E very season, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art brings together today’s epoch-making artists with sensational line-ups that shine the spotlight on not only blue-chip artists, but also up-and-coming talent who deserve notice by discerning collectors. As a prelude to the highly anticipated Hong Kong Spring Auctions Series this year, we’ve highlighted the artists who are poised to become the future stars of contemporary art.
Hilary Pecis’s still life and landscape paintings inspire a vibrant storybook quality, incarnating domestic vignettes and weekend markets in characterful frames, bright colours and Fauvist flourishes. Featuring recognisable objects, her art breathes an air à la Matisse, romanticising the quotidian and enveloping the observer in a familiar aura. The California native, who holds a BFA and MFA from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco, has hosted solo exhibitions at such prestigious venues as Rockefeller Center, New York; Timothy Taylor Gallery, London; Spurs Gallery, Beijing; The Pit, Los Angeles; and Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco. She has also featured in group exhibitions at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; The Nassima-Landau Project, Tel Aviv; the GANA Art Center, Seoul; and Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. In 2008, Pecis was bestowed with the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship. She is the co-founder of Binder of Women, a consortium of female artists based in Los Angeles. Her works are housed in the public collections of the Berezdivin Collection, Puerto Rico; Budi Tek Yuz Museum, Shanghai; Zhuzhong Museum, Beijing; Li Lin JNBY Museum, Hangzhou; Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing; and New Century Art Foundation, Shanghai.
In Bazaar (2019), Hilary Pecis enlivens the magic of a weekend market with a lifelike menagerie that jumps out of the canvas. Her masterful use of pattern, combined with her ability to give every detail pride of place, allows the diorama to bask in different moods depending on where you look. Pecis invites you into a fantasia, if only for a few minutes, to relive the joy of a picture-postcard bazaar.
Issy Wood's Kafkaesque paintings put people and everyday objects in macabre avatars. The American-born artist, whose style alludes to surrealism, finds inspiration in a gallimaufry of items bequeathed to her by her maternal grandmother–including auction catalogues of decades past. Wood dubs herself a 'mediaeval millennial', in reference to her classical interpretation of modern issues. Her acerbic tone draws from such iniquitous themes as women confronted by consumerism, the material masquerade of heritage, and life and form that withers away after death. Raised in the United States, she moved to the United Kingdom for higher education, earning a BA in Fine Art and History of Art from Goldsmith’s in 2015, and an MA from the Royal Academy Schools in 2018. She has participated in highly acclaimed group exhibitions at White Cube, London; Mendes Wood DM, Brussels; the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; and Tate, St. Ives. In 2019, Wood revealed a series of tiny oil portraits of legendary comedienne Joan Rivers and an installation of over 1,000 hand-painted floor tiles at the Zabludowicz Collection’s World Receivers exhibition. In the same year, she also took to the stage with her largest solo exhibition to date, titled All The Rage, at the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in London. In January 2020, she inaugurated her maiden solo show with JTT, christened daughterproof, in New York.
In The Asp in Clasp (2018), a tightly coiled watch strap with a face takes a serpentine guise, while wisps of grey smoke are highly evocative of dreamscapes and Surrealist motifs. The subtle blue and grey palette creates a shimmery silver effect which further places the image in the shadowlands between fantasy and the unconscious mind.
Psychedelic samurai and outlandish cowboys, Pop art and manga, Abstract Expressionism and the Meiji era, and graffiti and woodblock printing are but a few of the influences that characterise Tomokazu Matsuyama’s otherworldly canvases. The New York-based artist, who spent his childhood between Japan and the United States, and received an MFA from New York's Pratt Institute in 2004, doffs his hat to Eastern and Western art history and pop culture, touching on themes like cultural identity and globalisation in the digital age. Recognised by their large scale and fluorescent pop tones, Matsuyama’s creations can sometimes be found in irregular shapes or divided into panels. He has garnered plaudits for sculptural installations across the globe, including ones at Shinjuku Station East Square in Tokyo (one of the world's busiest urban train stations) and Beverly Hills, California. His artworks live in the permanent collections of the Long Museum, Shanghai; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; the Royal Family of Dubai; and Pt. Leo Estate Sculpture Park, Melbourne.
Matsuyama conjures up electrifying scenes that pay homage to his bicultural background, as evidenced in Something Came Together (2018). Ethnic and contemporary motifs root the artwork in a cultural dichotomy that blurs the line between the domestic interior and the natural surroundings – a reflection, perhaps, of the nuances behind the artist's cross-cultural identity.
Through surrealistic palettes, Chinese-born artist Xinyi Cheng rhapsodises on different aspects of desire and human relationships, exploring intent and intimacy through allegorical depictions that hide in plain sight. Cheng, who holds a BA in Sculpture from the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University (2012), and an MFA in Multidisciplinary Programme from the Maryland Institute College of Art (2014), is distinguished by a sumptuous style that knocks back to her training in sculpture. Her characters are voluminous, existing in a realm that is at once smooth and three-dimensional. After completing a residency programme at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, The Netherlands, in 2017, she moved to Paris, where she began chronicling male friends-turned-subjects at close quarters, requesting them to enact a scene from her memory or imagination. Her outré aesthetic, which bears a likeness to American artist Elizabeth Peyton in the way that it memorialises figures from her own life, became highly coveted, leading her to clinch the Baloise Art Prize in 2019. Cheng has helmed solo exhibitions at Lafayette Anticipations, Paris; Hamburger Bahnhof—Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin; Art Basel; Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Antenna Space, Shanghai; and Practice, New York, amongst other prominent galleries. She has also been a member of noteworthy group exhibitions at such venues as The Renaissance Society, Chicago; Capitain Petzel, Berlin; Power Station of Art, Shanghai; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Gladstone Gallery, New York; and Frans Hals Museum, The Netherlands.
In keeping with Cheng's themes, Aperitif (2018) turns the spotlight, albeit subtly, on queer relationships. The subjects, two men at a table, are muted in their interaction with one another. Dressed in Stygian tones, they are pulled into focus, while the background, shaded a monochromatic red, melts away into oblivion. Their relationship, although undefined, is whispered through intimate gestures. And yet, the canvas is charged with a chemistry that electrifies the observer.
Salman Toor’s small-scale figurative portraitures hold a mirror to the little-known secrets and diurnal rhythms in the cosmopolitan lives of queer men of colour. Born in Pakistan, the New York-based artist is noted for bringing to life gangling, chestnut-skinned protagonists who revel in a make-believe, often incandescent-green world, dancing with abandon, holding goblets of wine, or simply playing with their smartphones. His themes both inspire and haunt, in a disarmingly honest exploration of community and the bowels of prejudice. In a nod to Old Masters like Rubens, Van Dyck, Bernardo Strozzi and Antoine Watteau, Toor reimagines seventeenth and eighteenth-century European portraiture by projecting traditionally marginalised men through the prism of familiar domestic settings. In some compositions, his canvases are emblazoned with parabolic spaces that are emblematic of waiting, anticipation and pregnant expectation; of imminent crossovers to an unknown land. His characters both construct and dismantle societal allegories that highlight the differences between societal and self-perception. In these fanciful environments, they break free from the long-held shackles of society. Toor holds an MFA in Painting from Pratt Institute and a BFA from Ohio Wesleyan University. He has presented exhibitions in London, New Delhi, Los Angeles, Lahore, Karachi and New York.
Toor’s rooftop ruminations find expression in The Rooftop Singer (2017). The artist’s afterglow palettes animate characters immersed in an intimate musical evening that appears almost cathartic as the figures lean into one another, seeking solace in each other’s company. The music here is perhaps a metaphor for a collective diasporic identity that defies societal archetypes, pulling people together in the face of marginalisation.
Rafa Macarrón’s vibrant, doodle-like compositions feature outlandish protagonists that lend magic to the ordinary and present everyday activities on a mystical pedestal. The Spanish artist's compositional device blurs the line between two- and three-dimensional space, creating an effect in which his figures to appear to float across the surface. A physiotherapist by qualification, Macarrón says, "To create my elongated figures requires knowledge and respect for anatomy. I know the structure of the body perfectly. Then, I begin to try out distortions and deformations, which I think works very well. I am able to create my own characters, each with their own soul and personality." Macarrón's portrayals are reminiscent of the styles of mid-century Spanish artists such as those of the El Paso group, along with influences from European figurative painting. His elevated perspective and plainspoken picture field also recall the urban themes of Manuel Hernández Mompó and Jean Dubuffet. Despite or because of the misshapen quality of his characters, Macarrón’s depictions inspire tenderness. The characters are reflections of people from the artist's life – casual passersby he may have seen on the street or even close compatriots in his own sphere. In 2021, Macarrón exhibited at CAC, Málaga, Spain, followed by the first solo exhibition by a Spanish artist at La Fundacion La Nave Salinas, Ibiza, Spain. Other exhibitions also include Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Alicante, Spain; Museo DA2, Salamanca, Spain; and his work is displayed at such institutions as the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, New York; Fundación BMW, Spain; Caja Campo, Valladolid, Spain; and Colección Mercadona, Spain; among others.
In Matilda (2018), Rafa Macarrón brings to life a cast of characters in what appears to be a closed room or, perhaps, an elevator. The fluorescent setting highlights figures that are each to their own, oblivious to their neighbours. While one creature puffs a cigarette, another basks under the clouds, while a third wears an amused expression as he peers outward. A pink dinosaur-modelled creature takes centre stage, evoking a Utopian world that resists rules. The scene at once alienates and familiarises the observer, evoking a sense of childlike wonder.