On the rise in 2022: five female figurative artists you need to know about
With sold-out solo shows, institutions snapping up their works and auction prices smashing high estimates, these are the figurative artists to keep an eye on right now — all of them featuring in our upcoming Post-War & Contemporary Art sales
Danielle Orchard (b. 1985)
Paintings by the American artist Danielle Orchard are currently some of the art market’s hottest property.
It was only last year that she signed a representation deal with powerhouse gallery Perrotin, but she has already opened solo exhibitions at its spaces in Seoul and Paris. With these shows completely sold out, another is currently in the works for Perrotin’s outpost in New York, due to open in spring 2023.
‘There’s a wait list for her work and it’s growing by the day,’ the gallery’s director Ariel Kliegerman recently told Artnet. ‘We’ve already made a few promises to collectors and museums who weren’t able to get access this time,’ she added, referencing the artist’s rare string of back-to-back shows.
The demand for Orchard’s work has caused her prices at auction to skyrocket. In November 2021, the artist donated a work called Two Bathers to Christie’s, which was sold to benefit the Public Art Fund. It achieved a staggering $287,500 — nearly 60 times its low estimate.
Since then, no fewer than 12 of Orchard’s works have appeared in salerooms around the world, nearly all of them exceeding their high estimates. The price achieved by Two Bathers, however, remains her current auction record.
Orchard was born in Indiana and now lives and works in New York. Her portraits draw on Renaissance poses and Cubist styles, and she has cited Caravaggio and Matisse as influences. After finishing her MFA in painting at Hunter College in New York in 2013, she began steadily building her reputation through group shows at galleries including V1 in Copenhagen and Blum & Poe in Los Angeles.
There is much excitement around Orchard and her future, and museum exhibitions are reportedly being planned in Asia and South America for 2023, potentially bolstering her reputation still further.
Stacey Gillian Abe (b. 1990)
In 2018, Forbes Africa named the contemporary Ugandan artist Stacey Gillian Abe one of its 30 Under 30 Creatives to watch.
At the time, Abe’s work consisted primarily of performances and installations that investigated identity, gender and class from her perspective as a young, black, African woman.
That same year her work Enya Sa — featuring sculpted clay vaginas painted red to address the objectification of women — became a highlight of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and was covered in The New York Times.
Since 2020, however, Abe has been concentrating on painting. In the past two years, her portraits of black sitters with indigo-coloured skin wrapped in swags of bright fabrics have been included in various group shows in London and New York, as well as the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence.
In 2021, Abe’s work was included in an exhibition of contemporary African portraitists curated by Kehinde Wiley at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in Los Angeles.
The upcoming sale of Sleeping Girl 2 marks Abe’s first appearance at a major auction house. Painted in 2020, and measuring over a metre wide, the canvas was acquired from the group show Playing to the Gallery, held at Afriart Gallery in Kampala. Collectors will no doubt be watching keenly.
Cristina BanBan (b. 1987)
Depicting voluptuous women in loose strokes of fleshy tones and blocks of bright colour, Cristina BanBan’s work mixes elements of modern European figuration with gestural abstraction.
BanBan graduated in 2010 from the University of Barcelona and now lives and works in New York. Her breakout year was 2017, when she participated in no fewer than five group shows in London, including Inside Out, curated by the artist Gavin Turk, and the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. At the latter she was awarded the institution’s annual Arts Club Award.
Fast-forward to 2021 and BanBan had begun to attract institutional attention, participating in group shows at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio and the Kunstraum Potsdam in Germany. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami also acquired one of her paintings for its permanent collection.
In May 2022, Skarstedt took a new work by BanBan to TEFAF New York. It sold for a five-figure sum. Two weeks later, Perrotin exhibited another of the artist’s new works at Frieze New York.
Not long after, the two galleries announced that BanBan had signed a joint representation contract with them, and that, in an unusual move, they would both be taking her work to Art Basel in Switzerland that summer. ‘Cristina isn’t afraid to paint monumentally and with muscle,’ Emmanuel Perrotin told Artnet when discussing the deal.
As a result of this flurry of attention, BanBan’s auction prices have been rising rapidly. In March 2022, a triple portrait shattered its low estimate of £15,000 to realise £138,600. Three months later, a double portrait sold for £144,900, establishing the artist’s current saleroom record. Her works on paper are also proving popular. Back in March, her drawing About to Glow achieved £8,190, and the pastel work Dos Modelos sold for £20,000 in July 2021.
Sarah Slappey (b. 1984)
The American artist Sarah Slappey paints Surrealist canvases that examine femininity in the 21st century. They’re filled with anonymous bodies whose contorted limbs are adorned with bows, pearls, telephones, drugs and tampon strings. She has described her work as scenes of ‘quiet violence’.
Slappey, who lives and works in New York, earned her MFA in painting from the city’s Hunter College in 2016, graduating with an award for outstanding achievement.
In the six years since, Slappey has built an impressive CV. She has held solo shows at Galerie Maria Bernheim in Zurich, Crush Curatorial in New York and stArt Gallery in North Carolina. She has also been included in group shows at the Schlossmuseum Linz in Austria and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Geneva.
Meanwhile, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami and the Zabludowicz Collection in London have all acquired examples of Slappey’s work for their permanent collections.
In September 2021, Slappey opened her second solo show at Sargent’s Daughters in New York, not long after having signed a representation contract with the gallery. Artnet declared Slappey a rising star, while Artforum described the show as a ‘must see’.
In March 2022, Slappey made her debut at a major auction house. Her work — an oil on canvas roughly a metre square that had been acquired from the artist’s show at Crush Curatorial — sailed past its low estimate of $8,000 to achieve an impressive $100,800.
The first work by Slappey to have appeared at auction since then is Yellow Bow Study. Acquired from Sargent’s Daughters, it is a work on paper in gouache, coloured pencil and black pen, and carries an appealing low estimate of £2,000.
Koak (b. 1981)
The artist Anna Koak, known to the art world by her surname alone, paints linear female forms characterised by elegant strokes and swirls. ‘My work stems from a desire to examine human interactions and connections,’ the artist told Galerie magazine in a 2020 article that described her as the ‘next big thing’.
Originally from Michigan, and now living and working in San Francisco, Koak graduated with an MFA in comics from the California College of the Arts in 2016. A year later, she held her first solo show at Alter Space Gallery in San Francisco, which she had run with her partner since 2011.
Over the following three years, Koak opened solo shows at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles, Altman Siegel in San Francisco and Union Pacific in London. More recently, in 2022, she had an exhibition at Perrotin in Hong Kong, which received international acclaim.
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In 2021, Koak’s work was also included in New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century at BAMPFA in Berkeley, California, with the catalogue noting that ‘the women [Koak] paints are deeply emotive, pushing female identity beyond the primary-coloured narratives typically associated with the printed medium’.
As Koak began to receive institutional recognition, her work also started to appear at auction. In October 2021, her painting To Be Touched was offered in an online sale at Christie’s. It soared past its low estimate of £6,000 to realise £40,000 — an impressive auction record for her saleroom debut year that still stands today.