Specialist’s Pick: Ten Contemporary Artists to Watch

Specialist’s Pick: Ten Contemporary Artists to Watch

Today’s artists at their most exciting. Florence Ho, Sotheby’s Head of Day and Online Sales, Asia, picks ten from the latest Contemporary Discoveries.
Today’s artists at their most exciting. Florence Ho, Sotheby’s Head of Day and Online Sales, Asia, picks ten from the latest Contemporary Discoveries.

S eptember is the time for Contemporary Discoveries, a seasonal online auction gathering a roster of the most highly sought-after, established artists alongside visionary and emerging talent. Below, we spotlight ten trailblazing artists we think you should know.

[Left to right] Kristy Chan, Birth Time No. 1 and Birth Time No. 2 , both 2020

Kristy Chan

Sotheby’s Institute alumna Kristy Chan is based in London, having lived in Hong Kong until she was 16. Describing her work as “stolen realities,” she skirts the border of abstraction and figuration. In her paintings, oil is densely, fluidly, vividly applied, thereby encouraging up-close encounters with the contoured topography of her impasto. Her Birth Time No. 1 and Birth Time No. 2 (both 2020) are grounded, maternal abstractions of greens, yellows and oranges.

Glendon Cordell, Lemon Tree , 2021

Glendon Cordell

Tasmanian painter Glendon Cordell is known for portraying the rich, burnt-red warmth of his native Australia in vivid hues. The youngest of 11 children, he calls forth a skilled mix of childlike figuration and quasi-abstraction, a beacon of the joyously energising sunrays of the ‘lucky country’. His artwork titles convey the playful ambience of an Australian demi-paradise, for example Afternoon Delight (2022) and It’s a Beautiful Day (2023). Offered in Contemporary Discoveries, is the delicious Lemon Tree (2021), a sunny stage-set of hills, plants and clouds, an alluring cacophony soaked in fun.

Aaron Johnson, Into the Blue , 2021

Aaron Johnson

An artist on the must-know list, Brooklyn-based Aaron Johnson’s ethereal, psychedelic paintings in acrylic meld courting, romantic figures into an inseparable whole. A graduate of Hunter College in New York, his paintings are have been exhibited in museums around the world and is in the permanent collection of New York’s MoMA. Deliciously hazy and sensuously cavorting, his other-worldly apparitions seem perpetually on the cusp of dissolving into their own dreamlike atmosphere, and Into the Blue (2021) with its light, vaporous and beautifully celestial glow, is no exception.

Jade Kim, My Muse Fantasy , 2022

Jade Kim

South Korean artist Jade Kim regularly depicts the character of MIN. MIN’s large blue, pink or purple eyes shimmer with an inner radiance, and reflect the emotions which Kim projects onto her. Impressions of empathy, protectiveness, rebellion or withdrawal oscillate as human moods do. His works are an uxorious homage and a tribute both to his wife and to relationships as a tender sanctuary. My Muse Fantasy (2022) enters a world which is more a fairytale kingdom than a tangible reality, and perhaps hints at how the strains of everyday life may impinge on the bonds that tie us together romantically. The arrangement is ambiguous: is MIN on the cusp of a departure by train? Or is she just inviting us into her home?

Thierry Noir

Thierry Noir, who exudes the edgy, dropout drama of his adopted city of Berlin where he has lived since the 1980s, is no stranger to the art world. In 1984, he became the first artist to paint the Berlin Wall, aiming “to transform it, to make it ridiculous, and ultimately to help destroy it.” Nearly four decades later, Noir’s boldly delineated figures in signature cartoonish style remain highly sought-after. A symbol of Berlin in his own right, the French artist collaborated with Wim Wenders on Wings of Desire (1987), and his gloriously spraypainted Trabants adorn U2’s Achtung Baby 1991 album cover. He was also the subject of a solo show at Sotheby’s in London in 2022. His brightly upbeat I Am an Optimistic Person, I Never Take an Umbrella When I Go Out (2020) is another highlight of this season. 

Emily Ludwig Shaffer, Caryatid Denied , 2020

Emily Ludwig Shaffer

San Francisco-born, New-York-based Emily Ludwig Shaffer’s paintings explore the uncanny and the contradictory. Her artworks create landscapes of solid angularity and unsettling incongruity, in which women appear with no mouths, are mobile, yet seemingly chiselled in stone. She forms spaces which women create and occupy. In Caryatid Denied (2020), two Greek caryatids act as bouncers, restricting entry to a chamber beyond. The diamond-tiled floor leads the eye into darkness, speculating at the mysterious sanctum just out of reach.

Aya Takano, Madam H and the Girls , 2014

Aya Takano

Japanese artist Aya Takano is a shining light of the Superflat art movement. She actively collapses borders between schools, between art and anime, painting and illustration, fashion and cinema. In Madam H and the Girls (2014), androgynous girls sashay and gaze through a fluttering of multi-toned butterflies, a swirling symphony of the fairy-like, the sublime and the exquisite. A science fiction writer and manga artist, Takano constructs her own universe through her art, one of infinite worlds, unrestrained from the gravity of the real world.

Rodel Tapaya, Creation of the Bat , 2011

Rodel Tapaya

Rodel Tapaya draws on pre-colonial research, legend and oral folk narratives to construct large-scale, whimsical, intricately arranged and dynamic artworks. A graduate of New York’s Parsons School of Design, he now lives in his native Philippines. He engages with topical issues of globalisation and the individual’s collision with society through the medium of allegorical constructs. An exponent of collage, acrylic on canvas, and craft, Tapaya has become a high-profile ambassador of Filipino folkloric tradition. In Creation of the Bat (2011), the resplendent forest’s flora and fauna play host to the bat as a symbol of alertness, eerie ‘otherness’ and intuition.

Brian Uhing, Don Quixote , 2021

Brian Uhing

Brian Uhing is a Filipino artist inspired by Flemish and Renaissance painting, using a classical painterly style as a springboard into the surreal. Spurred into action both by master portrait painters and the exalted subjects they immortalised, Uhing creates a dichotomous dialogue across the centuries. In each case, Uhing’s contribution is one of gentle humour and wry satire, inserting modern details, mythological interventions and unexpected intrusions which veer into the absurd and the grotesque. In Don Quixote (2021), the windmills that symbolised the Don’s imaginary enemies in Cervantes’ novel are reduced to a throwaway child’s toy, whilst his fragility is emphasised by the substitution of his armour for cardboard boxes.

Peter Uka, Rest Assured , 2017

Peter Uka

Cologne-based Peter Uka's paintings are inspired by fleeting memories of his childhood in Nigeria. His aunt visiting a friend, his cousins at a market, the fashions of the 1970s and 1980s are all resuscitated. In so doing, he becomes both a documenter of that time, and an unreliable narrator, preserving his memories, yet not immune from misremembering. His paintings are detailed in parts, looser in others, reflecting how memories undulate from the sharp to the vague, or even forgotten. Rest Assured (2017) is a sober snapshot of humanity through a lens of arrow-straight lines, triangles and squares of light, reflections of sky, and vibrantly coloured clothing.

Contemporary Art

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