Criminally Underrated Contemporary Visual Artists: Volume I

You guys, I survived Storm Eunice. Can you believe that? I thought I would fly away with half of the bushes that were eradicated by the wind from my neighborhood.

But I’m still standing. Thank God!

To celebrate, a want to share with you the first installment of a series of posts about my favorite contemporary visual artists that I believe everyone should at least be familiar with.

I discovered most of them while working for a private art gallery based in Italy a few years ago, and the director had an amazing taste when it came to choosing which artists to represent and curating exhibitions.

I discovered the others on Instagram, which has become the main platform for visual artists to be found and appreciated.

Let me know which one is your favorite in the comments below!

Junna Maruyama (Japanese, 1999)

Credits: Junna Maruyama / Instagram

Believe it or not, Junna was born in the same year as I was, and she’s already a very accomplished artist with her own peculiar style.

Originally from the Saitama Prefecture, she graduated from Joshibi University of Art and Design Junior College in 2019. She’s been exhibiting since 2018 in Japan (Tokyo, mostly) and China.

Her subjects–creatures halfway between human females and monsters–are characterized by big almond-shaped eyes, lucid, pointy noses, and full lips.

Though using different colors palettes, each work represents a stand-alone reality, but what links all of her pieces together is the seemingly innocent appearance of Junna’s girls.

Source: @junna_maruyama / Instagram

Website: http://www.junnamaruyama.com

Instagram: @junna_maruyama

Peca (Argentinian)

Credits: Peca, “Carites,” oil on linen, 65 x 54 cm, private collection

If you feel you haven’t had enough weirdness for today, then you’re in luck.

Argentinian artist Peca represents humanized animal figures with big, expressive eyes–and the twist is, they look nothing like Disney characters.

She graduated from the University of Fine Arts in La Plata (UNLP), and she’s currently based in Barcelona, where she works as a painter, illustrator and film animator.

Indeed, her creatures appear as mystical, enchanting and innocent–childish, even–but the more you look at them, stuck in those strange positions and unnatural attitudes, the more you start feeling uneasy, though, at the same time, you might not be able to look away either.

Source: @peca.art / Instagram

Website: http://www.artbypeca.com

Instagram: @peca.art

Goto Atsuko (Japanese, 1982)

Credits: Goto Atsuko / Instagram

Just like Junna, Atsuko (後藤温子) is a Japanese artist who enjoys representing childhood-inspired characters, but in a somehow more adult fashion, as if they were taken straight out of a manga.

Atsuko studied at the Tokyo University of the Arts and the National School of Fine Arts in Paris, and she has been exhibiting her work across Asia, Europe and the U.S. since 2005.

Her artist statement reads: “Dreams are like strange stories, landscapes, our memory builds unconsciously. I draw what comes up from our unconscious, like hidden feelings reflected in our dreams.”

After experiencing the earthquake of March 2011 in Japan, she became aware of how the Japanese view selflessness, resignation and obedience as virtues, living in the middle of “a wide emptiness, pocked up inside their imaginary cocoon, calm and sincere, but quietly desperate.”

Perhaps it was this realization that inspired her expressionless figures surrounded by butterflies and flowers but painted using a cold palette, as if we were looking at corpses rather than live humans.

Source: @gotsukooo / Instagram

Website: http://www.gotsuko.com

Instagram: @gotsukooo

Joyce Lee (South-Korean)

Credits: Joyce Lee, “Abyss 5” Print (DP452), 8.3″ x 11.7″ or 11.7″ x 16.5″

The latest addition to my list of favorite contemporary artists, Joyce Lee is a South-Korean illustrator that mixes eroticism (a lot of it) to humor, which may not be as noticeable in seas of dicks and peachy butts, surrounded by references to oral and vaginal sex–but I can guarantee you that it’s there.

Though initially majoring in English Literature (like me!), she later earned a BFA degree from Seoul National University.

While creating, Joyce prefers watercolors and pencils, and she enjoys “exploring the humanistic aspects of love and sexuality through the symbolism of the human body itself.”

Apart from being undoubtedly pretty, her prints shock the viewer with their strong imagery deeply rooted in sexual elements that have become taboos even in our overly-sexualized modern society.

Her artworks are shamelessly sexy, in a way that’s not even provocative but simply genuine: Joyce expresses herself, unapologetically and confidently.

Source: @joyceartworks / Instagram

Website: http://www.joyceartworks.com

Instagram: @joyceartworks

Afarin Sajedi (Iranian, 1979)

Credits: Afarin Sajedi, “Pink Holy” (from Stronger collection), Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm, 2018

Born in Shiraz, Afarin Sajedi studied graphic design at Tehran Azad University.

Afarin’s subjects are theatrical, clown-like though not in a comical manner, often referencing religious figures. An example of this tendency is the Ecce Mulier collection, which recalls some medieval paintings representing the Virgin Mary before conceiving Jesus.

Other paintings and sketches of Afarin’s rework pop icons in her unique, cartoonish style, always incorporating a fish as an omnipresent entity, which makes her works even more enigmatic and powerful.

Source: @afarinsajedi / Instagram

Website: http://www.afarinsajedi.com

Instagram: @afarinsajedi


Cover image credits: Afarin Sajedi, “Rest” (from Ecce Mulier collection), Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 81 cm, 2019

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