Contemporary surrealist sculpture is a hot topic in 2016. Artists are increasingly discovering new, inventive art forms and stretching the limits of their imaginations to produce these unique 3-D formations. As we become a more actively engaged culture, our standards for art increasingly shift toward more interactive and interaction-evoking media. Whereas the emphasis used to be on creating an illusionistic realm using perspective and other techniques, today’s world is gravitating toward sculpture…to works that occupy actual space. As a result, surrealist concepts and imagery are taking on new meaning as an influx of sculptural mavens continue to break the 2-dimensional boundary and bestow once flat visuals with concrete life.
In this article, I will take you through a list of nine of the most compelling names in contemporary surrealist sculpture in 2016. Each artist was chosen for his or her works’ painstaking intricacy, compositional elegance, complex and gripping themes and subject matter, and sheer originality. However, most interestingly, I chose these artists for their rare ability to channel their unique artistic gift into the unthinkable. With one glance, onlookers are transported from the familiar domain of the painted canvas into the physical realm of the unreal.
The first artist of mention is Rebecca Stevenson, a London-based surrealist macabre sculptor who works in polyester resin and wax to create albino-like animal artifices. Her work straddles the line between anatomical drawing and botanical illustration. Strange and beautiful, all of her sculptures burst at the seams of their skin with coloured garlands of flowers, fruits, and decorous objects. Altogether, her nine gallery series play on the notion of the bittersweet, exploring themes of animal purity, death and decay, and prolific nature.
Next up is an incredibly talented Japanese sculptor, Yoshitoshi Kanekami who weaves together themes of imminent death and strange, apathetic life. What is novel about Kanemaki is that his subjects often exist in two places at once, and this internal dissonance is meticulously carved out for audiences to see. When I say carved, I mean this quite literally as the artist chisels, morphs and form his dual characters from life-sized blocks of wood.
Here we have another star sculptor, Erika Sanada, who uses ceramic to create slightly disturbing supernatural creatures, which she models after a host of otherwise charming and docile animals. Her subjects range from bunnies to birds, to chipmunks and baby pigs. Her carefully smoothed, clean edges, soft colour palette, and expressionless faces feign childlike purity, pulling us in closer. Suddenly we are halted by a pair of red-rimmed eyes. In Sanada’s world, fear and abnormality reign and the short-lived innocence of these animals is annexed by this acerbic, cautionary leer.
Another gifted Japanese sculptor, Ishibashi Yui melds the natural world and the human psyche into a single hybrid form, with eerie consequences. Her constructions reveal bodies swallowed whole by nature, which are at times fatally intertwined with its elements. Tree roots, branches, vines and sprouts often dominate her work. Human veins are replaced by burgeoning roots, which bulge just below the skin’s surface and in some cases tear right through, its leafy bulbs shooting ever upward.
Touted as “post industrial Rococo master”, sculptor Kris Kuksi’s mixed media creations are architectural feats. Each of his assemblages prove more remarkable than the next, advancing the boundaries of intricate design in art. Highly elaborate and brimming with drama, his compositions are worlds within worlds, populated with mini overlapping civilizations, each busy at work. Chiseled into the architecture of his statues are a series of tension-building interplays, where confrontations between timeless theological icons and contemporary religious and political ideals are staged.
This surrealist sculptor highlights the magnificence of the animal spirit through her clay depictions of nature-infused wildlife. Interpretive and metaphorical, Ellen Jewett taps into the ethereal wonders of the animal kingdom, molding it into forms that pulse with the subtle magic of nature. The artist highlights the majesty of the animal spirit through a meticulous construction process, simulating the scientific precision of an anthropologist. And Jewett is just that—an anthropologist. With a background in medical illustration, exotic animal care, and anthrzoology, Jewett is specially equipped to unite the seen and unseen in breathtaking sculptural display.
Korean sculptor, Jin Young Yu, is internationally heralded for her exceptionally unique “transparent sculptures”, made from a rare mix of plastics, synthetic resins, acrylic paint and clay. 4 years in the making, the artist arrived at a novel sculpting process which allows her to attain perfect transparency of her subjects. Haunting and deeply affective, these works cast a light on contemporary struggles of personal invisibility. In keeping with this theme, Yu eschewed materials such as glass and clear plastic due to their imperfect ability to capture “the shell of modern day people”. Crystalline and hollow, her subjects float eerily like phantoms, solely identifiable by their clay masks. With heightened quietude, these opaque faces project outward a bottomless sadness, beckoning audiences to look upon them.
Experimenting with a mixture of clay, wire and paper, renowned Japanese sculptor and photographer, Yuichi Ikehata, tests audiences notions of what is and isn’t real. His sculptures are a combination of exposed metal under-structures and hyper-realistic human body parts, dusted in hues of charcoal, pearl and white chalk. In this body of work, networks of sinewy wires attach to life-like limbs and visages. Each of his pieces exude a strange foreboding, as if to suggest that they are not in fact complete sculptures, but rather, the salvaged remains of a post-apocalyptic AI explosion.
Last but certainly not least is California artist, Beth Cavener Stichter, whose sculptural repertoire consists of beautifully embellished acrobatic animal sculptures. Whether outstretched across a tabletop in sumptuous repose, tangled in a mesh of winding limbs, or leisurely-suspended mid-air, these clay creations show no shortage of versatility. Stitcher is known for her elaborate surfaces, both her stylistic swishing and swirling of clay to form skin and fur or fully varnished layers of Japanese style tattoo design. No matter the pose, these sculptures will certainly leave you hanging and wanting more.