As it has for most sectors of the global economy, 2020 has been a year without precedent for the art market. To the surprise of many, we noticed that collectors were charging after works by young and untested artists, despite the overall contraction of global sales. Indeed, according to ArtTactic, auction sales for artists 40 and younger at the top three houses surged 54% to $51 million in 2020 -a phenomenon that was unseen in previous economic recessions as collectors tended to go for more established and accommodating names.

This surge in demand by up-and-coming artists may be due to their original approach to art making, as well as reflect a collective desire to support and center the stories and perspectives of groups that have historically been marginalised, stories that this younger generation of artists is so engaged with. This shift towards more politically engaged subject matter has been playing out in the art market for years already, but undoubtedly gained urgency this year in the wake of BLM and LGBTQ protests, and it is this generation of young and rising artists who is beautifully managing to translate these urgencies into compelling bodies of work.

Throughout the following list, we shine a light on the most promising young artists whose practice is both notably original and politically grounded.

Vojtech Kovarik

B. 1993 in Czech Republic.
Lives and works in Czech Republic.

For Czech artist, Vojtěch Kovařík, iconography and mythology are fundamental to his work. His large-format, forceful and vividly colored compositions result in impactful paintings that evoke the strength of sculpture. His herculean figures are contorted, seemingly defeated by the frame of the canvas, flaunting their blue, green, and yellow flesh amongst vegetal backgrounds. Kovařík was first trained in ceramics and sculpture and started painting later as an autodidact. This self-taught formation led him to mix oil, acrylic, and spray paint suggesting relief in a plane surface. Figures from Greek mythology as well as pop culture references appear in Kovařík’s paintings, fully embracing figuration. His interest in Greek mythology comes from its importance in the European cultural collective unconscious but subverts its meaning by reconstructing its most prominent characters.

Kovařík’s tone sways ambiguously between violence and silliness. His giant, flagrantly flaunting their masculinity become caricatures, ridiculous objects of curiosity. His purposeful exaggeration of human anatomy creates a sense of honesty and naïveté, questioning the traditional notion of physical strength and power.

Vojtěch Kovařík, Mendes Wood DM at Villa Era, Vigliano Biellese, Italy. Image courtesy of Mendes Wood.

Alvaro Barrington

B. 1984 in Venezuela.

Lives and works in London.

Born in Venezuela to Grenadian and Haitian migrant workers, Alvaro Barrington was raised between the Caribbean and Brooklyn, New York, by a network of relatives. An unwavering commitment to community informs his wide-ranging practice. While Barrington considers himself primarily a painter, his artistic collaborations encompass exhibitions, performances, concerts, fashion, philanthropy and contributions to the Notting Hill Carnival in London. His approach to painting is similarly inclusive – embracing non-traditional materials and techniques such as burlap and sewing – and infused with references to his personal and cultural history.

Drawing on formative experiences with his grandmother in Grenada, Barrington creates richly textural mixed-media paintings on the burlap fabric used in Caribbean cacao production. The artist’s use of stitched yarn in paintings and postcards draws upon the traditionally gendered craft traditions passed down by the women in his family. His intimate compositions, rendered in a distinctive palette of reds, browns, yellows and greens, often focus on single subjects in close-up: tropical vegetation, abstracted portraits and body parts. Recurring motifs such as the hibiscus, the national flower of Jamaica, conjure a romanticised view of the Caribbean that no longer exists except in memory.

Influence and exchange are integral to Barrington’s work. He references personal touchstones including rapper Tupac and 90s hip-hop culture, jazz and the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey, modernist icons such as Willem de Kooning and Louise Bourgeois, and his art-world peers. In his recent, small-scale Date Paintings, Barrington considers different approaches to abstraction through the work of his predecessors including Paul Klee, Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko. Experimenting with the ‘logic’ found within these other artists’ work, Barrington translates it into his own idiom through simplified palettes, grid forms and expressive, bold brushstrokes.

Installation view of Alvaro Barrington's exhibition, GARVEY: SEX LOVE NURTURING FAMALAY, 2019. Courtesy of Sadie Coles.

Christina Quarles

B. 1985 in Chicago, Illinois.

Lives and works in LA, CA.

Legibility teeters on the edge of lack and excess-when we lack information about a thing, it is vague. However, as information accumulates, the risk for contradiction increases and legibility tips into ambiguity. As a Queer, cis-woman born to a black father and a white mother, Christina Quarles engages with the world from a position that is multiply situated. Her project is informed by her daily experience with ambiguity and seeks to dismantle assumptions of our fixed subjectivity through images that challenge the viewer to contend with the disorganized body in a state of excess.

Christina Quarles, Sweet Chariot, 2020. Image courtesy of Pilar Corrias.

Rachel Jones

B. 1991 in the UK.

Lives and works in theUK.

Rachel Jones has developed a deeply personal approach to abstraction, centred around an exploration of her own identity in relation to society’s readings of the black body throughout history. Jones’s paintings are informed by her research into the depiction of black figures in the arts from the eighteenth century to the present – how they are understood and culturally reproduced, and the potential role of these representations in dismantling existing power structures. The figure is notably abstracted in her works, as the artist is interested in ‘using motifs and colour as a way to communicate ideas about the interiority of black bodies and their lived experience’.

In her paintings, Jones grapples with the challenges of finding visual means to convey abstract, existential concepts. In depicting the psychological truths of being and the emotions these engender, she uses abstraction as a way of expressing the intangible. The artist repeats motifs and symbols across her series to create associative, even familial, relationships between them, underscoring their kinship as part of her ongoing investigation of identity. In recent works, Jones uses the abstracted forms of mouths and teeth to indicate a symbolic and literal entry point to the interior and the self. These oral forms emerge and recede from view, suggesting a vivid inner landscape.

Rachel Jones A Slow Teething, 2020. Courtesy of Thaddaeus Ropac.

Sara Anstis

B. 1991 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Lives and works in London, UK.

Anstis uses sensuous soft pastels and paint to build fantasy worlds at a remove from heteronormative patriarchy, yet strikingly transformative of it. The predominant concepts that Anstis’s works explore are “subjectivity, Eros, Thanatos, humour, personal mythologies, misunderstandings and (mis)anthropomorphisms.” These themes are woven together in her paintings alongside a plethora of otherworldly elements - strange creatures, surreal landscapes and plants - by which her feminine figures lay claim to desire, for better or for worse.

Sara Anstis, Sitting and Waiting, 2019. Image courtesy of Fabian Lang.

Klára Hosnedlová

B. 1990, Uherské Hradiště, (ČR).

Lives and works in Berlin.

Klára Hosnedlová’s work explores historical sentiments as they crystallize in modern and contemporary design and architecture. Her sculptures and environments are indebted to Eastern European histories and the past collective mythologies. Hosnedlová works in narrative sequences, exploring utopic architectural sites, such as the iconic Adolf Loos apartments in Pilsen or the Ještěd Tower in Liberec. The atmosphere of the places is captured in digital photography, which is later augmented through a manual reduction of pixels: rendered in silk thread on canvas, objects and faces become landscapes of lighter and darker tones, dissolving into the sculptural frames made from materials found on-site. Hosnedlová’s site specific installations recognize nostalgia as an essential feature of global culture and extrapolate the simultaneity of usually contradictory notions like reflection and longing, estrangement and affection.

Installation view, Klára Hosnedlová’s exhibition titled Seated Woman. image © Klára Hosnedlová and Karlin Studios, Prague

Issy Wood

B. 1993, Durham, North Carolina.

Lives and works in London.

Painter Issy Wood turns subjects like Joan Rivers or an ornate silver tureen into dusty, sad relics of fading luxury. Her works are populated by an absurdist menagerie of subject matter that seems desultory, but is distinctly the artist’s own. Wood uses auction catalogues and a collection of items bequeathed to her by her maternal grandmother as source materials in some of her work, which includes painting and installation, as well as writing. Her searingly sardonic tone comes through in her titles, like Kettle (By which I mean you die in a fire) (2018). Wood, who calls herself a “medieval millennial” in reference to her classical style, envisions a dark world in which women have been battered by consumerism, heritage is turned into a transaction, and humor is as trenchant as a pair of gold teeth.

Issy Wood, All the rage 1, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.

George Rouy

B. 1994 in Kent, UK.

Lives and works in London, UK.

Rouy’s approach to the body - and his pursuit of painting - is one of contradiction, harmony and perpetual transformation, criss-crossing gender, form and disposition. His work is a fever dream of amorphous, fluid embodiment: rhapsodic portraits of 21st century desire, of physical dissonance, mystery and secrecy, ecstasy and turmoil, proximity and distance. The human figure has long preoccupied artists of all times; its story dominates the history of art. In its imagination and in its image-making we find clues to how artists have grappled and engaged with the political and socio-cultural moods and attitudes of their moment. We are in a time of renewed and committed interest in figurative painting and Rouy uses the figure - constrained and liberated - as many-sided prism to examine and interrogate the contemporary crucibles of gender, fiction and technology.

George Rouy, Flirting, 2018. Courtesy of the artist

Cindy Ji Hye Kim

B. 1990 in Incheon, South Korea.

Lives and works in New York.

Rendered mostly in black and white, and in a cartoonish style, Cindy Ji Hye Kim's paintings and drawings may appear harmless at first glance. Up close, however, scenes of violence and impending catastrophe abound. With a recurring cast that consists of household items, flies, anonymous female bodies, and a family of three, Kim explores the otherwise invisible structures of image production.

Domesticity and hazard mingle in Kim's work, subverting the expected safety of homes. Another recurring imagery in Kim's work is that of SPAM, an American invention that made its way to Korea during the Korean War and has since become a staple there. Kim, who moved to Canada when she was 12, first began using images of SPAM in 2017 as a way of presenting a distinctive and commonplace item in an unfamiliar setting.

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Oedipus to Hamlet (2020). Graphite, charcoal, oil pastel, ink on paper. 30.5 x 22.9 cm. Courtesy the artist and rodolphe janssen. Photo: Lance Brewer.

France Lise McGurn

Born 1983 in Glasgow, UK.

Lives and works in Glasgow, UK.

The atmospheric practice of France-Lise McGurn transports the viewer from the public realm of a museum or gallery and into the most personal quarters of the artist’s life: her studio, her bedroom, her mind and musings. McGurn’s figurative practice delivers a wholly immersive experience, launching the viewer into a three dimensional world of the intimate and relatable.

The figures that occupy McGurn’s world belong to her imagination. These archetypal women and men, often portrayed in a state of undress, whether in groups, in pairs or alone, recline in both ecstasy and agony. At times, they appear bare and exposed huddled in tense tableaux, seemingly withdrawn in defence. Elsewhere, McGurn’s characters are languid, bathed in air of euphoria.

France-Lise McGurn: Bodytronic, 2020. Image courtesy of Simon Lee.

Lenz Geerk

B. 1988 in Switzerland.

Lenz Geerk creates psychologically charged paintings that are removed from any specific time or place.  Emphasizing his subjects  in  such  a  way  as  to  draw  out  the hidden  emotions  of  the  human  psyche,  Geerk  depicts  people  at  the threshold of excitation and in the throes of exploration.  With postures and gestures a fiction of representation, Geerk imagines  how a  certain  fragile  moment, derived  from neither model  nor  photograph, can instead be  expressed through  atmosphere  and body  language. The  nearly  monochromatic  palettes,  only  occasionally  warmed  by  other colors, adds to the aura of emotional tension.

Lenz Geerk, Untitled, 2019. Image courtesy of Roberts Projects.

Jadé Fadojutimi

B. 1993 in the UK, 1993.

Lives and works in London.

Exploring a complex emotional landscape, Jadé Fadojutimi's paintings offer an insight into the artist's quest for identity and self-knowledge. For Fadojutimi, painting is like looking into a windowpane and seeing the reflection of her self, the context in which she lives, and the distorted fusion of these two. Using the canvas as a sounding board, she grapples with memories of everyday experiences, both good and bad. Through this process Fadojutimi examines how her sense of self is constructed so that her paintings communicate forms of emotion which are impossible to convey through language.

In her interrogation of identity, and how it informs and is informed by one's surroundings, Fadojutimi is fascinated by the ways in which we adorn ourselves with clothes and accessories in order to construct a sense of self. The shapes of patterned stockings and bows, as well as eclectic swatches of fabric, recur in many of her paintings. Outlines of objects that resonate with the artist but often elude the viewer also feature surreptitiously. The artist also reflects on the trauma of feeling displaced or alienated from one's surroundings. Many of her works depict mysterious landscapes which toe the line between figuration and abstraction, an attempt to create a form of reality which is parallel to but separate from the real world.

Fadojutimi explains that her works 'question the existence of feelings and reactions to daily experiences. They question our perceptions and perspectives whilst manifesting struggles. They recognise a lack of self caused by automatically thinking that my identity is already defined, and also a frustration that paint can accept these characteristics better than myself.'

Jadé Fadojutimi, Jesture, 2020. Courtesy of Pippy Houldsworth.

Aks Misyuta

B. 1984 in UK.

Lives and works in UK.

Filled with biomorphic gestures, fleshy characters and curves, Aks Misyuta’s seductive characters are “grotesque and cartoonish,” -as the artist describes them- a somewhat morphed depiction of the people and moments around her. Inspired by people, indeed, as she defines her working process as a “form of self-portrait”. “The ‘inflatable’ appearance is a way to depict our vulnerable nature.

Aks Misyuta, Keep On Falling, 2019. Image courtesy of Union Pacific.

Katherina Olschbaur

B. 1983 in Austria.

Lives and works in LA.

Katherina Olschbaur conjures seductive canvases of Surrealist resonance. Her paintings linger between abstraction and figuration to conceive an unprecedented image orgy of feminine bodies, horned beasts and fetish garments; where her animalistic figures revel in beauty and brutality as to examine the polarities that give our existence meaning. Using the body as a site of repressed desire, Katherina Olschbaur illuminates her own narratives regarding gender, power and sexuality, revealing a new understanding of female body language that questions, disrupts and dismantles the stereotypes and prejudices perpetuated by society's ongoing expectations on women. Hence, in a spree of delicate hues and radiant shades, Olschbaur’s work explores the violence of power dynamics within a patriarchal order, subverting the status quo in both contemporary art and contemporary culture by drawing together mythology, religion and art historical references.

Katherina Olschbaur, Another Golem, 2019. Courtesy of GNYP.

Alex Foxton

Born in England in 1980.
Lives and works in Paris.

The characters depicted by Alex Foxton are not spooky figures of the Devil but much more complex identities. Foxton starts working from illustrations of war-time propaganda that he finds uncomfortable and tries to make something new out of them. The strength of the political motive, seeking to demonize others, is as abhorrent as the images are intriguing for their directness and visual power. The visual quality and the political meaning of the diverse European, but also Indian, Japanese and Norwegian inspirations arouse a tension that pushes the figures out of prettiness and harmony. The imagery is mostly of soldiers and warriors and stereotypes of lazy, greedy or evil foreigners – smoking cigars, wearing fancy clothes. But there are also literal devils, hiding behind masks of politicians, or disguised as kings and queens. Alex Foxton reworks these figures to be more ambiguous, dreamlike, sexualized, sensitive, pensive. He also borrows techniques from the propaganda: enhancing sketchy, unfinished outlines and backgrounds; monochrome; back-lighting, to suggest burning fires or sunsets. Foxton gives movement and drama to the figures, but also wants to find tenderness within that drama.

Alex Foxton, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, 2020. Image courtesy of Galerie Derouillon

Lucy Bull

B. 1990 in New York.

Lives and works in LA.

Lucy Bull’s abstract paintings play with dynamic texture, weight, and space that experiment with the auto-focusing power of eyes. Intuition is an inseparable part of her painting process as she builds rhythmic brushstrokes into a field of sensations. She remarked, “The marks oscillate from being imprints from the tip of my brush to more finessed and directionally specific as I start to trace these sensations.”

Lucy Bull, Royal Jelly, 2020. Image courtesy of High Art.

Louis Fratino

B. 1993 in Anapolis, US.

Lives and works in New York.

Louis Fratino is celebrated for his deeply personal paintings, which draw upon the artist’s intimate experiences, memories, and fantasies to portray the everyday lives of gay men in New York City. “I paint people I love, and I paint using the vocabulary of paintings I love,” Fratino explains. “So the influence is very straightforward; if I see a painting that sets me on fire, I want to try and make something that feels like that.” Whether capturing erotic scenes of lovers embracing in bed or subway passengers peering at their reflections, Fratino embues his contemporary subject matter with references to art history. His paintings often embody the visual style of early 20th century modernists like Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Henri Matisse. Heralding the young painter’s mastery of his medium, the New York Times critic Holland Cotter wrote, “Nearly every brush stroke and mark, every detail of furnishings and body hair, has a life of its own.”

Louis Fratino, Tom at Riis Beach wearing my underwear around his neck, 2019. Image courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins.