L et the sleigh bells ring, we bring tidings of great joy. From Mr. Doodle to Chris Huen Sin Kan, the most exciting artists active today are stuffed into the jolly contemporary discoveries stocking. Below, we spotlight 12 festive and trailblazing artists to wish you season’s greetings.
Mr. Doodle’s Love Land (2019) is a warm, marshmallow hug around the Christmas hearth. Kent-born Sam Cox, who, under his nom de guerre of Mr. Doodle, has become one of contemporary art’s most sought-after names, began by painting his parents’ furniture and the walls of his childhood bedroom. The domestic canvas could not contain him, however. He has since collaborated with brands from Fendi to MTV. He is currently the subject of a solo show at Pearl Lam Galleries in Hong Kong titled “Mr Doodle in Space”, and captured the hearts of audiences doodling live at a performance at K11 MUSEA earlier in the month where there is a satellite showcase of his exhibition on view through January 2024. Love Land is a work of acrylic on canvas, not caged by space and time. The swarm of smiling mauve hearts produces the kind of festive warmth exuded by Maria Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.
California-born, New York-based artist Mike Lee combines an aesthetic of digital animation with deftly applied oil, acrylic paint, pastel and graphite. Appropriately for the winter season, he once worked on the animation for Ice Age: Collision Course (2016). His use of chiaroscuro, stasis, and negative space fizzes with playful, yet monochrome energy. In Swimmer Girl (2019), a solo figure in oil on canvas, his protagonist presents a voluminous heart and head in one, inclined to one side in thought or supplication. The blank countenance allows us to project our own hopes, dramas and fears onto the subject.
Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara’s Sleepless Night (Sitting) (2007) conjures up some of the emotional turmoil of unbearable anticipation, longing and impatience. For many children, Christmas Eve is the night when that turmoil reaches its zenith. At 29 cm tall, Nara’s polystone figurine is complete with its original wooden box, forming the kind of present both children and adults would wait all night for. In the words of Clement Clark Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (1823): “’Twas the Night Before Christmas, when all through the house/ Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”.
Brett Crawford’s Blu3 (2021), a sculpture in resin, stainless steel and paint, showcases the LA-based artist’s love of the upbeat, expressive street style of the 1980s onward. Macabre yet heartening, his blue-clad, Nike-sneakered boy takes a good, hard look at himself. In Blu3, decapitation is no barrier to self-reflection, or to attempt it at least. The smiling face at the front and angry face at the back brilliantly captures the Janus-like, Jekyll and Hyde personas that we carry within us. The street artist, metal worker and illustrator has spoken movingly about his struggles in early life, and has often documented the guardian angels who looked after him along the way. Crawford’s guardian angels sit atop our metaphorical Christmas tree this year.
Daisy Dodd-Noble’s Trees in Deia 2 (2021) explores the sylvan idyll of Majorca’s artist enclave of Deia. A trinity of trees pierces the foreground, whilst more dwell in the canopied hinterland. A graduate of the New York Academy of Art, her oil on linen works offer dreamlike trees in dramatic, sharp silhouette, voluptuous in volume and redolent in crystal-clear vivacity. There is no holly, ivy or mistletoe in sight, but at this time of year, Dodd-Noble’s trees take on the festive appearance of a Christmas wreath.
The paintings of Savannah-born, Brooklyn-based artist Jonathan Chapline ooze the nocturnal glamour of a computer-generated neon metropolis. His artworks are a fusion of angular lines, architectural prototypes and buildings in a process of deconstruction. Painted in acrylic and flashe on panel, Figure with Vase (2006), retains that 3D neon jigsaw effect of colour gradients, whilst portraying a floral bouquet, an expression of home, and of quiet serenity.
California-raised artist Hilary Pecis’ paintings are tableaux of domestic life in a quasi-cinematic style, as if introducing her qualities and habits through the furnishings of her home. We sift through the clues rather like a detective: the uncleared table after dinner, the ephemera of a room without its habitual occupant. In Eva Hesse (2019), executed in acrylic on canvas, she zooms into one wall, allowing us perhaps to judge her by the artistic company she keeps. The vertical stripes and attendant wall-mounted sculptures pay tribute to German born American sculptor Eva Hesse (b. 1936), known for her pioneering work in latex, fiberglass, and plastic.
Yuichi Hirako’s paintings inhabit the forests, seeking a place to breathe and repose. He explores the notion of a deeper communion with the creatures that form our natural environment. Having grown up in the Japanese countryside in Okayama, the artist shows both a preoccupation with nature, and a desire to merge into it. Within his artworks, his “tree man” appears in various guises, a kind of mythological figure with a human body and a fir or pine tree as a head. The character may derive from the Japanese folkloric tradition of the kodama or tree spirit. This tree/human hybrid presents his seasonal compliments in Memories of my Garden (2010).
Giorgiko is the name of LA-based husband-and-wife team Darren and Trisha Inouye, who first met at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Their paintings merge sprightly wistfulness with street-smart worldliness, offering empathy, hope and innocence in post-apocalyptic urban landscapes in which space dogs yearn for home. Joy Ride (2020) is a cheerful vignette of one such dog, on his small motorbike, embarking on his journey home. Will he be back in time for Christmas?
New England-raised Eliot Greenwald subtly uses repetition as form of psychological aid to learning. Just as the human mind learns from experience, and from viewing the same problem from more than one angle, his paintings repeat objects in order to present a more rounded understanding of the world around us, and ultimately ourselves. As a consequence, his work has been framed in the light of surrealism or dada.In Night Car (In Front) (2020), we are taken on a journey through a winding, forested path towards saturns framed in horizontal blue. The journey is internal more than external, exploring the interior of our minds whilst revelling in the deliciously mauve scenery that encloses us.
Miwa Komatsu, born in Nagano, Japan, and a graduate of Joshibi College of Art & Design, often explores the language of divinity and mythology, as well as a love of the natural world. Having begun her career with copperplate engraving, she expanded into arita ware and acrylic painting, of which her abundantly colourful End of the Jungle (2019) is an example. An artist whose works form part of the collection of the British Museum and of Walt Disney Japan, her richly decorative paintings present a worldview of nature as an irresistible, immersive oneness which may one day happily engulf us. A solo exhibition by Miwa Komatsu, “Sense of Sacredness”, is currently to be seen at Whitestone Gallery Singapore.
Chris Huen Sin Kan’s paintings carry the formula for a cosy family Christmas, and often feature his wife (Haze), son and daughter, and his dogs (Balltsz, MuiMui and Doodood). The Hong Kong-born artist layers flecks of paint, connecting flickers of light and dark, figuration and abstraction to remember times of togetherness and drama, or transient familial moments. A graduate of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chris Huen Sin Kan celebrates the tenderness and value of quotidian domesticity. Doodood and Haze (2017) is a scene of family, yet of an open house. The window streams with light, whilst the sofa is ready to receive us as guests.