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9 must-see artists at Melbourne Art Fair

Written by
Ben Neutze

Navigating a major art fair can seem a bit daunting if you're not a pro, and this year's Melbourne Art Fair is jam-packed. There are 40 galleries showing work across venues in Southbank from August 2 to 5, with leading contemporary artists from Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia.

So we got the art fair's director Maree Di Pasquale to pick out nine artists who you'll want to get to know and the galleries who'll be showing their work. They're all making bold and unique art.

1. Pierre Mukeba, Gagprojects

Pierre Mukeba is a raw talent and definitely one to watch. Stunning for their simplicity and scale, his works provide a window into the daily life of his native home of Central Africa. Mukeba was born in the shadows of civil war in Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. At an early age he, along with his family, was forced to flee to a refugee camp in Zambia, and in 2006 the family were granted residency in Adelaide. Deliberately restricting his palette to three colours, red (war and power), blue (piety and sincerity) and yellow (happiness and joy), Mukeba acts as a direct conduit between experience and his paintings.

Pierre Mukeba, 'Survival Decision', 2018, image supplied

2. Esther Stewart, Sarah Cottier Gallery

Sarah Cottier Gallery will present a solo exhibition of new works by Melbourne-based artist Esther Stewart. Stewart's practice explores the endless possibilities offered by the visual language of architecture, design and geometry.

Esther Stewart, image supplied

3. Virginia Leonard, PAULNACHE

Virginia Leonard’s focus is working with clay and her work is a response to the broken parts of her body. Although beautiful colour-filled vessels, they are actually self-portraits that address her bodily scarring and chronic pain. Virginia’s work will be presented as a solo show with PAULNACHE.

Virginia Leonard, 'Stained Sheets' 2017, image supplied

4. Elizabeth Willing, Tolarno Galleries (Melbourne)

Elizabeth Willing’s work sits between art and design, using food culture and foodstuffs as her inspiration. Her work is risky and ambitious, both in its conceptual ideas and the materials she uses, combining experiential and performance aspects with sculpture, collage, video and installation. At Melbourne Art Fair, she will present the project Strawberry Thief with elements including wallpaper print, collage, sculpture and a cocktail performance called Anxiolytic with a Melbourne mixologist, Cennon Hansen. The cocktail performance is a special event as part of the MAF Friday Up Late 6pm to 8pm on Friday, August 3. She has been represented by Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne since 2017 and Strawberry Thief will be the artist’s first exhibition in the context of a major contemporary art fair.

Elizabeth Willing, Dark (detail), 2017, image supplied

5. Dex Fernandez, The Drawing Room

Dex Fernandez is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Manila, Philippines. Drawing from sources such as street art and found footage, Fernandez’s practice ranges from paintings and drawings to murals, mixed media works and vintage photography-inspired posters from thrift shops. Fernandez’s eclectic compositions challenge the traditional definitions of high culture and fine art. By adding imaginary landscapes, patterns and creatures to found images, he explores the idea of found memories and appropriation. His works have been widely exhibited in the Philippines and internationally. This will be his first exhibition at an Australian art fair.

Dex Fernandex, Heartache.jpg series, 2018, image supplied

6. Jon Campbell, Darren Knight Gallery

Jon Campbell has been a constant fixture on the Australian art scene since he first began exhibiting paintings of suburban youth culture in the 1980s. Since then his practice has evolved to become one of the more complex examples of Australian pop art. With his use of words and phrases as imagery, Jon captures aspects of popular culture that are both lived and observed, that are local, national and international and that can be spoken, written, sung and read. Campbell will be presenting new works made specifically for Melbourne Art Fair.

Jon Campbell, image supplied

7. Darren Sylvester, NEON PARC

Darren Sylvester's multi-disciplinary practice involves photography, sculpture, video, music and performance. Usually involving a wide range of pop culture elements and narratives, each medium is given a high-end production sheen or twist to be transformed into a discussion on contemporary ennui, pathos and mortality.

Darren Sylvester, image supplied

8. Oscar Perry, The Commercial

Oscar Perry is a Melbourne-based artist whose energetic studio practice focuses primarily on abstract painting. Perry’s paintings are characterised by a great diversity and pace of mark-making (brush, roller, glove, heat gun, other end of the brush) often combined with composite materials (chalk, encaustic, carpet, logs, hats) in the creation of a large number of works which are edited back to a few.

Oscar Perry, images supplied

9. Ry David Bradley, Tristian Koenig

Melbourne-born, London-based artist Ry David Bradley is known as one of the artists at the forefront of new artistic theories and practices exploring the impact of digital technologies on contemporary art and society. His work is held in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria and significant private collections in Europe and the United States.

Ry David Bradley, image supplied

Melbourne Art Fair is at the Southbank arts precinct from August 2 to 5.

Check out our hit-list of the best art exhibitions in Melbourne this month, as well as the city's best free galleries.

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