Connecting Figures (part 2): New Humanism in Recent Contemporary Figurative Painting + Sculpture

In continuation of the first installment of contemporary figurative humanist painting, here are some more profiles of figurative Humanist artists whose works react to a myriad of social conditions. This time, I am also including the work of figurative sculptors. The aim is for this to be a continuing series because there are so many artists to present. This post features: Eben Kling, Reva Castillenti, Brian Kokoska, Patrick Webb, Linda Stojak, and Jordan Casteel.

Eben Kling:

“I was born into a groundless generation, a generation that takes pleasure in the screen where all of humankind as we know it will be annihilated; it won’t be snuffed out from an alien invasion, or a large lizard, but from the sun burning out, from global warming and disasters caused by our panicked selves–we are celebrating our own nightmares.” – Eben Kling

Eben Kling, Tiny Panic, 2015, Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Eben Kling, Tiny Panic, 2015, Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

The radiating glow emanating from the TV set illuminates Eben Kling’s studio. The fact that he allows himself to have that element inside of the workplace produces work that references social conditions such as apathy, negligence, and exploitation, which are all too prevalent amongst American popular culture. In today’s society the line is blurred between real tragedy and entertainment. Watching violent dramatic programs as entertainment has conditioned ourselves to be indifferent to real violence unfolding in the world around us. By and large, we are living in a precarious social reality.

Kling’s paintings are conscious to the gluttony of commercialism, police brutality, and an oppressive authoritative state. His anarchic compositions are crowded with tangled limbs, simultaneity, violence, ambiguous space, the cul de sac, negligence, beers, excess, television screens, helpless figures, debauchery and celestial ambivalence. There is some semblance of humor within these works, but all too familiar is the feeling of anxiety and tragedy. He is invigorating the mundane and banal moments in contemporary life. Kling feels that there’s a real desperation in those smaller moments of frenzy, which are very powerful.

Eben Kling, Fear of Others, 2015, Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 55 x 57 inches

Eben Kling, Fear of Others, 2015, Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 55″ x 57″

Regarding his figurative imagery Kling reflects: “These images evoke a moral response, not an ethical solution. They are not moralizing. Tempered by humor, they remain troubling. When slapstick goes awry, tangled shoelaces meet gravity and it’s sobering. The recurrence of the figure encourages a real moral and empathetic reaction in someone looking at this work I think. It has a ubiquity that I find really effective, especially in relation to more social, ethical and psychological dilemmas. I like stories and I would prefer to play to the narrative impulse that we all have.”

Cartoons were an early artistic influence on Kling and had a profound role in his developing a painterly vocabulary. He is averse to the exaggerated ego in superhero comics and instead is fascinated by the slap-stick and banal imagery of the comic strip. His Grandmother would sit him in front of the TV and he would make drawings inspired by the cartoons he’d see on the screen. The graphic sensibility of cartoons continue to inform his art to this day. The colorful and flattened grounds in his paintings created by fields acrylic paint, the exaggerated figuration are all a result from his childhood.

Kling feels a kinship with the ironic and trenchant attitudes of Robert Crumb, Ralph Steadman, and H.C. Westermann. Their cynical interpretations of American popular culture have had a profound affect to him. Another major artistic influence on his work are the Post-WWII Chicago Imagists. As a painter he identifies a strong connection with the figurative art zeitgeist in Chicago during the early 1960’s. Most specifically, the work by the artists in The Hairy Who: Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Art Green, Jim Falconer, Karl Wirsum, Suellen Rocca. 

Reva Castillenti:

Reva Castillenti, What We Are Doing for the Insane, 2014, Plaster, Canvas, Mixed Media, Oil Paint

Reva Castillenti, What We Are Doing for the Insane, 2014, Plaster, Canvas, Mixed Media, Oil Paint

The intersection of intensity and intimacy of the abject are profound in Reva Castillenti’s sculptures. Her narratives focus on loss of identity, distortion of reality, and deconstruction of personality with the intent that the viewer experience empathy through the noted affects of sociological desires, consumer culture, and disruption of interpersonal relationships.

Castillenti’s sources include novels, medical history books, films, and celebrity gossip magazines. These themes are then implicated using truncated limbs and faceless figures as a nod to specific psychological states while simultaneously depicting any-body. The exaggeration of scale and anatomical distortion draws the emotion of tactile intrigue while eliciting psychical repulsion.

There is a certain humor and burlesque nature to Castillenti’s subjects. In her “Public Privates” series there is a collection of larger-than-life body parts re-imagined from popular culture. Many of the stories surrounding the folklore of these detached or malformed body parts are familiar to our collective consciousness whether taboo, comical, or even disturbing. John Bobbit’s cut off penis, Michael Jackson’s repeated nose jobs, JFK’s fragmented skull, Nancy Kerrigan’s swollen and bruised knee, and Tom Green’s cancerous testical: now enshrined in absurdity alluding to new aspects of existence, creating a fusion of realms normally perceived as separate.

Brian Kokoska:


Brian Kokoska, Peruke, 2012, oil on canvas, 20″ x 17″

Kokoska paints in a manner that recalls the automatic and physical aspects of American Post-WWII Expressionsim. However, his subject matter, which includes explorations into fetish and fringe sensuality, is the antithesis of the machismo New York School. In his recent work, Kokoska’s intimately scaled paintings both communicate and isolate from one another. Predominantly monochromatic, each work introduces a different approach to forming a face – a reference to the artist’s fascination with mask sensibilities – and in reaction to his recent sculptural works. Here, Kokoska’s paintings are not only self-aware, but claim awareness of tradition, theatricality, youth, internet culture, and whimsy. His work proposes a post-sentimental state whereby facial attributes, shapes, gestures, composition, and color no longer determine an obvious emotion or circumstance, but rather a playful experience on hyper-hybrid-identity.

Patrick Webb:

Patrick Webb, Concordant Love, 2012, oil on canvas, 60

Patrick Webb, Concordant Love, 2012, oil on canvas, 60″

Patrick Webb’s paintings take both a whimsical and poignant approach to the exploration of the human experience.  His protagonist is Punchinello, the fool or joker from the dramatic tradition of Commedia dell’Arte. Punchinello is Webb’s unique invention and symbolizes “the other and the Other: sometimes he is tragic; sometimes he is heroic; sometimes he is funny; and sometimes he just is but his presence in the paintings always raises questions about identity, politics and fictions.” Through Punchinello’s exploits (often amongst the streets of New York City and Provincetown, MA), Webb explores the two great drives, Eros (life, love and desire) and Thanatos (death, loss and aggression). Punchinello experiences triumphs, awkwardness, and hardships through Webb’s painterly vignettes. Although he is often faced with adversity (the end of relationships, the death of friends, the desire to be loved, and the horror of the AIDS crisis)  Punchinello has persevered.

Linda Stojak:

Linda Stojak, Figure 88, 2014, Oil, mixed media on canvas, 72 x 48 inches. Courtesy of Stux + Haller Gallery, New York

Linda Stojak, Figure 88,
2014, Oil, mixed media on canvas, 72 x 48 ” Courtesy of Stux + Haller Gallery, New York

Linda Stojak’s painterly expressionism embodies a powerful exploration of feminist identity. In most of her paintings, a solitary female figure boldly emerges from an abstract ground. She creates these riveting images directly from the physicality of the paint, employing formal techniques similar to her Figurative Expressionist antecedents like Selina Trieff, Joan Brown, Nathan Oliveira, and Lester Johnson. Her figures are faceless, aside from the occasional rouge of their lipstick and makeup, however they grab hold of you and interact with you in a distinct personal level. They represent a universal humanist viewpoint sharing an archetypical makeup of human nature. They are existential images of femininity and beauty.

Stojak’s current exhibition “Waiting for a Moment” is on view through June 6, 2015 at Stux + Haller on the Upper East Side (24 West 57th Street, 6th Floor).

Jordan Casteel:

Jordan Casteel,  Devan, 2014, oil on canvas, 74 x 54

Jordan Casteel,
Devan, 2014, oil on canvas, 74 x 54″

Through figurative painting, Jordan Casteel aims to bring to light things that are often unseen. These things include an intimate exploration of black masculinity and its relationship to her as a black woman. With the crisis of ongoing violence against black men in the United States, Casteel seeks to contribute a vision that shows the complexities of black men rather than reducing them to how they’re often perceived in the media.

Casteel’s imagery takes on a broader scope of the human condition, guiding us to question how the relation of color pertains to the black body. She uses . The domestic environment becomes the stage for these men. As part of the artistic process, Casteel travels to their homes or their preferred location where she photographs them within their home. This process yields paintings that are viewed through an emphatic lens. She creates a very emotional narrative and context in her paintings that’s not only symbolic of her models, but of the human experience at large.

You can view Jordan Casteel’s paintings at the LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island on Saturday, May 23, 12pm – 5pm, and Sunday, May 24, 12pm –  5pm.

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