In 2014, Vogue published an article titled “Why the World’s Most Talked-About New Art Dealer Is Instagram”. It wasn’t mere hype: Vogue’s claim was backed by data from a 2015 Artsy survey which revealed that, of collectors who are active on Instagram, 51.5% purchased works from artists they originally discovered through Instagram, and this discovery led to an average of five purchased works by artists originally found on the app.
Given Instagram’s function as 24/7 addiction-fuel for collectors, the platform is increasingly important for up-and-coming artists who need extra publicity. This is a good thing not just for artists but for art-lovers, too: whether you’re based in New York or Newark, you can discover the freshest global names in art, and all you need is an Internet connection.
You’re probably familiar with Instagram superstars like KAWS or Ai Weiwei, but there are plenty of lesser-known artists who deserve your attention, too. Here are 14 emerging artists to fill your Instagram feed with breathtaking works of art rather than the usual array of flat white shots and gym selfies:
Dixon’s Instagram is like a parallel universe awash in technicolor; a visual Prozac of bubblegum pinks and cool turquoise hues. Surprisingly, Dixon identifies first and foremost as a musician rather than an artist: he played guitar in the North Vancouver punk band d.b.s, founded the record label Ache Records and recorded his own music under the moniker Secret Mommy.
Despite this, Dixon’s punk background couldn’t be further from the subject matter of his paintings, which are full of moneyed socialites, chaise longues, galleons, antique vases and polo players. In a world where minimalism is in vogue, Dixon’s visuals are deliciously excessive.
Known as “Brisbane’s Banksy”, Anthony Lister is a street artist exhibited as often in galleries as he is on walls. His work fuses pop art and expressionism, and he’s an important current name in the Lowbrow art movement, which emerged in LA in the ’70s and draws on pulp art, soft porn, sci-fi, B-grade movies and comic books. Despite his street art roots, he is a commercial success: his work has been purchased by celebrities like Pharrell Williams and Hugh Jackman for tens of thousands of dollars.
Lister’s high profile has come with some downsides, though. Earlier this year, Brisbane City Council brought wilful damage charges against him for his graffiti works between 2009 and 2014. Lister said that he never meant to deface the city and intended his works to spruce up and improve it. “It wasn’t in any condition to make me think that my gift wouldn’t be well-received,” he said of a fire hose box he painted. “That’s enough grounds for me as a visual artist with a passion for cultural progression to make an educated decision that a beautification blessing needs to take place.”
On a platform like Instagram that’s often devoted to such banalities as Kylie Jenner’s latest hair colour, Kagan fills your feed with visual reminders that there’s a lot more going on out there.
The Brooklyn-based painter uses an impasto technique—layering the paint thickly enough that the brush strokes are visible—to portray astronauts, space stations and rockets. He’s fascinated by the machinery that supports man’s exploration of outer space and the way it both protects and endangers man. “Each painting is an image, a snapshot, a flash moment; a quick read that is locked into memory by the iconic silhouettes,” he says.
Iconic is certainly the right word: Kagan’s work has found favour beyond the art world, and he has collaborated with Pharrell Williams and Billionaire Boys Club. He won the Best Art Vinyl of 2013 for his cover of the White Lies album, “Big TV”, and the Smithsonian commissioned him to create three large paintings inspired by their air and space archives last year.
This Canadian photographer has achieved more in her twenty-three years on the planet than most of us accomplish in a lifetime. She founded the all-female art collective The Ardorous, which uses photographs, art and writing to challenge the image of young women as passive and dainty; she’s a regular contributing photographer to Rookie Magazine and VICE and she designed T-shirts for Urban Outfitters that caused a small media storm since one featured a vagina, menstrual blood and allusions to female masturbation.
Collins’ Instagram is unabashedly feminine; full of dreamy, neon-lit close-ups of her friends, ethereal girls against blossom backdrops and playful Internet-style humour. She has a seemingly endless supply of famous friends willing to pose for photos, and she’s one to watch for all things young, female and on trend.
McNett teaches printmaking at the Pratt Institute and has become somewhat legendary in the world of skateboarding art. He’s made elaborate, dramatic prints which have featured on Antihero boards and Vans shoes, and he’s also the director of WolfBat Studios, which specialises in woodblock printmaking. McNett’s aesthetic could be described as skateboarding meets punk rock, and his Instagram is awash with crowned skulls jostling for space against fighting wolves.
Devin Troy Strother
In his interview with VICE last year, 29-year-old Strother discussed the difficulty of avoiding questions about black identity within his work. “It’s like this weird escapist thing where you try to make work that’s not about identity, but making work that’s not about identity is also about identity,” he explains. “So yeah, you can’t win.”
Strother’s work toys with the stereotypes that white art viewers expect from black artists, all delivered with a trademark comic twist. Think of a neon sign covered with the n-word in cursive text, carpet patterned with blackface lips or hyper-sexualised cutouts of black women. The hyperactive tone of his work is enhanced by Strother’s characteristically lengthy titles, and he’s fielded purchase inquiries from Kanye West and exhibited in Madrid, Copenhagen and New York.
Despite all that, he remains grounded: he told Crave magazine earlier this year that he was raised by TV because his parents were always working, and TV is a major influence in his work.
Parisian Yaman Okur identifies primarily as a dancer, not an artist—and no wonder, given that his CV includes touring with Madonna as a backing dancer. But his photoshop-free Instagram is a portfolio of astonishing physical art and photography. Okur pulls himself into impossible positions and has a camera on hand to record the results, which meld balletic grace with parkour.
You may have stumbled across Jen Stark’s psychedelic version of reality on her collaboration with Miley Cyrus and Wayne Coyne’s music video, “Lighter”. The Miami-born, LA-based artist crafts intricate 3D color sculptures by layering color paper, a process she stumbled upon during a semester in France where she was so broke that construction paper was the only material she could afford.
While the images and association with Miley might give off a kooky Coachella vibe, there’s more to Stark’s work than ’60s-influenced psychedelic visuals. Stark discussed the meditative aspect of her work in an interview with Electrify Magazine. “It brings me to a trance-like state when I’m creating, especially with very repetitive tasks,” she said. “With much of my work, I’m diving into questions about the universe and consciousness and trying to understand what it is all about and why it exists.”
While her pieces retail for as little as $550, even if you can’t stretch to that, then following her on Instagram will give you a taste of her singular aesthetic on a regular basis.
FriendsWithYou is a two-person collective founded by Samuel Albert Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III. The LA-based duo’s motto is “Magic, Luck, and Friendship”, and it’s immediately recognisable in their irrepressibly joyful work.
FriendsWithYou are known for photoshopping smiley faces onto inanimate objects, and have been described as “the Nintendo-quaffing offspring of Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama”. Their work is deliberately playful, and therefore tricky to recognise as fine art. Instead, they favour art disguised as toys, playgrounds, bouncy castles or cutely anthropomorphized objects.
Throw away your depression meds and follow them on Instagram instead.
Andrea von Bujdoss
Von Bujdoss is a native New Yorker who befriended some of the most prolific old-school graffiti writers and taught herself how to graffiti as a teen. Her day-glo brights reveal her affiliation with the AOK crew, who were prominent in New York in the late ’80s.
Von Budjoss’ day job is art direction, graphic design and illustration—she’s worked with big names like Rocawear, Rayban, Married to the Mob and Scion. Her Instagram emphasises her versatility: her graffiti looks just as good on the side of a van as it does housed within a frame, and her account explores the overlap between typography and graffiti.
Hodsdon’s unlikely pairing of soft poetry with modernity sets him apart from the competition, and his relatively low follower count is at odds with his huge talent.
Like the work of Adam Magyar before him, Hodsdon has revolutionised the art of the slo-mo, using it, in this case, to break new ground in the cliché-ridden world of portrait photography. Having constructed his own bespoke camera to capture his work, Hodsdon shoots soft-focus, slow-motion videos of people on the streets of New York City, bridging the gap between static photography and the moving image. In each instance what appears to be a fairly standard professional portrait gains a whole new level of depth, as the subjects very slowly blink, smile, or move their hair.
Despite the fact that his portraits are published as Instagram videos, Hodsdon categorizes his work as photography. “They’re images that represent something I see,” he explains. “Not enough occurs in the moment, which is under a second, to really amount to time elapsing. So [the videos] still feel like a single moment.”
Omoss’ focus is firmly trained on tech. He works at Studio Buck as a “creative technologist” and uses his computer smarts to create software, as well as weird and wonderful internet art in his spare time.
Having started with code art, he gradually moved on to Houdini-3D animation application software with a heavy maths focus. This all sounds extremely dry and academic until you’re confronted with the art itself, where humans melt or fold into each other like jelly, or chains of hamburgers wriggle around two naked bodies like worms.
Rest assured, you’ve never seen anything like this before.
It’s not quite clear whether Anne Bengard’s art imitates her life or vice versa, but one thing is for certain: her rainbow-hued aesthetic extends far beyond the borders of her kaleidoscopic canvas. The blue-haired, blue-eyebrowed watercolorist first gained notoriety for her “Pastel Goth” series, in which she depicted some of the leading proponents of the goth movement in lurid pastel shades. That style later became her hallmark.
Characterised by those distinctive soft-yet-intense pastel shades, Bengard’s hyper-realistic painting style manages a strange contradiction in that it’s also about as unreal as one could imagine. Her subjects range from popular celebrities to members of her equally colorful friendship circle, all of whom receive a suitably surrealist twist.
From her “Sweet Tooth” series, which saw her models fill their mouths with bizarre dental implements, to her current hip-hop-themed project, “Candy Rappers,” her work is imbued with a knowing irony and playful sense of humor. She recently appeared at the Stopjectify exhibition at London’s Gallery Different, which set out to challenge negative and exploitative representations of women in society, by producing fake cans and bottles of “breast milk” emblazoned with her own artwork.
Brooklyn Collage Collective
The Brooklyn Collage Collective’s Instagram provides a great overview of the talent emerging in the niche area of collage. Founded in December 2013 by artists Morgan Jesse Lappin and Lizzie Gill, the group is on “a mission to push the broadening definition of collage through collaborative exhibitions, live collaging events, education and dialogues”.
What this means in practice is an Instagram jam-packed with very different talents, all of whom make the world of collage attractive, accessible and fun. If you’re feeling inspired and you’re based in NYC, you can also use the account to keep up to date with the events the collective organizes and seize the opportunity to collage alongside them.
Whether you’re into photography, graffiti or sculpture, there’s a little something for everyone in Instagram’s art community. The artists listed above are a jumping-off-point-point for visual exploration, but to discover more you could try searching hashtags associated with art projects or big events, like MOMA’s #ItemsMoMA or Whitney Biennial’s favoured hashtag, #whibi. There’s even more general tags like #artoftheday, #instaart and #contemporaryart, which all throw up some good material.
Just like a flea market, you’ll have to sort through a lot of tat to find the amazing items, but the rummaging will be all worth it when you discover the next great hope of the art world years before anyone else does.
Still hungry for more art content? Check out How to Understand a Picasso in Under 10 Minutes.
- Words: Sophie Atkinson
- Main image: Anne Bengard