It’s well-known that getting creative makes people happier, whether that takes the form of whipping out an old sketchbook and making something for yourself or drawing inspiration from the work of others. Luckily, social media makes it easy for artists to get their work out there, making the world a brighter place overall. Platforms like Instagram make it easy to keep up with contemporary artists as they evolve and grow. Though there are all kinds of artists whose work you can find and support on Instagram, the platform really lets paintings shine. If you can’t make it to a museum or fancy gallery, or you just want to add a splash of color to your feed, check out these contemporary fine artists bringing the art world’s loftiest tradition to the digital masses.
1. Jenna Gribbon
The Knoxville-born and New York-based painter Jenna Gribbon makes what her Instagram bio calls “paintings from inside the scopophilic feedback loop.” Scopophilia refers to the pleasure derived from looking at erotic images and has been linked to the cinematic male gaze and notions of voyeurism; however, most of Gribbon’s “voyeurism” focuses on her fiancée, Mackenzie Ruth Scott, also known as the indie singer-songwriter Torres. Since getting together, the two have become common subject matter in each other’s respective art forms, acting as one another’s muses.
The queer female gaze complicates negative assumptions of voyeurism as the viewer is drawn into the intimacy and domesticity of the moments Gribbon depicts. The audience is thrust into the relationship from the point of view of the lover instead of just a viewer. Gribbon provides lovely portraits of lesbian love and forces the viewer to confront both the tenderness and eroticism of the scenes, as well as the implications of watching it.
Gribbon sees the potential for empowerment in this reclaimed scopophilic gaze, telling them. magazine, “‘I’m a very private person so when I started making these extremely personal paintings of Mackenzie, it felt a little bit like jumping off a cliff or something,’ says Gribbon. ‘But it just felt like an important thing to do. There’s just been so little, I think, shared with the world, in terms of romantic relationships between women.’”
2. Erika Stearly
Erika Stearly is an artist who focuses on domestic interiors infused with emotive qualities and nonmathematical dimensions. By giving the scenes of living rooms, kitchens or hallways a life of their own, she crafts portraits of place and finds the intangible sense of home within depictions of it. Though people don’t physically appear in her paintings, they leave traces throughout the scenes, creating a powerful portrait by omission of a home’s inhabitants. If you feel particularly attached to a part of your home or its exterior, Stearly could do a commission to preserve it forever.
3. Mark Tennant
Like Gribbon, Mark Tennant bases his work on candid shots, captured first through the medium of photography and then translated again into oils. Tennant’s photographic, sometimes voyeuristic, paintings capture the feeling of stumbling home drunk with your friends on a Friday night, breaking into an abandoned building, going to a family reunion and other nostalgic, liminal scenes. He brings his extensive formal education and painting mastery to the kinds of scenes you’d find posted on someone’s grunge Tumblr account or VSCO. The end result — a true blend of new and old, a surreal realism — is beautiful. As one person commented under his noir interview, “This man’s paintings are wicked fresh.”
4. Faye Wei Wei
London-based artist Faye Wei Wei creates modern and aesthetically pleasing Fauvist-inspired figures. She uses loose pastel brushwork to impresses viewers with a sense of wholehearted simplicity and easy beauty. Her artsy bio states, “Faye Wei Wei’s ethereal, poetic paintings feature symbolic reveries and mythical iconography. On her large-scale canvases, the artist combines pastel hues with muted earth tones to render a unique feminine symbology she derives from folklore and art history.”
5. Kehinde Wiley
If you’ve never heard of Kehinde Wiley, you might be living under a rock. Though he recently garnered fame for painting the official portrait of former president Barack Obama, Wiley has been reclaiming the portraiture practices of Old Masters for many years. He subverts art historical traditions by inserting contemporary Black figures into the grand and heroic poses of old European art, often directly inspired by famous compositions. Wiley does important work in updating the art historical canon and does so with striking colors and opulently patterned backgrounds. The Art Institute of Chicago writes, “Wiley’s approach of recasting traditional paintings with contemporary Black subjects surfaces ideas of power and privilege and underlines who has enjoyed them historically.”
Wiley himself recalled, “Growing up as a kid in South Central Los Angeles, going to the museums in LA, there weren’t too many people who happened to look like me in those museums, on those walls. So . . . as I try to create my own type of work, it has to do with correcting for some of that. Trying to find places where people who happen to look like me do feel accepted or do have the ability to express their state of grace on the grand narrative scale of museum space.”
6. Alexandra Levasseur
Alexandra Levasseur is a Québécois artist who, like Wei Wei, deals in pretty pastel palettes to create her ethereal, psychedelic paintings and mixed media work. The less “masculine” colors are not coincidental, and Levasseur considers the typically feminine figures that appear in her work vehicles for exploring the comprehensive range of human emotions. She told online gallery Wow X Wow, “The representation of women in my work serves me as a universal symbol to illustrate an array of human emotions. My work being in part autobiographical, the feminine figures in it naturally satisfy my need to express the anxiety and struggle to understand our short life on earth and find a real powerful meaning to it.”
She went on, “As a woman, I am very grateful to the Universe I am living in, and this makes me question the concepts of time and space, of identity, happiness and fate. I believe women artists are getting day after day a stronger voice and this is helping in reducing inequality between men and women.”
7. Robert Ferri
Italian artist Robert Ferri went to Rome to study Caravaggesque and academic painting in the early 2000s, and he has been creating modern Baroque masterpieces ever since. Critic di Vittorio Sgarbi writes, “Ferri è un virtuoso che riporta nella realtà i sogni,” or, “Ferri is a virtuoso who brings dreams into reality.” While dwelling on similar subject matter to his artistic predecessors, Ferri imbues his paintings with a sensuality and emphasis on touch that make the pieces resonate with a contemporary viewer — while potentially less literate in Christian and mythological iconography, modern audiences will still be able to empathize with the emotive body that belies the human condition, which Ferri captures so perfectly.
8. Ida Floreak
New Orleans-based oil painter Ida Floreak explores the natural world. She places found objects into ritualistic set-ups for large and realistic still lifes that invoke a blend of New Age spirituality with the rich, overlapping religious iconography of the Bayou. Floreak was influenced by her studies in scientific illustration, as well as time spent abroad studying in Rome. Floreak’s bio reads, “Raised outside of organized religion, Ida turned to science and the natural world to answer questions about our origins and purpose, finding meaning and beauty in the mathematical structure and symmetry of natural objects. Pulling from her personal collection, she paints bones, gems, leaves and insects in formations reminiscent of the Italian grotteschi and devotional art. Painting in an over-large scale, Ida attempts to give these small and humble objects a treatment otherwise reserved for saints or deities.”
9. Nickie Zimov
Nickie Zimov creates erotic, minimalist paintings vaguely reminiscent of pop artists like Roy Liechtenstein. Zimov keeps relatively monochromatic palettes, while maintaining vibrancy and emphasis on the emotive power of color planes. Their work is similar to that of Mark Rothko but grafted onto human forms. Zimov’s deceptively simple compositions capture a unique blend of eroticism, playfulness, loneliness, enigma and tranquility.
10. Hugo Grenville
Hugo Grenville is a “British romantic painter” whose work builds off that of the post-impressionists and embodies ideals of romanticism. Many are drawn to the loose brush strokes and bright colors, and for post-impressionism lovers who fear they were born in the wrong decade, Grenville gladly offers a daily fix. Grenville himself would support you in using his work for escapism, a function he considers important and links back to great artists like Bonnard and Matisse, both active during WWII. In his artist statement, Grenville declares, “My paintings are an unashamed and joyous celebration of life, a passionate defence of beauty and domestic harmony, steeped in the English Romantic tradition. I would like the work to stand as a symbol of promise in a world where satire and irony predominate, and to express our sense of existence through the recognition of the transforming power of colour and light.”