Distorted, grotesque and warped portraits are on trend at Chicago’s contemporary art fair.
Gordon Cheung at Edel Assanti Gallery. All photographs by the author.
With harsh overhead fluorescent lighting and far too many opportunities for art selfies in mirror sculptures, the environment of a contemporary art fair is enough to give any person image issues. But at EXPO Chicago, located at the iconic Navy Pier, the faces around us have started to look a little, well, fucked up. Warped heads, melting bodies, and mutated faces bubbling with paint have become an undeniable art trend at the fair, with artists like Genieve Figgis, Vanessa Prager and José Lerma giving a hyper distorted play on the classic style of abstract portraiture.
From the grotesque to the surreal to the slightly nauseating, these eight mutated artworks from EXPO Chicago deserve a second, or third, glance. And don’t worry–they won’t mind if you stare.
Genieve Figgis at half gallery
With a unique painting style that bleeds and swirls the fleshtones of the antiquated subjects, Irish painter Genieve Figgis’ Renaissance-style portraiture exudes a surreal and hypnotizing eeriness. Like a haunted house’s family portraits, there’s an element of black magic in those melting, grinning faces.
Jaume Plensa at Galerie Lelong
Sculpture artist Jaume Plensa questions perception with his disorienting public art pieces, like the series of Portraits in Chicago’s Millennium Park—larger versions of this sculpture made of burnt wood showing a girls head that at a face-on glance looks normal, but is surreally stretched from the side.
Gordon Chung at Edel Assanti Gallery
Digitally manipulated and historically obstructed, Gordon Cheung’s inkjet-printed paintings create a post-apocalyptic look into the past, as if the recording of history had been remastered with a permanent glitch.
Autumn Elizabeth Clark at The Art Institute of Chicago booth curated by Richard Williamson
Photographer, filmmaker, and recent graduate of The Art Institute of Chicago, Autumn Elizabeth Clark, takes a side-eye at the images of pop culture—crumpling, creasing, and resetting the way we see beauty on film.
Antony Micallef at Pearl Lam Gallery
Piling of thick blobs of fleshy paint in place of a face, Antony Micallef’s work feels grippingly physical, like that reaction we sometimes have to seeing the impenetrable permanency of our own reflections.
Vanessa Prager at The Hole Gallery
Vanessa Prager’s tactile portraits manipulate paint into a stretched, spiky surface, hightenting features of faces and sometimes even making them unrecognizable. It seems that the more you stare, the less human the paintings become.
Jose Lerma at Roberto Paradise Gallery
Constantly playing with scale and abstraction, José Lerma’s layered paintings heighten the elements of a portrait to surrealist extremes. The exaggerations seem to say something about the subject themselves (or in this case a self portrait). With shifted eyes or an expanded nose, we get to know the subject through their oddities.
With a bright and relaxed painting style, Todd Bienvenu’s 100 paintings of his favorite records first feels like a teenage shrine to the greats, but at closer glance takes on a strange abstraction of the recognizable classics.The paintings of album covers from Nirvana's Nevermind to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy become something else: a distorted vision of a vision of a vision.
The Chicago EXPO takes place yearly. Click here to learn more.