10 Emerging Painters Born in the 2000s to Watch Now

Art

Bella Bonner-Evans

Aug 10, 2023 3:11PM

As a generation, Gen Z seems entirely exhausted by the state of the world. In the wake of Trump, Brexit, COVID-19, the ever-worsening climate emergency, and widespread political upheaval, young people are often seeking stability and are unafraid to make plain personal beliefs and ideologies.

But what does this mean for the future of contemporary art, specifically painting? As painters born in 2000 and onwards begin to gain institutional and market recognition, some trends emerge. In most instances, young artists’ practices are looking inwards, examining their own lives, identities, and experiences, while attempting to situate themselves within a volatile and at times frightening world. Many present clear statements regarding the need for collective empathy, urgent climate action, and a new understanding of gendered and racialized experiences.

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In the case of Alejandra Moros, Bobbi Essers, and Chiderah Bosah, friends and family of the artists become the subjects of their work. For others, a concern with the body is paramount: In the work of Elsa Rouy, Emil Urbanek, and Vanessa Liem, we see anxious and intense depictions of bodies that rarely conform to societal expectations. These artists also imagine alternative futures or revisit cultural legacies by venturing into the territory of the surreal. Like many young people, they are excavating routes to belonging in the face of dissatisfaction with the world they have come to inhabit.

Here, we profile 10 Gen Z painters making a name for themselves, despite it all.

B. 2000, Miami. Lives and works in Miami.

Portrait of Alejandra Moros. Courtesy of the artist.

Alejandra Moros takes a unique and compelling approach to portraiture. Working from video stills and iPhone photos, she produces small but impactful renderings of zoomed-in body parts. Often featuring her friends and relatives, the works distort figures beyond recognition, forgoing background detail for an intense, hyperreal closeness.

Moros revels in viewers’ attempts to understand which body part is pictured in each work, while questioning their need to do so. For her, the bodies pictured are neither static nor reducible, but instead are representations of the most important individuals in her life. As a viewer, we are sucked into the minute detail while the bigger picture is left to our imagination.

Moros caught the attention of collectors in 2021 when Dale Zine presented a solo booth of her work at NADA Miami. She has since presented solo shows with G/ART/EN Gallery in Italy and, most recently, Spinello Projects in Miami (both in 2023). Her work has also been featured in group exhibitions with galleries such as Roberts Projects and Amanita in Los Angeles, as well as galleries in New York, Miami, and Shanghai. She has just completed a residency at PM/AM and will soon be presenting her debut London solo show with the gallery.

B. 2000, Enschede, Netherlands. Lives and works in Groningen, Netherlands.

Portrait of Bobbi Essers. Courtesy of the artist and Unit London.

Bobbi Essers’s paintings capture the power and gravity of teenage relationships. Her works are based on surreptitiously taken youthful photographs of her tightly knit queer friend group. Caught under the glare of a sudden flash, her subjects reveal themselves fully and completely, betraying a self-assured naivety.

Collaging images together, Essers creates a final composition that allows multiple moments of emotional resonance to coexist. In each work, the boundaries between the images are disjointed, with limbs reaching out from one frame to another. This interconnectedness speaks to the bonds between the individuals pictured; the canvas seems almost too small to contain the ties that bind them.

Over the past year, Essers has received significant attention, having presented solo shows with Allard Wildenberg Projects in the Netherlands, Oever Gallery in Belgium, and Unit London online. Meanwhile, her works have been featured in group exhibitions with Marian Cramer Projects in Los Angeles, Better Go South in Berlin, and Gallery Stigter Van Doesburg in Amsterdam, among others. In 2024, her work will be presented in an institution for the first time, featuring in a group show at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands.

B. 2000, Enugu, Nigeria. Lives and works in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Portrait of Chiderah Bosah by Nii Odzenma. Courtesy of the artist.

Self-taught figurative artist Chiderah Bosah has already exhibited extensively on his home continent. His work has also been featured twice at 1-54 Art Fair’s Paris and New York editions, and in exhibitions at ARUSHI Gallery in Los Angeles and CFHILL in Stockholm.

His deeply evocative portrait paintings capture individuals or small groups of people in peaceful moments of contemplation. Rendered in a distinctly pastel palette and devoid of background detail, Bosah’s paintings are deliberately quiet and subtle. In this way, he draws viewers’ full attention to the central figure.

As he wrote in his artist statement, his practice is an attempt to depict “the resilient lives of Africans in the motherland.” It’s thus paramount for him to allow individuals to speak for themselves, rejecting the weight of stereotypes, assumptions, or misconceptions that surround the lived experience of Black people in Africa.

B. 2000, Newport News, Virginia. Lives and works in New York.

Portrait of Darin Cooper. Courtesy of the artist.

Both playful and poignant, Darin Cooper’s multidisciplinary practice is a meditation on modern-day Black Southern culture. Having grown up in Virginia, he draws inspiration from the pillars that shaped his upbringing: “church, hip-hop, family, soul food, and the legacies of American slavery,” as he put it in an interview with Artsy. Through ephemeral washes of color, punctuated with collaged elements drawn from TikTok, Pinterest, and YouTube, and symbolic materials such as Cajun seasoning and wooden African sculptures, the artist has developed a unique visual language that materializes the many facets of his cultural heritage while portraying “what it feels like to be Black in the South in this era of time.”

Working primarily in acrylic on muslin, he applies rubbing alcohol to dissolve the original pigment and create a wash of watercolor-like hues. This method of erasure carries a deep symbolic significance, creating an image of the afterlife. This speaks to the spiritual undercurrent which runs throughout his practice and is an ode to, as he put it, “the various mechanisms of spiritual release Black people have created for themselves throughout history.”

Since his graduation with a BFA from New York’s School of Visual Arts, his thought-provoking work has been the subject of considerable attention. He presented his debut solo show at James Fuentes in New York earlier this year and has been featured in group exhibitions with a number of tastemaking galleries including Swivel Gallery in New York, Bode in Berlin, and Andrea Festa Fine Arts in Rome.

B. 2001, Monterey, California. Lives and works in New York.

Portrait of Drew Dodge by Daniel Rampulla. Courtesy of the artist and 1969 Gallery.

Having graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design just last year, Drew Dodge has already been labeled one to watch. His works are in prestigious collections like the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, and have been presented at The Armory Show in New York. He is currently represented by 1969 Gallery in New York, where his solo exhibition “Deep Down” opened earlier this year to high collector interest. Beyond this, he has presented solo shows with renowned galleries such as Steve Turner (who represent him in Los Angeles) and L21 Gallery in Mallorca, and participated in group exhibitions at Eve Leibe Gallery in London, Galerie Droste in Düsseldorf, and Semiose in Paris.

By grappling with themes of identity, queerness, mortality, and belonging, Dodge’s paintings excavate questions buried deep within the human psyche. In particular, he asserts the primacy of humanity’s connection with the natural world by dissolving the binaries between animals, objects, people, and things, giving form to a universe where coexistence, symbiosis, and hybridization run wild.

He describes the skulls that recur throughout his work as both vacant and fierce, animal and human, alive and dead. Within each painting, the skull takes on a new life as an antagonist to the human subject, an omen of impending doom, or a mirror to confront mortality.

B. 2000, Sittingbourne, England. Lives and works in London.

Portrait of Elsa Rouy. Courtesy of the artist and Guts Gallery.

Elsa Rouy, Beware of a Holy Whore, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.

Grotesque, yet undeniably compelling, Elsa Rouy’s paintings picture unruly bodies in all their glory. The London-based artist is currently championed by Guts Gallery, with whom she has presented three previous solo exhibitions. Having graduated from Camberwell College of the Arts in 2021, Rouy’s work has already been featured in a number of noteworthy group shows with galleries in London including Unit London, The Shop at Sadie Coles HQ, and Soho Revue, as well as Antwerp’s Everyday Gallery, Valencia gallery TUESDAY TO FRIDAY, and Galerie EIGEN + ART Lab in Berlin.

Elsa Rouy, Pleasure of a silent image disturbed, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.

Rouy paints visions of hedonistic, monstrous figures, often surrounded by bodily fluids, a way to reject the idea of the self as a contained entity. Refusing the societal impetus to be polite or restrained, she pictures the body with startling biological veracity and draws our attention to the realities of the flesh we inhabit. Her gender-defying figures are odes to the imperfect self that invite the viewer into a realm of bodily acceptance.

Next year, Steve Turner in Los Angeles will host her first solo show in America, having previously presented her work at Future Fair in New York earlier this year.

B. 2000, Berlin. Lives and works in Berlin.

Portait of Emil Urbanek by Luis Bortt. Courtesy of the artist, KUNZTEN, Weserhalle.

Emil Urbanek, not sure what for, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Weserhalle.

Emil Urbanek creates distinct, alluring paintings with a powerful presence. Working primarily in figuration, the artist masterfully renders ambiguous bodies—ephemeral yet monumental, archaic yet distinctly contemporary. Interested in the multifaceted nature of identity and gender, the individuals pictured within these works are hard to define, harboring a pensive gravitas that subsumes the canvas while peacefully gazing out at the viewer.

Since 2019, Emil Urbanek has been carving out their own distinct approach to figuration while studying at the Berlin University of the Arts. Previous solo exhibitions were presented at Weserhalle in Berlin and Galleria Alessandro Albanese in Milan. Their work was also featured in a duo exhibition with Elsa Rouy at EIGEN + ART Lab during Berlin’s 2023 gallery weekend, as well as group exhibitions with prestigious galleries such as Bonner Kunstverein in Bonn and Better Go South.

B. 2000, Odessa, Ukraine. Lives and works in London.

Portrait of Sonia Jia. Courtesy of the artist.

Sonia Jia’s work is predicated on intimacy and vulnerability, drawing from personal experiences of childhood and sexual trauma. Inherently otherworldly and undefinable, her paintings are often born from irrational moments—lost seconds spent dreaming, staring blankly, or even contemplating death. Born in Ukraine and raised in Hangzhou, China, Jia is currently based in London and has just graduated with an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art, though she works across painting and filmmaking.

For example, her film Her Feather, Her Body (2021) was screened and won awards at the Paris Film Festival and the New York International Film Festival. Meanwhile she has exhibited her paintings in group shows with a number of esteemed galleries in Asia, as well as Alice Amati in London, Eve Leibe Gallery in Turin, and ERA Gallery in Milan. Her work has also been featured at multiple art fairs including MIART and West Bund Art & Design Fair.

Her paintings center connection and mutual understanding, challenging the regimes of gendered exclusion and violence. Her process is also informed by her research into traditional Chinese painting and images of the gradual peeling of the Dunhuang murals. For Jia, this notion of shedding layers of paint becomes metaphorical, symbolizing the unpacking of complex emotions and the experience of healing from trauma.

B. 2002, Singapore. Lives and works in London.

Portrait of Vanessa Liem. Courtesy of the artist.

At the heart of Vanessa Liem’s practice is the act of looking and being looked at. She paints figures who are intensely aware that they are on display, alien-like women who refuse to be objectified. Featuring rolls of fat, freshly shaved skin, protruding nipples, and almost ironic stares, these are not the types of bodies traditionally depicted in paintings. For example, Head in a Shower Head and Stranger Danger (both 2023) feature smooth, almost uncanny subjects in the middle of perceiving themselves, presenting distorted impressions of self-observation.

Currently a student in the BA painting program at Camberwell College of the Arts, Liem’s star has been rising since 2019, when she won gold in the prestigious UOB Painting of the Year’s “Emerging” category. She has presented two previous solo shows with Cuturi Gallery in Singapore and was also part of the National Gallery of Singapore’s 2022 benefit auction.

B. 2001, Ulaan Ude, Buriad-Mongolia. Lives and works in Vienna.

Portrait of Yuma Radné. Courtesy of the artist.

Yuma Radné, Whispering to the water, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.

“Imagine riding a horse at high speed while watching the sun going down. It is a feeling of such a fast movement, when your heart is beating almost too quickly.” This is how Yuma Radné described the feeling that leads her to paint her sensitive and poetic figurative works, in an interview with Artsy.

A descendant of the Buryats, a Mongolian Indigenous group, she is heavily inspired by her heritage, and her work celebrates the ancient traditions, rituals, and beliefs of her people, while refusing orientalist misinterpretations. Having rejected her classical training in place of a surreal and otherworldly painting practice, her narrative-driven works tell age-old stories in a new light: They are infused with creation tales and origin myths, seeking to materialize her vision of the essence of our world as an elemental creative force from which all things derive.

Yuma Radne

Conference, 2022

Steve Turner

Currently studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Radné has presented two solo exhibitions, one in the National Museum of Art of the Republic Buryatia in 2018 and the second at Bloom Galerie in Saint-Tropez earlier this year. Later this year, Steve Turner in Los Angeles will host her American solo debut and will also be showing her works at Enter Art Fair in Copenhagen.

Bella Bonner-Evans

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