in the world. To earn a seat at that table is incredibly gratifying and humbling,” says Tadder, whose work is currently featured at myriad Avant Gallery locations in Hudson Yards in New York City, Brickell City Centre in Miami and Aventura Mall in South Florida.
From left: Tim Tadder, “Black is a Color – Wells” (2020, C-print on metallic paper mounted on acrylic); “Black is a Color – Floyd” (2020, C-print on metallic paper mounted on acrylic); “Black is a Color – Ali” (2020, C-print on metallic paper mounted on acrylic)
“It comes with great responsibility to continue to push myself to see where the limits of my artistic boundaries are. It’s one thing to get in the game—it’s another to shine on the largest stage.”
“Nothing to See – Untitled #14” (2018, premium archival metallic print mounted under non-glare UV acrylic glass with a matte finish)
For his latest collection, Black is a Color, Tadder showcases bald models coated in vibrant hues of acrylic paint that create an otherworldly marbling effect. “Black is a Color completed an unintentional trilogy, pairing perfectly with United States of Purple and Nothing to See,” says Tadder. “The powerful, complex and undeniably beautiful display of color mixing on the human form is a statement that we must look past skin tone and see deeper into the beauty of the individual. Art is what gives life color; art is what allows people to stop and see the beauty of existence.”
Fabiola Jean-Louis, Conceptual Artist
The artist’s self-portrait
One of the most important things about art is the commentary that surrounds it. Haitian-born artist Fabiola Jean-Louis starts her artistic process this way, with something she feels strongly about, and her commitment to present a case is more than admirable—it’s confrontational, provocative and an example of visual activism. Jean-Louis studied at The High School of Fashion Industries in New York, but it wasn’t until she was in a pre-med program that she really discovered and nurtured her talent for photography. Currently, the artist is represented by Atlanta’s oldest and most respected gallery, Alan Avery Art Company, and she loves bringing about a new era of portraiture to the South.
“Madame Beauvoir’s Painting” (2016, archival pigment print)
Jean- Louis’ pieces involve experimentation through the use of different techniques, textures, materials and disciplines, even using paper to construct her subjects’ garments. Jean-Louis’ previous body of work Rewriting History presents Black women in dress and situations that were historically reserved only for white women. “I wanted to comment on racial injustice and crimes against humanity where Black people are concerned,” says Jean-Louis. Further, she aims to challenge accepted constructs, like gender. “Who gets to say what something is or isn’t? Who gets to try and validate the potentiality of human existence and expressions? My work is a reimagined and reclaimed narrative of possibilities and what was. I use fashion to interrupt old narratives about Black bodies, and the spaces they occupy or do not,” says Jean-Louis.
Fabiola Jean-Louis, “Paradise Lost” (2020, archival pigment print), the first piece of her new series, Atonement
With a strong narrative at the heart of her pieces, Jean-Louis is free to create whimsical, otherworldly scenes—the merging of fantastical, intangible ideologies with historical roots. Her next series, titled Atonement, will again feature costumes and props out of paper, but this time, Jean-Louis will use paper to comment on religion— specifically, the different ways in which Catholicism has impacted the Black identity, as well as exploring the intersections and overlapping of Haitian Vodou and Catholicism.
Seek One contemporary street artist
Many of Dugan’s pieces are influenced by music, which can be seen in some of his works featuring the Beatles, JAY-Z, Kurt Cobain and The Rolling Stones. These pop art portraits, along with his abstract art, have attracted big names like Quavo from hip-hop trio Migos, Jonathan Cheban and the Philadelphia 76ers.
An abundance of pop art-styled pieces collaged with photography flood contemporary street artist Seek One’s Philadelphia studio, featuring familiar faces like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra—as well as a rainbow of abstract pieces. But one design stands out in particular for the artist, who is otherwise known as New Jersey native Rob Dugan. It’s an abstract painting filled with colorful graffiti that dances around a photo of a succulent rose at the center.
Seek One, “Untitled 007” (mixed media on wood panel), 36 inches by 36 inches
“It’s actually a photograph that I had taken myself when I was younger, so it kind of has more meaning to me because it’s a representation of the photography that I used to do, the graffiti that I’m involved in, and it’s kind of a blend of all that together,” he explains. Since starting in 2017, Dugan’s splashy pieces have taken a deep dive into the art world and have been on view at a multitude of big-name galleries across the country like Royal Street Fine Art in Aspen; Philadelphia’s Corridor Contemporary; Hayes Gallery in Greenwich, Conn.; and The White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
Seek One, “Rose” (mixed media on cotton blend paper), 24 inches by 24 inches
He also just finished his second exhibition at Scope Miami Beach during Art Basel week and has gone international with his first solo show overseas in Dubai. Dugan’s first NFT as digital art is also in the works for early 2022, which will contrast traditional currency and cryptocurrency with a street art twist. “I would say my goal as an artist is to put pieces of art out into the world that make people happy,” Dugan concludes. “People can relate to my art and it kind of takes your mind off all the mayhem and stress that is going on in the world.”
Mary Nelson Sinclair, Painter
Mary Nelson Sinclair works with oils and acrylics, and most recently is experimenting with brass.
“Color, landscape, my surroundings.” These are the key sources of inspiration for New York-based artist Mary Nelson Sinclair. Luckily for this creative tour de force, she surrounds herself with the beauty of the Hudson Valley, where she lives with her husband, fellow artist Matty Cruise, and daughter, May Augustine. Originally from Dallas, Sinclair made her way to New York where she attended the prestigious Millbrook School.
Mary Nelson Sinclair, “Resolution 2021” (2020, painting on canvas), 60 inches by 96 inches
“This is where my interest in making art began,” enthuses Sinclair. “It is there that I learned to draw and paint, traditionally.” Her studies kept her on the East Coast where she graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a BFA in art history and fine arts. “While living in NYC for nearly 15 years, I worked in fashion, art and design (Chanel, Domino magazine, Phillips auction house and Vanderhurd textile studio). These various jobs all influenced me in many ways: my work ethic; my understanding of how to run a business; and exposure to many different people, places and perspectives,” says the artist. “In 2013, I left my full-time job to commit to my art practice. Within a few months, I joined the roster of an NYC gallery, and in 2014 had my first solo exhibition.”
“The Colony” (2020, painting on canvas), 40 inches by 60 inches
Without question, Sinclair has been in high demand ever since. Throughout the years, as Sinclair has truly honed in on her craft, she has joined a few prominent galleries across the United States, graced the walls of several storied galleries for top-tier shows and garnered a loyal following of creatives and art enthusiasts alike. What’s next for this visionary? Sinclair enthuses, “I have a solo show at Hidell Brooks Gallery next fall!”
Amoako Boafo, Painter
Unless you have been living under an art-deprived rock, you probably recognize the striking work of Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo. The painter is on a still-ascending meteoric rise and undoubtedly one of the buzziest artists of the moment. In the span of a mere few years, Boafo transitioned from struggling to sell his works in Accra, Ghana, for $100 each to hosting supermodel-and starlet-studded dinners at Faena Hotel during Art Basel Miami Beach and having his work in the collections of major museums including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Rubell Museum in Miami and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Amoako Boafo, “Red Collar” (2021, oil on canvas)
Amoako Boafo, “Yellow Throw Pillow” (2021, oil on canvas)
His breakout moment is the stuff of art world fairy tales. Known for his support of African artists, art star Kehinde Wiley stumbled upon Boafo’s work via his Instagram page—reaching out to purchase a work for himself and also notifying several top galleries (including Roberts Projects) about the rising star. A solo, sold-out exhibition at Roberts Projects soon followed—and it was off to the races with the art world elite fighting over his works and a collaboration with Dior for the men’s summer 2021 collection, making him the first African artist to develop a line with the house. (The project will fund an artist-in-residence space and local gallery in Accra.)
Amoako Boafo, “White Nail Polish” (2021, oil on canvas)
This fall, the Vienna-based painter held a solo exhibition with Roberts Projects, Singular Duality: Me Can Make We. The new, large-scale paintings expand his celebration of Blackness and explore the tension of internal and external worlds, and of the complexities of shadow and light. Says Boafo, “The primary idea of my practice is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach Blackness.”
Amoako Boafo, “Purple Shadow” (2021, oil on canvas)