Featured in
Issue 222

Five Up-and-Coming Painters to Keep a Close Eye On

Our critics drum up an international list of their favourite promising artists

BY Sophie Ruigrok, Terence Trouillot, Skye Arundhati Thomas AND Chloe Stead in Profiles | 03 NOV 21

Jenna Gribbon

An encounter with the loose, sensual canvases of New York-based painter Jenna Gribbon feels like venturing into heady memory. We glimpse intimate moments – hands clutching fleshy thighs, a sleeping boy with his thumb pressed between his lips – and our eyes act as surrogates for the artist’s own. But, as Gribbon beckons us in, she also pushes us away: the truncated compositions, the titles (Wholesome Sunday Fuck, 2020) and the fervent gaze of her subjects define us as mere intruders.

Gribbon’s spontaneous licks of paint recall masters such as Édouard Manet. Her brush lingers on areas of acute observation before collapsing into eddying, gestural impressionism. This diversity in mark echoes the selective nature of memory, which crystallizes certain moments to allow others to dissolve. Gribbon’s vision teeters on the edge of fantasy: whilst her attention to tone and light lends her world a gravity, her perspective buckles and wobbles, and her palette can leap from muted and earthy to rousingly vivid. Brilliant pink nipples decorate her figures’ naked chests – a device employed to jolt the viewer and emphasize our voyeurism.

Ideas of looking and being looked at pervade Gribbon’s work. In Mackenzie’s Lack of Interest in Gallery 827 (2019), the artist’s girlfriend glances at weighty oil paintings, while in Midday Watch (2020), her son lies spellbound and bare-bottomed before a scene from the US cartoon Family Guy (1999–ongoing). The series ‘Agnès V. par Jenna G’ (2020) depicts close female friends watching the work of new wave filmmaker Agnès Varda, her subjects both spectator and spectacle. Gribbon’s paintings allow for the multiplicity of the female experience: in her world, the women are at once queer, friends, lovers, voyeurs, mothers. She picks up where Varda left off: contemplating the objectification of women through a contemporary lens, reminding us that this conversation is far from over. Sophie Ruigrok

Chase Hall, Mind of a Fisherman (Nocturne), 2020, acrylic and coffee on cotton canvas, 1.5 × 1.2 m

Chase Hall

Chase Hall’s small portraits of Black male figures – such as Sheep’s Wool, Omaha or Portrait of Big Red (all 2020) – remind me of Kerry James Marshall’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980). While Marshall’s figure – a tribute to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) – is rendered in deep black, almost clouded in obscurity, Hall’s men are depicted with light-brown skin and illuminated by the lacunae of the raw canvas peppered throughout the surface of his paintings – a trademark of his oeuvre.

The young autodidact – who snuck into the art studios at Parsons School of Design in New York to teach himself how to paint before attending Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2019 – made a splash with his debut solo show, ‘Aleczander’, at CLEARING’s Brooklyn outpost this spring, exhibiting large-scale canvases steeped in the canon of Black figuration. His work often pictures Black men from disparate eras – jazz men, jockeys, fisherman – all flourishing in their surroundings. In Mind of a Fisherman (Nocturne) (2020), the figure, standing slyly in front of a boat at sea, cocks a smile with a pipe in his mouth. He holds a lantern in one hand, while two long fish seem to drape from the lapels of his coat, almost like a scarf. The muted colours are expressive in their application: brushstrokes often morph into hurried patterns of repeated marks, as if drawn in a colouring book.

To achieve the soft browns in his works, Hall soaks his cotton canvases in coffee – a deliberate reference to the extractive labours of Black bodies attached to these raw materials. Creating a beautiful interplay between his mark-making and the smooth brown background, the resulting tableaux are strange, moving and powerful. – Terence Trouillot

Fiza Khatri, Heartbreak Pakoras, 2020, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 61 cm

Fiza Khatri

In Fiza Khatri’s oil-on-canvas The Sink (2020), erratically cut hair trimmings – some wispy, some thick and curly – lay spilled over an egg-blue bathroom sink. It’s a familiar scene: the sloppy remnants of a hurried haircut. It’s also a self-portrait, the artist explains to me, representative of her ‘bold and drastic’ post-breakup look.

Khatri’s work is about the small, tender moments of love and kinship. (Queen of) Ming Court (2020) shows a friend in a turtleneck perusing a menu over an empty soup bowl, red lantern bobbing above their head. The protagonist of Iva’s Spread (2020) wears a pink knitted hat and pink sunglasses, palms folded in, presiding over a deck of unmarked cards. In Heartbreak Pakoras (2020), the fritters lie plated on oil-soaked tissues on the kitchen counter.

Each work appears to be painted from the perspective of a single person – the artist herself, perhaps – who acts as a narrator of sorts, guiding us through each moment of intimacy. Khatri leaves her brushstrokes visible to us in a lively animation. There is anticipation in every painting: for Iva to flip over her cards and show us what the deck has to offer; for the narrator to reach out for a pakora and bite into its juicy warmth.

The portraits radiate with the care and special tenderness particular to queer friendships: friends that become family; friends that build worlds together. In Spark and Bite (2021), a pair of cats sleeps in a tangle, faces nestled between paws. ‘Sharing cute photos’, Khatri tells me, ‘has become a love language.’ Her paintings carry this same feeling: a language of togetherness. – Skye Arundhati Thomas

Fabian Ramírez, A Pair of Unknown Tights, 2019, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2 × 1.8 m

Fabian Ramírez

The young Mexican artist Fabian Ramírez paints dreamscapes: ghost images of vegetation, domestics interiors and other environs, concealed in a barrage of expressive colourful brushstrokes, creating kaleidoscopic abstractions that only hint towards a certain place and time. In Wüstenzimmer (2021), we see perhaps a fireplace in the background, couched by two armchairs; an oval mirror hangs just above the mantel. To the right of the picture plane are sweeping streaks of green paint that seem random but coalesce into an image of a large cactus tree; in the corner, a small, detailed version of an Arizona barrel cactus plant emerges from the barrage of marks.

Ramírez’s palette is sometimes grotesque – neon purples and magentas swoosh through shit-coloured browns and puke-hued yellows that are smeared or wiped across the canvas – rendering dark, almost nightmarish scenes that are intensely alluring. In other works, the colour scheme more specifically harkens to 1960s and ’70s psychedelia: cool neon hues warping into mind-bending swirls. In A Pair of Unknown Tights (2021), for instance, a swath of trippy dyes swarms across the expanse of the canvas, enveloping what looks to be a person: all that remains, at the bottom of the painting, is a pair of lower legs clad in mauve socks and black loafers.

Ramírez is currently studying painting under the tutelage of Ellen Gallagher at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf – the alma mater of Gerhard Richter, whose blurring and scraping painting technique has had a huge influence on the artist. His work also draws inspiration from Katharina Grosse’s colour interventions in physical space, albeit on a two-dimensional surface, which Ramírez explained to me as ‘painting as a way of tracing memory, combining both abstraction and interior and exterior space’. – Terence Trouillot

Joanna Woś, Untitled, 2021, oil on canvas, 1.7 × 1.1 m

Joanna Woś

‘Extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror,’ wrote Georges Bataille in his 1928 erotic novella Story of the Eye. A similar understanding can be seen in the work of Joanna Woś, who – bucking the trend for sex positivity in recent figurative painting – depicts scenes of wanton debauchery that seduce and repel in equal measure.

Group sex is a recurring theme in the Polish-born, Austrian-based artist’s oil paintings. In an untitled canvas from 2019, for instance, four bald figures in modest dress – presumably women – hold aloft a fifth person whose own skirt is hitched up to reveal her vulva. Similarly, an untitled 2021 scene depicts another woman – the artist herself – sticking her snakelike tongue into the crevice of a faceless character’s buttocks. In the background, a row of dress-suited legs surrounds the copulating couple, while two ghostly faces hover ominously in the foreground as if manifested by Woś’s own subconscious.

Whether these women are victims or morally corrupt temptresses is purposely hard to tell. ‘Ambiguity is a big part of my practice’, the 30-year-old artist tells me, adding that the uneven power dynamics in the works were initially inspired by patriarchal relationships within her own family. This may be one reason why shame seems to drip like sweat from paintings such as a 2019 double portrait of the artist that shows her both being entered from behind and sitting on a chair – naked and possibly unconscious – with her legs spread. Along the top edge of the canvas, two lamps illuminate the scene with a wan yellow light while also titillatingly suggesting a pair of prying eyes. I’m again reminded of a line from Bataille’s sacrilegious tale: ‘We did not lack modesty – on the contrary – but something urgently drove us to defy modesty together as immodestly as possible.’ – Chloe Stead

This article first appeared in frieze issue 222 with the headline ‘Five Young Painters to Follow´.

Main image: Jenna Gribbon, Comment Section (detail), 2021, oil on linen, 51 × 41 cm

Sophie Ruigrok is a writer based in London.

Terence Trouillot is senior editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

Skye Arundhati Thomas is a writer. They are co-editor of The White Review, and their essay-length book Remember the Details was published this year by Floating Opera Press.

Chloe Stead is assistant editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany.