17 Artists (+2) To Watch in 2017

Twenty-thousand years after man first huddled in a dimly lit cave and consciously placed marks upon a wall in an attempt to better understand, and perhaps change, the world, contemporary artists continue to make marks on two-dimensional surfaces with much the same intent. No matter how many times painting has “died” over the years, it keeps coming back to take another shot - reanimated, reinvigorated and ready to deliver the goods. And why not? People still respond and attend to the oldest of mediums with a reverence that no other artifact of cultural production can elicit.

In 2016, artists continued to make paintings, while galleries and cultural institutions dedicated the majority of their exhibition space to their display. During art fair week in Miami in early December, which was marred by low attendance due to post-election malaise and the specter of Zika, there was more painting on view than ever. Photography and other media were scarce. As was evident last year, much of the painting of display was representational with the preponderance of figurative subject matter being notable. Even at the younger fairs such as NADA, there was an almost complete absence of the type of bland, process-based abstraction that had been everywhere for the last five years. Ever aware of the latest trends, smart dealers of all levels have scrambled to bring image based painting into their programs.

I am happy to see that many of the artists that I selected for last year’s list had stellar years. Brian Belott seemed to be everywhere having been taken on by both Gavin Brown and Moran Bondaroff in 2016. Emerging artists Loie Hollowell and Laeh Glenn both became collector darlings in 2016, and mature artist Nancy Shaver had a very strong outing at Derek Eller that received positive critical attention. – Steven Zevitas, Editor/Publisher

Nancy Shaver

I considered the work of a great number of artists for this year’s list. Some of the highlighted artists I have known for years, while others are relatively new discoveries. In the interest of full disclosure, Sean-McGee Phetsarath is an emerging artist who is presently on view at my space in Los Angeles, Zevitas Marcus.


I first came across Abney’s work at a solo at New York’s Kravets/Wehby in 2007 where her extraordinary painting chops were already on full display. Her subject matter draws heavily from art history and often deals with very difficult themes of violence and injustice directed towards people of color. Abney recently joined Jack Shainman Gallery, where she finds herself contextualized with a number of significant African American artists. Look for an upcoming 2017 solo exhibition of her work at The Nasher Museum in North Carolina.


Adams is a mid-career artist who has been exhibiting since the mid-90s. I was unfamiliar with her work until I came across it at Salon 94’s booth at Miami Basel and found myself spending a great deal of time considering it. (Anything that can make you slow down and take a longer look at Miami Basel has to be pretty good.) Adams playful abstractions are a meditation on painting’s most basic elements, color and form. She is clearly fearless when it comes to color. While some of her paintings should fall apart with chromatic dissonance, Adams always finds a way to bring them home. Salon 94 will give her a solo exhibition in 2017.


As I write this, a painting by Becerra adorns the font cover of the current issue of New American Paintings. While the figure  - twisted and distorted in ways only an artist has the right to do – is Becerra’s ostensible subject, his work is really about an unabashed love of paint and painting. Every inch of his paintings is carefully attended to which makes them both materially and psychologically resonant. The LA-based artist will have is first solo with Shane Campbell in Chicago in 2017.


Berryhill is very much a painter’s painter. A 2009 graduate of Columbia’s MFA program, I was first introduced to his work by Sean Horton in the same year. There is a lot of struggle evident in Berryhill’s paintings, and his subjects are not always easy to decipher. With a color palette that tends to favor pastel shades and a handling of paint that is, at best, loose, the surfaces of his paintings optically vibrate and confuse any sense of a figure ground relationship. One of the best paintings that I saw in all of Miami this year was by Berryhill and on display at the booth of Night Gallery at the NADA art fair (reproduced above).


A recent graduate of Yale’s MFA program, Casteel’s work first came to my attention in 2015 when she was featured in New American Paintings. The paintings she was making at that point were raw explorations of black masculinity that projected a tension between sexuality and sensuality. In her more recent works, Casteel continues to focus on black males, but her subjects are now situated in complex interiors and urban environments that she renders with extraordinary dexterity. These are lovingly made paintings that still capture the vulnerability of her subjects. Casteel was recently taken on by New York’s Casey Kaplan.


I will just say it: Feintuch could be the best painter that you do not know about. A New York-based mid-career painter, Feintuch has, over the course of 30+ years, developed as nuanced and psychologically resonant a body of work as you will find. The figure has always been integral to Feintuch’s work, whether literally or metaphorically. His paintings are painstakingly executed with polymer emulsion, which he precisely layers to extraordinary effect. Drawing from a large range of art historical and contemporary sources, there is a lot to consider in Feintuch’s work. Whatever the subject of a given painting, for me, his work has always poignantly spoken to the fragility and vulnerability of human existence. Betty Cunningham will feature a small group of paintings and works on paper in her project space coming up in January 2017.


Howard has been actively exhibiting since 2000. I was first introduced to his work at Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston that same year. His work has always been notable for its quietude. Indeed, there is a strange silence that Howard seems to conjur in all of his paintings, whatever their subject might be. As it happens, his subject is most often the figure, or, more specifically, cropped portions of the human figure. Most recently, his subjects have been engaged in some relatively racy activities. Howard worked with Leo Koenig for a number of years, but has recently joined Feuer/Mesler, where he is due to have his first solo exhibition in 2017.


Hughes was a New American Paintings’ cover artist in 2005, and I have been avidly following her work ever since. She is one of those painters who seems to get better by the year. Hughes’ way of handling paint has gotten significantly more gestural in recent years. While earlier paintings privileged a wonky, faux-naïve spatial structure, her latest paintings explode with color and movement. Her subjects – layered and often difficult to decipher – jostle for dominance with her exuberant brushwork. Hughes has exhibited with a number of well-regarded galleries since 2007, including the now legendary Rivington Arms. She was recently taken on by New York’s Rachel Uffner Gallery.


Art dealers are constantly besieged by artists wanting to present their work to them. It is a difficult balancing act. After all, there is only so much time in the day, but you never want to miss something extraordinary. Over the years, I have learned to trust the opinions of the artists I work with closely more than anyone else. Eric Yahnker, whom I work with in Los Angeles, told me about Jordan Kasey a couple of years ago and urged me to have a look. Kasey is very much a part of a new generation of painters who are breathing new life into figurative painting. Working large scale, she, like Ridley Howard, is a master of giving the viewer the essential parts of what is presumably a larger whole. For a young artist, her command over her chosen medium is impressive. Look for a solo show with New York’s Nicelle Beauchene in 2017.


Knight is another New American Paintings discovery for me. She is featured in Issue #127, which is currently on newsstands. While all paintings are ultimately abstractions, it wasn’t until the twentieth-century that artists began to produce work that directly acknowledged this fact. As the century progressed, more and more artists began to actively mine the space between abstraction and representation, making work that, whatever the subject matter, potently critiqued painting’s essential abstractness. Knight’s ostensible subject matter is the human figure. In her hands, however, the figure is not so much subject as it is a repository of potential forms and gestures. Knight’s paintings straddle the line between abstraction and representation in a way that is shrewdly non-preferential to either.


I have been following LA-based Korty’s work since first seeing it at China Art Objects in 2005. Many people I know consider him to be one of the most significant painters working today. Over the years, the elements of his compositions have become ever more flat. Starting with everyday subject matter – text, elements of interiors, the human figure – Korty pushes imagery through some sort of visual algorithm to arrive at paintings that are a sort of digital Cubism. While formal concerns are of paramount importance to Korty, his paintings seem to transmit information, albeit in a radically compressed form. There are very few artists whose work consistently pushes me to want to “understand” in the way that his does.


Krifka was featured in New American Paintings 2010 MFA Annual. I had not seen her work in a long time until, in early December, as I was walking through the UNTITLED art fair in Miami, I spotted a medium sized painting of hers in the back of BravinLee Program’s booth. I was blown away. Krifka is interested in the seduction and terror of American mythology and its relationship to the sublime. Combining a deep knowledge of art history with technical chops that can only be called post-academic, Krifka conjures one powerful image after another. These are not easy paintings; in fact, they are truly weird in the best surrealist sense of the work. Yet they gnaw at you in the way that the best art does. Given the current political climate, Krifka’s exploration of American condition will take on even more resonance. 


When it comes to dealing with paintings most basic elements and crystallizing them into potent formal statements, Olson is one of the best out there. There is a fragility to his paintings that belies the physicality of their making. Like a number of notable contemporary artists – Andrew Masullo and Thomas Nozkowski among them – Olson favors an intimate scale and draws his formal language from early-Modernist sources. Like Jasper Johns, he has a way of attending to every inch of his compositions in a way that makes every stroke count for something. For me, Olson’s paintings are perfectly distilled mediations on how abstraction can communicate in the purest sense. Look for a solo exhibition of Olson’s work at New York’s James Cohan Gallery in 2017.


While he is not well know in the States yet, Osborne is quickly becoming one to watch in Europe. Both formal and highly conceptual, his overall project brings together everything from found imagery to photorealism. As the artist has stated: “Abstraction is treated like a found image, or maybe a representational image of abstraction, and similarly the figurative paintings are kind of abstract in the very dry, or very still, way in which I paint them, says the artist.” Osborne tackles a number of painting’s weightiest issues, while, with a healthy dose of humor, providing viewers a number of entrances into his work.


Phetsarath is part of a new generation of artists whose visual language has been strongly influenced by life as experienced through television and the computer screen. His paintings draw from myriad art historical and pop culture sources. Using simplified forms and evocative colors, his subjects exist in a shallow space that mimics the superficial depth provided by the now omnipresent computer screen. Combining the absurdity found in digital media with his own personal anecdotes, Phetsarath creates a fantasy world that portrays a unique and humorous perspective on his Asian-American childhood. In terms of pure technical ability, he is one of the brightest stars of his generation.


Chicago painters of the Imagist generation have been having their moment for the past several years with artists such as Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum, Roger Brown and Gladys Nilsson all finding a new level of critical and commercial success. Rocca is one of the original Chicago Imagists. I was unfamiliar with her work until Matthew Marks’ recent solo exhibition of her work. Like other artists associated with Chicago Imagism, Rocca has a penchant for offbeat subject matter and a cartoony style. Her approach to Pop culture is both humorous and trenchant. The exhibition at Marks contained works that dated back 50 years, and it is incredible to think about this work in the context of a younger generation of cartoon inspired artists such as Dana Schutz and Trenton Doyle Hancock. 


A graduate of Yale’s MFA program, Shimoyama was a New American Paintings cover artist in 2013 (his cover made for one of out best selling issues ever). Shimoyama brings everything, including the kitchen sink, to his paintings. Paint is poured, splattered, stenciled and applied with every other conceivable method. Whatever it takes to get the job done. Underlying these painterly pyrotechnics are serious drawing chops which are often brought to bear on his subjects’ faces and other body parts. Shimoyama’s paintings are ultimately about human connection – the difficulty of finding it and the ecstasy of having it. I was very pleased to see Shimoyama honored with the Pulse Art Fair’s annual Pulse Prize in Miami earlier this month.


A graduate of Columbia’s MFA program, Simpson has been actively exhibiting since 2005. A 2015 solo at Rachel Uffner Gallery piqued my interest, so I was glad to come across her work again at David Petersen’s NADA Miami booth in early December. Simpson’s practice embraces film as well as painting. In both cases, she is deeply concerned with the concept of images…how we ferret out significant and insignificant moments in an image; what does our interpretation of images say about us culturally. Simpson’s paintings, which are painstakingly constructed over a period of time with oil, impasto and graphite, read as a sort of visual language. 


I will never forget walking in to Paula Cooper Gallery in 1998 and seeing Walsh’s work for the first time. I instantly fell in love. So much so, that my girlfriend at the time and I huddled in a corner a debated whether we should acquire one. We didn’t have the money to do this, but we were both so hopelessly infatuated with the paintings that we indulged the fantasy for a bit. Needless to say, I have been a fanatic ever since, and I consider Walsh to be one of the most significant painters of his generation. He is also, for whatever reason, one of the most underappreciated. While there is always a rigorous logic to Walsh’s paintings, it is the ways in which that logic is subverted by intuition that makes them sing. He once said that his work is like Agnes Martin and Philip Guston coming together. I could not agree more. Whatever initial impression you have of any given painting is quickly surrendered to the joys pure looking can yield. Walsh will have a solo at Paula Cooper Gallery that opens on January 5th.