Outstanding Visual Artists (10 Inspiring Careers)

by Dave

Is Bob Ross the most contemporary artist you know? Maybe you’ve heard of Banksy but wonder if there are other influential modern artists. This article explores the art and impact of ten contemporary visual artists. Read about them and be inspired to pursue your own artistic endeavors.

Painting, sculpture, photography and crafts — these are all pieces of art considered within the realm of “visual art.” Those who create them, along with many others like film and architecture, are called visual artists. Professionals in this realm of creative work may hold a variety of positions from self-made artists to animators with large film studios to firm-based architects. Many of their works intend to build emotion, convey opinions, and inspire ideas. The work of these contemporary outstanding visual artists is certainly worth posting.

While painters and sculptors of the past have made their name in history books, these select artists are still influencing the art world. Some are even influencing culture at large. Contemporary visual artists tend to express concern about three specific elements:
1) how art is made
2) how art is communicated and displayed
3) how spectators experience the art
Ultimately, these artists do not concern themselves with the pieces they create themselves. Their interest lies in the development of concepts or ideas and fashioning those together through mixed media to convey their message.

The contemporary visual art scene can be interpreted as visual culture because of this intent to communicate through an image — be it two- or three-dimensional, on paper or film, sculpted or drawn. Within that culture, these visual artists have impacted cultural change.

Contemporary Feminism and Visual Art: Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson

Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson are outstanding visual artists who designed the "Fearless Girl" statue in New York City.
Lizzie Wilson (left) and Tali Gumbiner (right)

Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson are the outstanding sculptors behind “Fearless Girl,” a now-iconic part of Wall Street. The statue faces the charging bull in a confident stance, marking the surge of female empowerment movements after the 2016 US presidential election.

“Fearless Girl” debuted the day before International Women’s Day in 2017. Gumbiner and Wilson’s work intended to challenge corporate America and what it symbolizes. The piece was created on behalf of State Street Global Advisors.

"Fearless Girl" statue across from Wall Street bull
“Fearless Girl”

As is expected with contemporary visual art, the bronze statue intends to symbolize and change a culture. The piece uses the symbol of a girl to highlight the perception of women as being small, yet her stance of confidence lends itself to empowerment.

While the duo’s work together lasted only 18 months, the impact was significant in the modern visual art world. “Fearless Girl” is their third project together that has, perhaps, had the most lasting impact. Their other projects include branding for graduation dresses, a Tommee Tippee photo shoot, and Godiva’s “Box That Keeps Giving” campaign.

Outstanding Visual Artist Tali Gumbiner

Considered one of the most creative people of the new millennium, Tali Gumbiner is currently a freelance professional. Although she is recognized as a visual artist for her work on several projects, like “Fearless Girl,” her primary medium is pen and paper.

Gumbiner is primarily a writer and creative director. She holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Michigan. One is in English (with High Honors) and the other is in psychology. Additionally, she earned her Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from New York University.

She began her career as a creative assistant with Mother New York. Later, she joined McCann New York as a copywriter and worked her way up the ranks. Gumbiner served as a senior copywriter for just shy of a year; she then served as the company’s associate creative director until February of 2018.

Since working in the corporate world, Gumbiner went on to write novels. Her book, What Home Is, won the First Novel Prize from The Center for Fiction in 2018. The tale follows a family of four children from a Native American-Jewish heritage.

In addition to this award, she holds several others. Her collection includes several Cannes Lions honors, Design and Art Direction recognitions, Clio Awards, One Show honors (including Best of Show and Best in Show for Direct Marketing), and Andy Awards. Beyond being named a Most Creative Person by Fast Company, she has been named top-of-class by several other entities. Gumbiner was the 2018 AdAge Creative of the Year, part of their Creatives You Need to Know list, and an AdWeek Creative 100. Moreover, one of her projects was named Ad of the Year by Time Magazine in 2018.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Tali Gumbiner.

Outstanding Visual Artist Lizzie Wilson

Considered a creative leader, Lizzie Wilson is an outstanding visual artist. She is currently an associate creative director at McCann New York and one of the brilliant minds of advertising ingenuity in the 2010s.

Wilson holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Additionally, she holds a degree in art direction from the Miami Ad School.

Although a career in advertising was not her original interest coming out of school, a quick internet search drove her toward it. As a visual artist, she knew she wanted to work in a creative capacity. Since completing her work in art direction, she has continued to grow as an art director.

Of note, her greatest concern as an artist is the feminist cause. She voices that the greatest challenges facing women today are equal opportunity, harassment, and violence. In co-designing and creating “Fearless Girl,” she found a way to “do good” for the world, especially for the women of the world, through an uncommon means. The use of brass, a strong resilient metal, intends to distort and shatter perceptions of women (and little girls) as weak or frail. Thus, she uses contemporary art to extend her beliefs.

Wilson holds several recognitions and honors for her work. She was a 2018 AdAge Creative of the Year as well as one their Creatives You Need to Know. Like her artistic partner, she made the list for Fast Company’s Most Creative People, Entrepreneur’s 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs, and AdWeek’s Creative 100. Moreover, she holds several Cannes Lions honors, Design and Art Direction recognitions, Clio and Andy Awards, and One Show honors (including Best of Show and Best in Show for Direct Marketing).

Read more about outstanding visual artist Lizzie Wilson.

Pop Art Enthusiast: Takashi Murakami

50030 Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami

Pop art is Takashi Murakami’s playground as an outstanding visual artist. His works incorporate bright colors and monstrous distortion. Moreover, they offer a critical commentary on some of the most recognized cultural imagery.

A graduate of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, he holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. Interestingly, he began his studies in nihonga, a prestigious painting style from Japan that borrows elements of Western art. However, he learned about animation production outside of his schooling, which he has incorporated in much of his work. Additionally, his education led him to disdain and become critical of the Western art market.

727 by Takashi Murakami

Because of this disdain and frustration with Westernized art and its production, Murakami’s art extends his criticisms. He varies his media between sculptures and paintings. All of it, however, relies on anime-like characters that overtly distort Western expectations. For example, his piece 727 uses Mr. DOB, a triptych avatar designed by Murakami, relies on anime effects like large eyes. He then distorts those expectations with terrifying razor-sharp teeth. The piece exaggerates these elements, openly criticizing Western expectations.

In addition to his direct visual art pieces, Murakami began his own movement: Superflat. This artistic movement aims at defying the art world dominated by Western interpretation and investment. Moreover, he has developed a new type of Pop art. New-Pop, his contribution to contemporary visual art, arguably eradicates the line between popular culture and high art.

Murakami is both celebrated and criticized broadly. Pieces like 727 are housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, yet they often garner negative attention from Western critics. Nonetheless, Murakami’s talents are renowned. He holds an Art Encouragement Prize from the Japanese Ministry of Education.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Takashi Murakami.

Top-Ranked Outstanding Visual Artist: Frank Stella

Frank Stella is an outstanding visual artist who works in paintings and sculptures
Frank Stella

Best known for using geometric shapes and patterns in paintings and sculptures, Frank Stella is a highly influential contemporary artist. Much of his work goes beyond abstraction, providing narratives through color and pattern. As an outstanding visual artist, Stella has work placed in many prestigious museums and galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Stella studied history at Princeton University, ultimately earning a degree in the field. However, he also painted and frequently visited art galleries in New York City. This influence led to his unique development as a contemporary artist. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Jena in Germany, which still displays “Hudson River Valley Series,” a large sculpture piece.

Although from the suburbs, Stella moved to and remained in New York since college. In doing so, he experienced the peak of the Abstract Expressionism movement. Much of that influence is evident in his own early pieces. However, his swift movement into the contemporary came through his use of Minimalism.

Spectralia by Frank Stella

Stella quickly became famous. Within a decade of painting professionally, he became the youngest visual artist to have a solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. His work is still exhibited frequently at the MoMA. Additionally, Stella continues to paint and sculpt.

Beyond his numerous productions around the globe, Stella holds several honors. Perhaps most distinguished, however, is his Charles Eliot Norton lecture series given at Harvard. The invitation was extended from 1983 to 1984, and the collection was published in 1986. Moreover, he holds a U.S. National Medal of Arts and an International Sculpture Center Lifetime Achievement Award.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Frank Stella.

Contemporary Abstract Painter: Gheorghe Virtosu

Gheorghe Virtosu is an outstanding visual artist who works in abstract techniques
Gheorghe Virtosu

Moldova-born, Gheorghe Virtosu is an abstract painter of the United Kingdom. He believes the role of art is to fill voids with “the expression of an idea.” His contemporary leanings showcase him as a modern outstanding visual artist.

Originally, Virtosu studied art at the Sankt Petersburgh Arts Academy. However, his opportunity there lasted only two years. As his nation — and the superpower ruling it — declined, he thought his life would be one serving in the military. As such, he left his art studies and attended the State Security Academy in Saint Petersburg.

Upon the demise of the Soviet Union, Virtosu found himself an Eastern European with unknown freedom. As he traversed the globe, he studied art and began again with his own work. He is ultimately a self-taught artist, and his life experiences frequently shape his work. Virtosu is known for his passion and “bleeds” it onto the canvas.

Eventually, he settled in London, where he became a famous contemporary abstract painter. His paintings infuse color and narrative through abstract concept and design. They intend to bring forth the most vivid images from the psyche and are emboldened by Virtosu’s own experience and worldly perspectives. Much of his work takes root in multiculturalism, finding a stronghold in politics and “real world” happenings.

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Fatimah Bint Muhammad

Virtosu has had exhibits in several galleries and museums. One such exhibition was at Saatchi Art in 2017. It featured his piece Fatimah Bint Muhammad (2016), which became the most lucrative work in production by a contemporary British artist. He also has his own gallery, which features his works and those of his contemporaries.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Gheorghe Virtosu.

Outstanding Conceptual Artist: Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper is an outstanding visual artist who works in traditional and non-traditional media
Adrian Piper

Not only an outstanding conceptual artist but also an analytic philosopher, Adrian Piper embodies contemporary visual art. Her collections can be found at the Centre Pompidou, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Where many artists find their niche in college, Piper knew her path early. As a student at New Lincoln School from elementary through high school, she participated in the Art Students’ League. By the age of twenty, she graduated from the School of Visual Arts and exhibited her artwork internationally.

Later, she went on to college. She completed her bachelor’s in philosophy at the City College of New York and earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University. Additionally, she briefly studied at the University of Heidelberg under Dieter Henrich.

Her artwork is in traditional and non-traditional media that ranges from photo-text collage to video installation and digital imagery to site-specific sculptural installation to performance. Ultimately, she aims to engage the spectator through a direct and unmediated relationship to her objects. Philosophically, she leans toward feminism, often exploring agency and subjecthood within socio-political contexts.

The Probable Trust Registry was an installation and interactive performance piece from contemporary visual artist Adrian Piper
The Probable Trust Registry installation and interactive performance

Piper’s artwork earned her many awards. Of note, The Probable Trust Registry (2013-15) received the 2015 Venice Biennale Golden Lion Award for Best Artist. For other works, she received several fellowships. Additionally, she won the 2012 College Art Association Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work. In 2014, Piper was awarded a Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award. Moreover, she is the first American to have been honored the Kaethe Kollwitz prize of Germany. In addition to her art recognitions, her philosophical works have also received recognition, including a National Endowment for the Humanities.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Adrian Piper.

Pioneer of Contemporary Feminist Art: Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago is an outstanding visual artist who works from the feminist perspective in varied media.
Judy Chicago

The daughter of political activists, Judy Chicago pioneered feminist art. Her career now spans five decades. As an outstanding visual artist, she works in various media. Nonetheless, her works all intend to educate, communicate, and promote the significance of women and their socio-political experiences.

Her formal studies in art were at the Art Institute of California and UCLA. Chicago’s commitment to education continues in her own career. She frequently taught art classes at colleges and went on to establish the first feminist art programs and galleries. In conjunction with Miriam Schapiro, Chicago founded the Women’s Art Program at Fresno State College in 1970. Additionally, she began the all-female art collective, “Womenspace.”

One of Judy Chicago's installations of the Dinner Party between 1974 and 1979
An installation of The Dinner Party

Interestingly, her first piece remains her most famous. The Dinner Party was a multimedia project that included sixteen exhibitions across six nations between 1974 and 1979. Chicago intended to showcase the history of Western women. Her symbology touches on subjugation, sexuality, and social roles and expectations. Since its presentation, the piece became a part of art history and feminist studies. Moreover, it has been replicated and stands tantamount as a timeless installation in Western culture.

Beyond her beginnings, Chicago’s success led to her collections being hosted around the world. She currently has installations throughout America, the UK, and Sweden. Additionally, she is featured in more than 25 art museums housed at universities, including Cornell, Harvard, and UCLA.

As a respected artist, author, and educator, Chicago is the recipient of numerous recognitions. Moreover, she was one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2018. Additionally, she was an Artsy Magazine 2018 “Most Influential Artist.” Moreover, Chicago received the 2019 Visionary Woman Award from the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Judy Chicago.

Pioneer of Contemporary Feminist Art: Miriam Schapiro

Miriam Schapiro is an outstanding visual artist and feminist.
Miriam Schapiro

Canadian-American artist Miriam Schapiro pioneered feminist art, heavily influencing the Pattern and Decoration movement. She challenged “macho” ideals and “high art” altogether. As an outstanding visual artist, she uses a variety of media to convey the significance of gender construction.

Her formal training began at the Museum of Modern Art and in Works Progress Administration classes. After, she briefly studied at Hunter College. However, her passion drove her to the University of Iowa where she completed her education through a Master of Fine Arts Degree. She also received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fine Arts. Additionally, she holds Honorary Doctorates from the College of Wooster, the California College of Arts and Crafts, Minneapolis and Design, and Lawrence University.

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Heartland (1985)

While in school, Schapiro studied with Modernists and Abstract Expressionists. Where “high” art relied on painting or sculpture, Schapiro incorporated crafts and “low” art. Her works, though expressive of Abstractionism in use of geometric patterns, incorporate textiles and clothing into paintings and sculptures. This blend of “women’s work” with high art quickly defined her art.

Schapiro truly broke into the art world with Judy Chicago with their establishment of the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts. Their installation, Womanhouse, explored gender construction. The piece linked women’s cultural heritage to feminist expression.

Schapiro had numerous solo exhibitions. Moreover, her work continues to be shown at galleries throughout America, including The National Museum of Women in the Arts. Additionally, she held several honors. Her collection includes the Skowhegan Medal for Collage, Honors Awards from the Women’s Caucus for Art, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, and the New York State NARAL. Moreover, she received the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Miriam Schapiro.

Outstanding Contemporary Visual Artist: Cao Fei

Cao Fei is an outstanding visual artist breaking ground in China.
Cao Fei

A contemporary artist of China, Cao Fei is making waves. Her work intends to make social commentary through appeal to popular aesthetics, and her media are primarily documentary film and carefully designed installations. As an outstanding visual artist, she brings to the attention of spectators the chaos of change China is experiencing in the new millennium.

Fei holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. She also held a residency at a lighting factory in the industrial city of Foshan. In school, she studied the use of various media, but she honed in on digital media, photography, and video. Additionally, she immerses herself in the Pop world, including those cultures from China, Japan, and America.

Interestingly, Fei’s interest in art and pop culture led her to anime and COSplay. Her early works, including Whose Utopia (2006), highlighted the alive dream world allowed by these media. Moreover, it showcased the transformation of traditional Chinese culture.

Asia One scene produced by Cao Fei
Scene from Asia One

Her most recent project is Asia One (2018). Commissioned by Guggenheim Museum, it utilizes fictional film and a multimedia installation. For the piece, Fei visited several factories in China that featured advanced techniques for work tasks. As such, she showcases a potential future and examines the impact of technology on people.

Though young, Fei has made her name in the contemporary art world. She has several solo exhibitions. Moreover, she holds several awards and nominations. Fei received the 2006 Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Best Young Artist Award. Later, in 2010, she was nominated for the Future Generation Art Prize and a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize. By 2016, she won a Best Artist Award and the Piedra de Sal Award at Cuenca Biennale.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Cao Fei.

Professional Glassblower and Artist: Katherine Gray

Katherine Gray is an outstanding visual artist who works in glass.
Katherine Gray

Working with glass is tedious, and Katherine Gray tackles it to transform granules and shards into rounded, dreamlike shapes. Much of her work encompasses the ideal glassblower’s goal of uniting beauty with functionality. As an outstanding visual artist, her works bring life into still objects.

Gray holds her art degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design and the Ontario College of Art. Her style relies on techniques of fine glassblowing. Yet, beyond these classic techniques, she designs her pieces to fit together (literally), showcasing the transparent quality inherent in glass.

In addition to being a professional artist who exhibits in galleries and has pieces available for consumption, Gray is also a professor. She is an instructor at her Rhode Island alma mater and an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino. In these roles, she teaches not only the fundamentals of technique in her unique medium but also the ability of art to communicate.

"A Rainbow Like You" is a serial piece designed by Katherine Gray.
“A Rainbow Like You”

Gray’s own work intends to impress feeling onto spectators. She infuses many of her collections with earthly elements, like fire and water. Her use of nature inspires much of her work, lending to the “disappearance” leitmotif.

She is also a host and judge on Blown Away, a Canadian television series. Through her connection with the Corning Museum of Glass, where she has many collections displayed, she is able to help fellow artists blossom in the field. On the show, she and guest judges oversee glassblowers design and create their pieces in a competitive format. The winner ultimately hosts a solo exhibition.

Gray also received accolades for her work. Additionally, she holds the Bellevue Art Museum Award of Merit and was nominated for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.

Read more about outstanding visual artist Katherine Gray.

Contemporary Visual Artists

The visual arts are a constantly evolving habitat. The word “contemporary” is an index of time rather than indicating a certain style of modern visual artists’ work. It refers to the modern movement of art creation, although some debate still surrounds the exact starting point of the movement. A common estimate is the 1960s or 1970s, but probably more important than the exact time range is the content of the art which includes a huge range of styles and techniques. Modern art has evolved into so many movements and sub-movements that it is impossible to keep track of them all.

Some contemporary visual artists can arise out of effort, and others out of thin air and by sheer luck. Whatever the origin, it’s clear that contemporary visual artists draw inspiration from the influence of their environment. This includes not just what’s popular at the time, but their upbringing, socioeconomic status, and experience with life as a whole.

Take away from this article the importance that cultural diversity brings to the table—how different civilizations have produced artists that view the world and themselves within it on a whole different plane. Each of the following artists has a story to tell and a message to send. Many of them come from backgrounds that have either been marginalized or ignored by the art world during the 20th century. This culminated in a neo-expressionist revolution that sought to redefine art from a non-ethnocentric perspective.

Culture and Activism Meet Contemporary Visual Artists

Njideka Akunyili Crosby: A New Generation of Black Women in Contemporary Visual Arts

Western art has a dubious history with African creativity. Even up to the turn of the 21st century, African art was as sparse in the eye of the American public as it was ambiguous. For most, contemporary art from Africa did not exist. In its place were collections of African pottery, carvings, and cultural artifacts. It had not yet dawned on museum goers that African artists were abundant.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a member of the up-and-coming generation of African artists that will usher African-inspired art onto the world stage. Born in Nigeria, Crosby moved to the United States to live with an adoptive family at age 16. She spent time studying for school before returning to Nigeria temporarily and then coming back to the US for further study. This study started off in biology and pre-med before she turned to the fine arts. She studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of fine Arts as well as the Yale University School of Art where she obtained a Master of Fine Arts.

In her artistic career, her pieces are collage-like and heavily sample photo-transferring. What makes Crosby’s art so dynamic is that the photographs in her paintings are mementos from her life in Nigeria. Crosby creates layers of photographs with transfers, paint, collage, pencil drawing, marble dust, fabric, and other materials on paper surfaces depicting scenes from her private life. These scenes include gatherings at home, as well as the solitude that follows.

Her art work is a representation of the challenges she faces adapting to the culture of the United States while retaining her Nigerian identity. Within these pieces, Crosby isn’t only expressing her African heritage. She is also expressing the intimate life of black women who have historically been ignored and relegated to the outskirts of society.

Ai Weiwei: A Political Activist and Contemporary Visual Artist by Birth

Ai Weiwei is as much a visual artist as he is a political movement.  His late father was a famous poet who, along with his family, spent time in a Communist labor camp during Weiwei’s youth for refusing to conform with elements of Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution”.  He spent much of his early life in exile outside of the major metropolitan centers of China due to his father’s alleged political dissidence.

In his 20s, Weiwei spent time in an avant garde acting troupe before making his way to the United States.  He was the first of his generation to benefit from a fledging Chinese openness towards the West when he spent time in United States during the 80s and 90s.  He drew inspiration from modern contemporaries and upon his return to China served as a mentor for younger artists in a rapidly developing China.

Weiwei was subject to multiple arrests and investigations stemming from his civil right and anticorruption activism in censor-heavy China, culminating in an 81-day arrest without charges. Because of his activism, Weiwei has been dubbed “China’s Most Dangerous Man“. The Chinese government, long dependent on conformity to totalitarian doctrines, views his liberal take on self-expression as potentially subversive.

Ai Weiwei’s work is as diverse as it is complex.  Many of his sculptures and architectural feats incorporate elements of cultural and political critique with intricate design.   He helped design the Beijing National Stadium—in time for the Olympics—in the shape of a birds nest, and famously crafted a replica of ancient Chinese ceramics fashioned with Coca Cola labels as a way to criticize consumerism.

Contemporary Visual Artists: International Sensations

Antony Gormley: The British Sculptor

Knighted for his contribution to British visual arts in 2014, sir Gormley is a British sculptor known for his installation art projects across the United Kingdom.

The majority of Gromley’s works revolve around the human form.  He constructs metallic casts and installs them in artistically relevant locations and positions.  In 2007, Gormley installed 31 life-sized anatomically identical moulds of himself across London, positioned atop prominent buildings.  The idea behind this work was for the viewer to gauge their own physical presence in the world by using the casts as a point of reference.

Perhaps Gromley’s most prolific work of art is a haunting installation in the English countryside.  Towering 66 ft (20 m) above the ground with a wingspan 177 ft (54 m) across is the Angel of the North, a steel sculpture of an angle with wings resembling a World War I era fighter plane.  The large statue has since rusted over, giving it an clay-orange complexion that helps it blend into the surrounding countryside.

Gormley stated that the angel represented human transition from the industrial to digital age, embodying humanities evolving hopes and fears.

Takashi Murakami: Academic and Cross-Cultural Contemporary Visual Art

Often referred to as the “Andy Warhol of Japan”, Takashi Murakami has become quite a riot after fusing Western contemporary art with elements of Japans pop-art, manga and cute “Kawaii” culture. He first emerged in the 1990s where he became famous for introducing the “Superflat” theory to art. This theory posited that Japanese anime and manga derives from the 2-dimensional flat imagery of historical Japanese art.  Western art, according to Takashi, by contrast, is multidimensional with gradations and halftones, whereas Japanese art relies on consistent, solid ink patterns with minimal transitions.

Takashi’s art is a distracting delight, replete with bright, psychedelic colors and images blending modern anime with traditional Japanese art.  Many informally describe his art as a cultural acid trip. In fact, it was part of the graphical basis for Kanye West’s most successful album “Graduation”.

Using this distinct style, Takashi creates a variety of pieces that include sculptures, painting, and even films. They often involve characters of his creation that combine popular cartoons from Europe, the US, and Japan. But while the characters might be simple cute cartoons, the ideas they represent are often quite serious. They introduce complex themes such as violence, fantasy, and technology.

This likely comes from his interest in history and involvement with historians such as Nobuo Tsuji. Influence also comes from current events like the 2011 earthquake and resulting nuclear crisis at Fukushima. This event made Takashi explore other historical disasters and their influence on Japanese culture and art. This mix of time periods, topics, places, and media all make Takashi an explorer of art and breaker of boundaries.

Jeff Koons: Pop-Art at its Finest

Of the aforementioned contemporary visual artists, Jeff Koons is perhaps the most famous and infamous. Famous because his works have come with record price tags—most recently a $58.4 million purse for a giant, stainless steel balloon dog. Infamous because critics have accused Koons of capitalizing on pop culture themes for his artwork.

Irrespective of the critique, Koons has invariably made an impact as a visual artist. He takes advantage of pop culture themes and skillfully deploys them in his pieces.  He desires to create work that makes viewers feel open to participation due to a feeling of someone speaking on their level. Moreover, unlike many of his contemporaries, Koons employs a myriad of techniques to construct his larger-than-life works. 

He was once commissioned to create a piece to accompany a baroque-style castle in Germany.  The result was a 40 ft (12 m) outline of a West Highland White Terrier puppy adorned with blooming flowers like Begonias, Marigolds, and Petunias.  The sculpture later moved near the Sydney Opera house in Australia. There it was equipped with its own internal irrigation system, and later found its final home in the Guggenheim Museum in Spain.

Koons never shows particular interest in answering his most ardent critics, especially those looking for hidden meaning in his work.  The artist takes particular pleasure in admitting that any symbolism behind his work is nonexistent. He insists that his pieces should be interpreted at face value.

The artist got his start by studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art as well as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Surprisingly, he worked as a stock broker on Wall Street in addition to creating his art. Perhaps his exuberant art provides an outlet for his creativity that the Wall Street activities can’t satiate.

Contemporary Visual Artists on the Streets

Jean-Michel Basquiat: One of the Founding Fathers of Street Art

Before graffiti gained prominence as a form of expression, it was often reviled. Many saw it as a symbol of gang affiliation and criminal antics. Jean-Michel Basquiat turned graffiti into a conduit for social commentary. Growing up the son of working class parents in Brooklyn, Basquiat still had art in his life. His parents took him to museums and exhibitions where he had exposure to visual arts at an early age. Though artistically rich, his childhood still had much precarity. His mother was permanently institutionalized when he was 13 and he attempted to run away from home at the age of 15. He spent much of his formative years enrolling and dropping out of high schools. During this time, he made ends meet selling printed T-shirts.

While working at a clothing warehouse, Basquiat spent his nights painting graffiti in lower Manhattan. His work was eventually featured in the Village Voice, followed by regular appearances on New York Public Access Television. He soon found himself rubbing shoulders with some of the most influential members of the art scene such as Andy Warhol and headlining major art shows around the world.

Though he experimented with music and film, Basquiat’s most notable works often receive descriptions of crude and neo-expressionist. His paintings often employed vivid colors and emotional themes, emphasizing struggles between socioeconomic, racial, and political groups. His most famous piece is a crassly drawn decaying skull with erratic coloring and no name. It sold at auction for a record $110 million.

All of this occurred in a fairly short time period, before the age of 27. Basquiat had a relationship with drugs leading to a tragic early death at 27 in 1988. Despite his short time on the scene, his work remains a part of collections in museums and art auctions today.

Banksy: The Most Famous Contemporary Visual Artist You Don’t Know

At this point in his world-renowned career, Banksy’s art has inspired a flurry of opinions and critiques. Since the beginning, Banksy hasn’t shied away from being politically confrontational. His stenciled style has found its way across the globe from London to the occupied territories of the West Bank in the Middle East.

Banksy has a tendency to incorporate his canvas, usually a concrete wall, into his work. Starting with his famous yet simple 2002 “Girl with Balloon” drawn on the water-stained Waterloo bridge in London, he has gradually evolved to increasingly elaborate takes on current events. He famously stenciled a life-sized drawing of a young girl frisking a soldier in riot gear in the West Bank. This piece has since become a hub for his artwork criticizing the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Banksy intentionally remains anonymous for reasons unknown, and he makes little to no profit from his art. The owners of the properties on which he paints are usually the ones to sell the pieces. Famously, during an art auction in October 2018, Banksy pulled a stunt on the world stage. The original canvas of “Girl with Balloon” had just auctioned at Sotheby’s London for $1.4 million. Just as the auctioneer pounded his gavel and said “sold”, the painting started beeping to attract people’s attention. The piece was sliding down out of the frame and through a shredder built into it. Fortunately for the bidder, the destruction of the piece might have actually made it more valuable.

Banksy himself made the shredding machine part of the frame from the beginning in case anyone tried to auction it off. It’s unclear how Banksy finances his projects or if he has sources of revenue. But what is clear is his aversion from turning art into a commodity.

Dede Bandaid: An Urban Graffiti Renegade

If the pseudonym doesn’t give it away, Dede style consists of drawing bandaids on decrepit buildings in urban Tel Aviv. He spent much of his formative years sketching imaginative images in the halls at school in Israel. He later served in the Israeli army and studied an undergraduate degree at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Upon concluding his services in the military, Dede’s imagery began to take a more political tone. On the walls of Tel Aviv’s urban centers he drew child soldiers playing with soap bubbles and police officers wearing tutu’s. His experiences shaped who he is and formed his distinctive bandaid style. He says that the bandaids are “a symbol for all kinds of difficulties, personal and social, seeking remedies.”

Most interesting about Dede’s artwork is the inspiration he derives from the urban landscape. He has an incredible ability to turn decaying buildings into works of art that evoke personal and societal questions. Many of his more popular pieces in high volume areas are in the stencil style. In this style are outlines of birds, ibex, and other animals arising from what seems to be drawings of wooden boards. The boards are stacked upon each other, intertwined with other household elements- a sort of graffiti mosaic.

More recently, Dede fashioned the abandoned Dolphinarium—most famous for being the site of the deadly 2001 suicide bombing that killed 21 civilians—with a set of chattering wind-up teeth, complete with a winding key. He also transformed an abandoned concrete slab under a Tel Aviv overpass into a yellow submarine, flanked by river water. Various works of Dede exist around the world in exhibition spaces, galleries, and in the streets.