This month, we wanted to talk to you about the last generation of artists who has been steadily rising for the last few months, despite the current global health crisis. Among this fascinating new scene, three young painters seem to stand out from the crowd and draw considerable attention to their work: Lucas Arruda, Matthew Wong and Antonio Obá. Although they differ a lot from each other, these three artists are renewing the practice of painting in their own ways while asserting their cultural heritage from the past. Together, they synthesize the conceptual and aesthetic challenges of our time by creating a dialogue with the old masters while being deeply rooted in today’s society. Here’s their story.
1) Lucas Arruda
Born in Brazil, Lucas Arruda’s art practice stands in the long tradition of European landscape painting. After studying art in Sao Paulo, he got noticed by Mendes Wood Gallery, which offered him his first solo show in 2009. Since then, Arruda has been slowly rising to prominence thanks to his very recognizable minimalist style. Indeed, he is well-known for his small abstract canvases representing ethereal landscapes that stand halfway between figuration and abstraction.
Although he masters the difficult technique of oil painting, Arruda doesn’t consider himself a painter, but rather « an artist who works with paint », also adding that his « works that seem like classic oils on canvas are more like installations that happen to use the medium of paint. » Indeed, his paintings are fundamentally ambivalent, as they represent both inner and outside landscapes. The artist only paints from memory, which adds to the dreamlike and almost melancholic feeling that emanates from his blurry horizon lines.
Arruda likes to say that he paints « the idea of a landscape » rather than its physical location, much in the same way as Turner’s late paintings, according to the artist’s own words. The recurring patterns that are present in most of Arruda’s works – small canvases, blurry horizon lines, light colors – have also earned him prestigious comparisons with artists like Giorgio Morandi. Lucas Arruda is represented by one of the most prominent gallerists around the world since 2018: David Zwirner. He made his remarkable auction debut at the end of last year with a $312,500 painting which was sold at Sotheby’s New York. Arruda's auction rise was later confirmed through a series of excellent results. Indeed, two of his landscapes sold for a whopping $350,000 in May and July 2020, a few months after his all-time record was broken with a $391,032 canvas at Phillips London in February of this year.
2) Matthew Wong
Matthew Wong’s name has been on everyone’s lips within the art world these last few months. The late prodigy, who unfortunately passed away last year at the age of 35 after years of struggle against depression and Tourette’s syndrome, drew considerable attention to his colorful paintings in a remarkably short period of time. Indeed, it didn’t take long before his imaginary landscapes, reminiscent of post-impressionist masters such as Van Gogh, Vuillard, Matisse or even Picasso, enchanted both the public and art professionals. Wong, who painted almost exclusively with oil and watercolor, spent a long time studying the masters with art books in public libraries. Surprisingly enough, he never attended art school and learned everything he knew by himself, which made his paintings even more unconventional and original. His singular use of colors, which range from Fauvist tones to dark blue, and his easily recognizable brushstrokes that he learned from Soutine’s expressionism and Seurat’s pointillism, helped him create highly emotional landscape paintings.
After being noticed by English curator Matthew Higgs following his first-ever exhibition at the Hong Kong visual art center in 2015, he eventually signed with New York's Karma Gallery, which organized his first solo show in the city in 2018. It was a major breakthrough, as everyone was amazed by the young prodigy who only started painting in his late 20’s. Karma’s founder even claimed that « The reaction to his work and exhibition is something that we had not experienced before with a young artist or a first show. » And given the recent enthusiasm of the market for his works, there is little doubt that Matthew Wong’s name will not soon be forgotten.
Wong's rise to fame was recently validated by the market, as the late artist was the star of the Summer Auction Sessions in the three main auction houses. He made one of the greatest auction performances with the sale of 1.8 million painting, 30 times higher than its low estimate. The auction frenzy surrounding his works was confirmed with a few six-figures sales, one of which sold close to the million again at Phillips New York.
3) Antonio Obá
Antonio Obá is the second Brazilian artist from our list. He uses a wide range of media such as installation, performance and painting to question the place of black people within the multicultural identity of his country. Obá is especially fascinated by the rich religious background of his homeland, which is inspired by Native American rituals, African culture and Christianity. But the artist is mostly famous for his figurative oil paintings with a large number of historical elements and symbols. Indeed, Obá often associates black figures standing in uncluttered spaces with rich cultural references, from European Renaissance painting to ancient alchemist symbolism and Greek philosophy. By doing so, the painter aims at including black culture within the national narrative of Latin-American countries at the same level as European culture.
The artist is also deeply inspired by religious objects from ancient polytheist artifacts to catholic icons, which he associates in his installations to recreate the numerous religious influences that shaped South America. Antonio Obá is also a performance artist who uses his own body to investigate the relation between his black skin and the world that surrounds him. According to his own words, « the anchoring point [of my work] revolves around the statement of the presence of the body ». Antonio Obá is represented by Mendes Wood Gallery, which offered him his first major market breakthrough with a sold out show during the 2019 edition of FIAC in Paris.