Elephant’s Pick of August’s Essential Artists

Encounter everything from found-object art to digital creations in the work of this month’s selection of must-see artists

Half Full, Half Empty, 2016 © Tony Gum

Tony Gum

Tony Gum works across film, graphic design, painting and stiff life photography to reflect the culture and heritage of her native South Africa, but her most impactful works to date all feature her at their centre. Her Milked in Africa project (at Fotografiska, New York, until 21 August 2022) sees the artist engage in highly-stylised photographic self-portraiture, using green paint and milk to allegorise the role of colonialism on the African continent, while Black Coca Cola (2015) saw milk swapped for Coke bottles, a playful nod to consumer culture and the continent’s complex relationship with the West.

Heavily influenced by her Xhosa heritage, Gum’s work recalls that of photographers such as Omar Victor Diop, who uses a similar process of costumed self-portraiture to highlight figures from Senegalese and wider African history. But Gum also moves across media, developing her painting to capture the delicacy of domestic experience: she paints candles and simple wooden chairs, offering a softer entry point to her practice. They might be quieter than her photographs, but the personal and national histories they reflect burn just as bright. (Ravi Ghosh)

Burial Ground, 2021

Jonathan Michael Ray

Incorporating sculpture, assemblage, photography, video and more, Jonathan Michael Ray interrogates the artefacts that have historically defined our geography. He collects objects washed up on the banks of the Thames or found on the Cornish shoreline, gathering reclaimed bricks, stone, glass and seashells, before re-rooting them as new artforms.

In his current exhibition at Tate St Ives, his work is shown in direct dialogue with that of modernist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, who also took inspiration from her natural surroundings. His assemblages appear arranged like mysterious altars, while photographs are embedded in slabs of granite or hidden behind stained-glass windows. While an obsession with our historical landscape is evident, Ray is all about the journey, wherever that might take him. The largest piece in this show features a rug printed with a photo of blades of grass, placed over what appears to be a pile of rubble. (Holly Black)

Duncan Poulton, Victory, Loss, 2022

Duncan Poulton

The liberal use of ‘digital’ and ‘internet’ to define artists (from filmmakers and producers to graphic and video-game designers) means that the genuine obsessives can become lost in a crowd of generalists. Duncan Poulton is a case in point, a self-described “hoarder, selector and combiner who uses the internet as his palette and imagination”. Internet culture is not so much a medium or material for him, but the essential parameters in which his life and art exist.

Drawing from a personal archive of more than 30,000 image files, Poulton creates collages using both digital and physical means: Photoshop and digital painting meet spray paint and stickers to give his works a sense of in-betweenness, obscuring sources and questioning the line between assembly and mark-making. Poulton’s first solo exhibition, Factory Reset, is at SET Lewisham until 7 August 2022 as part of London Borough of Culture 2022, while his works are also suited to alternative viewing platforms like WeTransfer’s background page. Faces momentarily jump out of Poulton’s collages, half-frowning but disappearing if observed closely, collage viewing at once an experience of itemisation and imagination. (Ravi Ghosh)




Helen Rae

“Fashion is life-enhancing,” claimed legendary British designer Vivienne Westwood. Helen Rae would have probably agreed. The artist, who died last year at the age of 83, was born deaf and was completely nonverbal. It wasn’t until the age of 50 that she began to explore a new way to express herself, when she was enrolled at First Street Gallery in California (a local programme for adults with disabilities) where she learned new drawing skills. She began to seek inspiration in the pages of fashion magazines and on the runway, revelling in the styling and outlandish creations dreamed up by top designers.

Her effusive drawing style lends itself to shots of supermodels posing in high-fashion images shot by the likes of fashion photographers such as Steven Meisel and Tim Walker, where the scratched lines of her colouring pencils create a vivid new tableau from the textures and patterns within the frame. An alternative form of dress-up enacted through the simple process of drawing, the commercial nature of the images from which Rae works is inverted in her portraits, which fizz with possibility. Only discovered by the art world in 2014, a selection of Rae’s drawings is on show at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York until 12 August 2022. (Louise Benson)

Under a garland of Bramble, 2022

Alice Ellis-Bray

Hailing from the small Cornish village of Lamorna, Alice Ellis-Bray is exhibiting in the inaugural Young Penwith Artists exhibition in St Ives with Sophie Fraser (until 22 August 2022 in St Ives). She has created something of a temple to mythical women, using arch-shaped boards tinged with gold in an allusion to religious iconography, which frame nudes that are either direct references to well-known figures such as Boudicca and Eve, or looser notions of the neanderthal.

These pictures have something of the Bloomsbury Group about them, filled with raw yet carefully harnessed beauty that feels as if it could slip off the surface at any moment. They were conceived as a set and completed in only a few short months, with rapid-fire ideas flowing through the artist in what she describes as “some kind of séance”.

As well as painting, Ellis-Bray makes her own clothes, some of which will feature in a new series of self-portraiture, on show at Jupiter Gallery in Newlyn later this year. (Holly Black)

She brings back to the page as much as her gaze can hold, 2020

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr

Photography is made physical by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr, whose interest lies in the ways in which images interact with the world around us. He has already collaborated with fashion brands including Telfar and the singer Solange, as well as shooting an arresting cover image of the artist Martine Syms for Seen Journal’s Summer 2022 edition. In exhibitions Brown pays close attention to the placement and framing of his images, often taking photographs off the wall in order to consider their relationship to the surrounding architecture.

The unusual composition of his images reflects this fascination with the edges of the frame and beyond, with occasional glimpses of his own face peeping in at the edge of the frame, or a photograph shot through the lattice of a plastic chair. Images are often taken from below or intensely up-close, as if the viewer were right there with them. The effect is as disorientating as it is intoxicating. The elusive nature of Brown’s subjects, who often appear with their backs to the lens, offers an exploration of interiority, where even a taste of candid proximity only raises more questions. (Louise Benson)


Artists to Watch

Every month Elephant highlights the most exciting artists around