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Contemporary Art to Escape Reality

by Margaret Rand

As the 2021-2022 school year comes to a close, it’s easier to daydream about sunny summer days and beaches than to sit in the dark corners of Lauinger Library. Here are some of my recent favorite contemporary artists making some serious waves in the art world and transporting their audiences to new places.

Madjeen Isaac, Amongst the Fruits of Our Labor, 2021. Oil on canvas. 45 x 33 ½ in. Copyright The Artist.

  1. Madjeen Isaac (b. 1996)

At just 26-years-old, Brooklyn-based Madjeen Isaac is making a name for herself in the coveted New York art scene. This spring, Isaac debuted her first solo exhibition, Beyond the Mountains, with the New York-based Sean Horton Gallery (on view through April 23, 2022). Isaac’s colorful and intimate scenes transport her viewer into the magical realms of an urban utopia, influenced by her upbringing in Flatbush, Brooklyn and her ancestors’ Haitian identity. Isaac’s mystical landscapes are complete with pre-war apartment buildings and brownstones surrounded by sunflower fields, palm trees, and even chickens. As a first generation American from a mainly Caribbean neighborhood, Isaac highlights the identity and culture of the Black and Caribbean community in her gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood.

Shara Hughes, The Bridge, 2020-2021. Oil and acrylic on canvas; 4 parts, each 250 x 300 cm. Copyright The Artist.

2. Shara Hughes (b. 1981)

Brooklyn-based artist Shara Hughes paints vibrant “invented landscapes” filled with lush trees, foliage, and exotic flowers. Her use of abstract, swirling forms, alongside neon mountainsides and forests, create eerie, fantastical scenes that captivate the mind with a sense of confused nostalgia and reverie. Hughes strategically illustrates organic forms in a surrealist artistic language to create a deeper psychological complexity in her artwork. At first glance, one may recognize and understand the painting as a familiar landscape; however, as one’s eye moves around the composition, surrealist surprises confuse and entice. These immersive oil paintings invoke the memory of a Dr. Seuss book with deeper psychological meditation and inner discovery.

Jessie Edelman, Still, 2016. Oil on canvas. 72 x 60 in.

3. Jessie Edelman (b. 1986)

New York-based artist Jessie Edelman creates picturesque, dreamy landscapes with jarred brushstrokes, framed by pastel borders. Edelman’s fictional landscapes illustrate lounging women looking into tropical scenes with swimming pools, oceans, or mountainsides. Just as the viewer looks at the artwork as an outsider, the subjects in her paintings also look out at the mystical views beyond windows and terraces. Edelman’s artwork explores the idea of living inside and outside of a painting or landscape. Framed by borders reminiscent of a Polaroid picture or an Instagram feed, Edelman nods to the coveted places and dreamy landscapes we desire to transport ourselves to and escape the confines of our reality. Edelman thinks about narration, fantasy, and landscape to invite contemplation and meditation in her comforting, delicious scenes of endless sea, sky, and countryside.

Emily Noelle Lambert, All in Alive, 2022. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 29 x 27 in.

4. Emily Noelle Lambert (b. 1975)

New York-based artist Emily Noelle Lambert uses gesture, abstraction, and color in her compositions to not only think about the formal elements of line and color in painting, but to reflect on the greater world around her. Lambert captures the dualities of the universe in her abstract, unconventional landscapes, such as the contrasting elements of life and death and growth and destruction. By moving between abstraction, figurative, and landscape, Lambert’s painting process is a form of experimentation and mediation, “collaging pieces of experience, impression, [and] memory” in an attempt to recapture the feeling of a certain time or place. Lambert’s beautifully chaotic compositions invite her viewers to become lost in her lushly layered abstract and geometric forms and contemplate similar existential ideas.


Margaret Rand is a Junior in the College majoring in Art History.


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