Modern Artists to Look Out For in 2021 | ICONIC LIFE

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Artists in Residence | 5 Modern Creatives You Should Know

Robert Pennino modern art at Galerie 203

Robert Pennino

From recent college graduates to career painters, these five talents are making their mark as modern artists.

Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali said “a true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” That inspiration can translate to your home where art is what gives your home a soul. Here are five modern artists we’re following right now.

“It’s been an honor to have a voice in our community,”

Merryn Omotayo Alaka at Lisa Sette Gallery

Courtesy of Merryn Omotayo Alaka and Lisa Sette Gallery

Friends and frequent collaborators, Phoenix-based artists Sam Fresquez and Merryn Omotayo Alaka are young—both are 24—but their work, both individually and together, is powerful, visceral and makes strong statements about feminism, stereotyping and culture.

A recent collaborative installation, titled “It’s Mine I bought It,” at Lisa Sette Gallery in Phoenix featured a series of floor-length suspensions of synthetic hair, formed into elaborate braids, tassels and chandelierlike forms, which examined self-expression by women of color and societal expectations.

The two met when they were going for their bachelor’s in fine arts at Arizona State University. Alaka, who is from Indianapolis, grew up in a house filled with African art and crafts, thanks to her Nigerian-born father. She spent summers with an aunt, a contemporary artist who lives in Salt Lake City. Alaka’s work often references West African textiles, Yoruba beaded sculptures, forms of adornment, the Black diaspora and the Black female body. Her intricate tapestry-like sculpture, “Lead With Your Looks,” is made with synthetic hair and pony beads that explores hair braiding in Black culture and the power of female adornment.


Steffi Faircloth / Courtesy of the artists and Lisa Sette Gallery

Fresquez grew up in Mesa, Arizona, with yin/yang influences ranging from spending after-school hours in her grandmother’s art supply store and weekends going to NASCAR races with her father, who worked in the organization’s administration. Attending an arts-based charter high school solidified her desire to be an artist and, at ASU, she chose interdisciplinary art so she could explore various mediums.

Fresquez melds Latinx and other influences with historically and culturally significant materials, such as hair, jewelry, found footage and text, into her work. One recent project, “Voicemail Portraits,” mixes audio snippets of telephone voice messages with sepia-toned Kodachrome images, creating a poignant, immersive experience.


Josh Loeser / Courtesy of the artists and Lisa Sette Gallery

The pair’s first collaborative project was a small piece of jewelry crafted by Alaka, who was taking a jewelry class at the time. It showcased, in Fresquez’s cursive handwriting, a line of poetry that Fresquez heard in a Spanish class. “It was a great way to use our separate skill sets,” says Alaka, “and it was featured in some museum shows in Arizona.”

While the artists are represented by Lisa Sette Gallery, their individual works are on exhibit through January at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
“It’s been an honor to have a voice in our community,” says Fresquez of the opportunities she and Alaka have had to showcase their work throughout the state. “It’s something neither one of us takes lightly.”

“It’s something neither one of us takes lightly.”

modern art by Michael Carson

Courtesy of Michael Carson

MICHAEL CARSON | Bonner David Galleries
Michael Carson paints people, but don’t call him a portraitist. “I’m not trying to achieve a likeness through my imagery,” says the Minnesota-born, Phoenix-based modern artist. “I think ‘figurativist’ is a better description. My point of reference usually goes away, and I’m free to let the painting go where it needs to go.”
Indeed, his angular, moodily lit close-ups, full-body images and rooms full of people have become popular with collectors around the world, thanks to representation by Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale and New York, as well as Galleri Romfjord in Norway, which is taking his work to this year’s Art Basel in Miami.

artist Michael Carson at Bonner David Galleries

Katerina Terekhova

Not bad for someone who didn’t do his first oil painting until he was 28. Carson, who spent the first part of his career as a corporate product designer, got interested in the art form while traveling through Amsterdam and becoming smitten by an artwork he saw in a gallery. “I came home, bought some paint and, within a few years, was painting full time,” he recalls.

The modern artist refers to his figurative works as “Frankenstein portraits.” He explains, “I take photos, I tear out images from magazines, I remember people’s faces. In my studio, I will literally have thousands of pieces of paper on the floor for inspiration. I’ll use somebody’s head on another person’s pose, then maybe get someone else’s hands. My art is rarely an image of one actual person.”


modern art by Michael Carson Bonner David Gallery

Courtesy of Michael Carson

Carson is also a musician, and he has created artworks for album covers and, recently, has begun adding original paintings on guitars he builds. Currently, however, he is full-on prepping for a December show at Bonner David Galleries’ Scottsdale locale and another in spring for the New York gallery. He’s also bound for Italy, to do an art workshop in Florence at the end of the year.

“I am 20 years into my art career,” says Carson, “and I have to say, I have been very lucky.”

I’m not trying to achieve a likeness through my imagery,

Costello Gallery modern artist David Dauncey

Jeff Zaruba

DAVID DAUNCEY | Costello Gallery
Painter David Dauncey’s abstracts appear distressed and textured—seemingly incorporating bits of history and a veiled past. His portraits also have a weathered quality, often drifting off at the edges into abstract forms. Dauncey’s patrons know they’re not getting a bucolic landscape or a classical side-lit still from him. Instead, his work as a modern artist is bold and commanding.

I am drawn to distressed and weathered things, all of which shows in my work. Some people respond to my work, some don’t.”

modern artist David Dauncey Costello Gallery

Jeff Zaruba

Born in England and possessing a BFA from the University of Bristol, Dauncey came to Phoenix in 1994 to work for Phoenix Art Group, a production art company that, at the time, employed artists to create work for interior designers and architects to place into homes, hotels, restaurants, offices and other locations. After a few years, he decided to set up his own studio at his home in Midtown Phoenix, which he shares with his wife, artist Judith Dauncey.

“There is a wide swath of things that excite me,” says Dauncey of his influences. “I like the work of artists such as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Robert Rauschenberg, and I am drawn to distressed and weathered things, all of which shows in my work. Some people respond to my work, some don’t.”

modern art by David Dauncey Costello Gallery

Harrison Hurwitz

About 20 percent of Dauncey’s work as a modern artist is commissioned, including upcoming pieces for Tokyo Disneyland. And he still connects with interior designers and architects through Costello Gallery in Scottsdale, which has represented him for the past seven years.

“I’m not sure if I’m considered an established or mid-career artist,” says Dauncey with a laugh. “I do think I’ve ‘emerged.’ All I know is that I’m always restless and happy to try new things.”

“I think people respond to the work visually,” he says, “but I always include a message behind each piece

modern art by Robert Pennino

Courtesy of Rob Pennino

ROB PENNINO | Galerie 203
Rob Pennino’s path to painting was not the traditional art-school-to-studio-apprentice-to-gallery route. While the Montreal native grew up in a family where many took up art as a hobby, he spent about 15 years in the construction and development of single-family homes and condos before following his creative passion full-time.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy to change my field and to pursue my dream to be a professional modern artist” says Pennino, “but I took the courage to go for it all the way.”


modern artist at Galerie 203 Robert Pennino

Rob Pennino

Pennino’s large works are inspired by nature and intended to inspire positivity. “I always look to create something that puts a smile on the viewer’s face, with a mix of colors that brings a sense of light to the space,” says Pennino of his textured abstractions.

“I also take my influences from travel, including trips to Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. Each time I paint, I try to do something new.”

His works can also be found around the world, gracing the walls of an apartment in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, “as well as homes in New York, Germany, England, California and Toronto.”

Robert Pennino modern artist Galerie 203

Courtesy of Rob Pennino

Pennino, who is represented by Montreal’s Galerie 203, notes that Instagram has brought him plenty of attention, with positive responses each time he posts. “When you start out as a modern artist, people don’t just ring your doorbell and say they want to buy a painting,” he says. “Having gallery representation and Instagram has helped put my art out in the world.”

Indeed, his paintings has developed something of a celebrity following, with actors, models and sports figures collecting Pennino’s art. “I think people respond to the work visually,” he says, “but I always include a message behind each piece. My clients like that—it gives them a boost.”

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