This story is brought to you by vapor-distilled SmartWater, who found unique inspiration for their water by looking up to the sky. We hope the change in perspective this piece offers will help inspire you. While the Web provides artists with a global platform to showcase their work, only a select few can capture the hearts and minds of viewers with their unique and compelling visions.
These innovators transcend language barriers: their works immediately grab you, making you believe – if only for a second – that such scenes could exist. Through their life experiences, these dreamers look beyond the boundaries of their medium to create something so imaginative that you can’t help but stand back in awe.
Today, we’re proud to profile ten of these individuals. You’ll meet the photo-manipulation specialist who turns reality on its head by taking photos of everyday life and then changing them into something remarkably familiar yet strangely surreal.
Later, we’ll profile the installation whiz who miraculously creates clouds indoors. These are the virtuosos who will shatter your perceptions of reality. Not only will we spotlight their most creative works, but we’ll also share the moments that shaped them into becoming the visionaries they are today. Now, without further ado, here are the ten contemporary artists you’ll want to keep your eyes on.
01. Katerina Plotnikova (Fine Art Photographer)
When she was just six years old, Katerina Plotnikova began taking painting lessons. In college, she specialized in advertisement design, which was when she was first introduced to photography. Fast forward a few years, and now, the Moscow-based photographer takes whimsical portraits of young women alongside mammals like bears, elephants, and giraffes. With the help of professional trainers, Plotnikova captures models interacting with live animals.
Her fascinating, fairytale-like photos mimic a princess lost in a magical forest. There is no post-processing done in Photoshop; save slight color correction. “All of my passion for painting – and my years of academic art training – have helped me to discover a new form of art,” she says. “Though, I think my vision was with me all the time. I’ve always shown the world as I see it.”
02. Erik Johansson (Photomanipulation Artist)
Master photo-manipulation artist Erik Johansson takes pictures of everyday life and then retouches them so that the scenes appear out of this world. Is that man paving a roadway? Is water dripping from that picture frame? In his words, Johansson fuses his brain’s “problem-solving part” with the “visual part” to create a holistic picture. “I always see my work as troubleshooting,” he says.
“How can I create something that isn’t there but make it look like it is?” The game-changing moment of inspiration arrived in 2000 when he first got his hands on a digital camera. “That’s when I discovered digital manipulation,” he says, “and I could create something that wasn’t there.”
03. Moki (Painter)
Berlin-based artist Moki creates acrylic paintings that fuse humans with their natural surroundings. She’s known for surreal imagery that cloaks her subjects in lush green moss meadows or idyllic seas of open water. Her landscapes are inspired by the untouched terrains of Scandinavia and Iceland.
Moki sees the world differently because she was born with a neurological condition called synesthesia, which means that she involuntarily experiences various senses simultaneously. More specifically, she has chromesthesia, a type of synesthesia in which – when she hears a sound, for example – it automatically evokes a specific color. “Numbers and letters have a color,” she tells us, “days, nights, and years have returned form. Scientists still haven’t figured out why some people have these connected senses.”
After realizing that not every person had this way of perceiving reality, Moki started examining constructivist epistemology, a branch of philosophy that challenges its followers to question what they know and how they know it. Constructivists believe that the only tools available to humans are our senses. We can interact with our environment through seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Thus, it’s how we construct our world. As she explains, “The ideas of constructivism influence my paintings and my way of living and thinking about reality. The border between reality and what is beyond isn’t defined.”
You can see Moki’s surreal paintings from now through June 21st at her Walden solo show at Galerie Bergwasser in Berlin, Germany. On June 14th, she’ll also be part of a group show called Tiny Trifecta at the Cotton Candy Machine in New York.
04. Oleg Oprisco (Fine Art Photographer)
Born in western Ukraine, Oleg Oprisco is a photographer who has risen to fame for his mesmerizing portfolio. He composes each element himself, from the overall concept to the props and costumes. Most impressive is that Oprisco uses a $50 medium format film camera, the Kyiv 6C, for his shots, not the expensive DSLRs that most of today’s top talents are accustomed to.
By obsessively working on individual frames until every element is perfect, Oprisco has trained himself to look at every last detail. “It’s a unique system,” he says. “I shoot 12 frames and enjoy the importance of each.” While he adds that his education and his parents’ values have guided him – “my parents always told me to strive for the best” – he believes that it’s only through actual, real-world experience that one can truly learn.
05. Matt Molloy (Timelapse Photographer)
By stacking as many as 100 photos into a single image, Ontario, Canada-based photographer Matt Molloy gives open-minded audiences a new way to enjoy the sky. By experimenting with various photography techniques and software platforms, he’s discovered an inventive way to make the view right above our heads seem incredibly alive. Molloy sources individual shots taken from time-lapse videos to create each image, giving both meanings when they’re carefully blended. “Timelapse photography isn’t simply about capturing a scene,” he says, “the emphasis is more on how the scene changes over time.”
Only applying what he first learned about taking time lapses led him to his artistic vision. As he tells us, “I was making a star trail image, from a timelapse I shot of the stars, and I wondered what the same technique would look like with time-lapses captured during the day. I tried it with a sunset timelapse and was amazed by the results. I’ve been doing them ever since. Life is constantly changing, and some of these changes are harder to perceive than others. Still, time-lapse photography enables us to perceive time and change much differently than our senses would normally allow.” As you can tell by looking through his ever-evolving portfolio, Molloy is just getting started.
06. Nancy Fouts (Surrealist Sculptor)
“I like adding a twist to things – a surprise,” says Nancy Fouts. “A little bit of ‘not right’ is great for making one wake up.” The London-based American artist creates fantastically freaky sculptures by combining objects in playful and surprising ways. Fouts studied Art at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and later worked as a model maker in the advertising business.
Fifteen years ago, she made art her full-time focus. She recalls what influenced her sculptures: “My father’s jokes were surreal in a kind hillbilly way, and I loved that when I was little. Later, when I learned about the surrealists in art school, it clicked that they seemed to match.” Fouts adds that she doesn’t necessarily see the world differently than everyone else – it’s just that her mind isn’t full of preconceived ideas. “I like looking and not knowing what is,” she says. It’s precisely for this reason that she can imagine a coin purse with teeth or a cherry stem with old dice.
07. Berndnaut Smilde (Installation Artist)
Amsterdam-based artist Berndnaut Smilde magically makes clouds appear inside rooms using a combination of smoke, moisture, and lighting. For Smilde, clouds represent that situation or location that exists in a state of “in between.” And for his patrons, art is always about having the viewer ask themselves the question, “What if . . . ?” He explains, “Just like the cloud that builds up and falls apart simultaneously, the works question construction and deconstruction, inside and outside, size, and the function of materials. I find it interesting when a work operates in-between reality and representation that it has potential but will never really function.”
Smilde’s work exists in a middle ground between installation and photography. Though the cloud exists, it must be captured at precisely the right time (before it disappears). “I use every means necessary to create an idea,” he explains, “I do temporary works that react to the architecture of a location.” As to the role of photography, he states, “It’s the only way to capture the work.”
08. Aakash Nihalani (Street Art/Installation)
New Yorker Aakash Nihalani is a master with tape, using it to create eye-catching optical illusions. Born in 1986 in Queens and currently based in Brooklyn, Nihalani was dazzled when he first came across the minimalist urban architecture of a significant city, describing it as “big boxes, filled with smaller boxes – an endless network of cubes.” Nihalani’s work reacts to the spaces many of us encounter every day.
“I came upon tape by accident,” he tells us. “I had a painter’s roll that I used to stick some screen prints on the wall for a student exhibition. A pedestal in the space was casting a shadow on the floor that matched the shapes I was using in my prints, so I instinctively outlined the shadow with the tape in my hand.” The rest, as they say, is history.
You can catch Nihalani’s work in Vantage, a current exhibition, on May 17th at Wunderkammern in Rome.
09. Ramon Bruin (Airbrush Artist)
Hailing from the Netherlands, artist Ramon Bruin produces mind-boggling optical illusions using an airbrush. He learned his craft at the Airbrush Academie in Lelystad between 2007 and 2010; since then, he’s been shocking the world with each new masterpiece Bruin challenges himself by creating art that is as realistic as possible, using the least amount of materials necessary.
Bruin began experimenting with 3D optical illusions out of sheer boredom. “I’m not the kind of guy who watches TV every evening,” he tells us. “Instead, I’m drawing or painting. Every time I drew something beautiful, I’d take a picture and put it online.”
“About two years ago, I noticed that the drawing would get distorted when I took a photograph of my drawings from a slight angle. I adjusted the drawing, took another photo from a different angle, and noticed it came a bit too live. That was the ‘big’ moment for me. After that, I started exploring this technique. I created distorted drawings and took photographs of them from shallow angles.
The artist continues to find new and inventive ways to showcase his work. “Now I’m drawing on multiple sheets of paper and adding props. I let my drawing work with the props or my own hands, and now I’m at a point where I draw beneath the paper. I draw on top of and underneath several sheets and let them work together until they become one construction.'”
10. Sarolta Bán (Digital Artist)
A lone tree takes a break by resting on a bench. A large brown bear lounges by a rock, reading a book. An older adult and his faithful dog gaze at the glowing light ahead of them while a line of leaves mysteriously marches up their backs. In the world of Budapest, Hungary-based photographer Sarolta Bán, these aren’t far-fetched ideas – these are actual scenes. Through photo manipulation, Bán turns our everyday moments into contemplative works of art. “Ordinary objects are important because I see beauty in small details.”
“I was a creator from the very beginning of my childhood – ever since I can remember,” she says.” When I was a kid, I learned to draw before I could walk or speak.” Through dedication and hard work, Bán fulfilled a lifelong dream by turning her passion into a career. “Photomanipulation was a hobby, at first, and then I learned how to create images from experimentation.
I like playing with pictures – it gives them an almost unlimited set of possibilities – and with this, I can express feelings and thoughts that I otherwise couldn’t.” Tracing it all back, she says it started from a picture she took of a house in Torino. “I didn’t like the sky, so I grabbed one of my photos and changed it to one from Hungary,” she says. “I was delighted that I could do that.” She continues, “It’s always a great feeling when the elements of a picture start to work together, and the image starts its own ‘life.’
Now that you’ve checked out our list of reality-shattering artists tell us, which of their worlds do you want to live in?
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