Gen Z, of course. That portion of the U.S. population, born between 1996 and 2010 is mighty and growing–in just four years they will comprise 40% of U.S. consumers, surpassing millennials.
And much of the Gen Z “picture” is reflected in the artists of their generation where diversity is the norm–just take a look at ten Gen Z artists smack dab on our radar.
And nearly all of them use their art to address suffering in their lives and the lives of others. Now let’s dive in and get to know all ten of these dazzling young adults.
San Jose’s Tyler Gordon has nearly unprecedented success at such a young age. How many 14-year-old artists get calls from people like Lebron James, have plans to buy their mom a new home, and have their work on the cover of Time magazine? Not many, but you can put Gordon on that list.
After his freehand drawing of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris went viral (among other portraits), he’s selling his portraits to the likes of E-40 and other celebrities. And with the ability to pump them out in less than 20 minutes, it’s not hard to imagine him buying that house for his mom soon!
His success isn’t much of a surprise to him, after all, he did get a directive straight from God.
As reported by ABC News Channel 7, Gordon’s mom recalls a particular dream he had.
“He said ‘mom God is in my room and I was like, ‘don’t go to the light. Just go back to bed.’ He was like ‘no mom he said I’m going to be a painter and I’m going to change the world,'” said Nicole Kindle, Tyler Gordon’s mom.
If you’re the daughter of eight-time grammy winner Lauryn Hill and the granddaughter of reggae icon Bob Marley people probably expected you to at least get into singing. Well, Selah does that and pretty much everything else.
Seriously, if you can think of an artistic outlet she’s probably at least dabbled in it or likely conquered it. Acting, modeling, art installations, pole dancing, aerial silks, painting, trapeze (she likes being suspended in air), design and, of course, singer/songwriter (she released her debut EP in 2021 aptly titled ‘Star Power’) are all a part of her repertoire.
And her interests don’t stop there. She enrolled at NYU to study science and spirituality and says she used to love astrophysics. And that’s all before turning 25. In fact, it’s already been five years since she made Maxim’s Hot 100 list in 2017.
Tony Gum may not have famous parents or grandparents, but talent, confidence, and insight abound in this Xhousa woman from South Africa. And her ability to leverage social media combined with her stunning and thought-provoking work has 40,000 people following her on Instagram—on top of Vogue naming her the “coolest girl in Cape Town.”
A multi-disciplined artist, Gum uses photos, painting, sculpture, and more to create her your own stunning self-portraits depicting post-colonialism effects in South Africa and the whole of Africa.
Her collection “Black Coca-Cola” was the first to gain international attention. In a series of self-portraits, Gum uses the iconic brand to shine a light on how consumerism keeps Africans tied to the past–unable to truly break free from colonialism. And in her most recent collection, “Milked in Africa” she poses with various forms of white milk addressing the presence of the popular Western drink that isn’t a natural part of Africans’ diet.
Early success is also part of Austrian-Nigerian photographer, David Ozuchuwu’s story. Using his mother’s point-and-shoot, he began taking striking, emotional photos at 10 years of age and turned pro at the age of 16.
Affected by world events and, in particular, refugees crossing dangerous waters to come to Europe, too often meeting tragic ends, his photos are dramatic and impactful.
For example, he traveled to Senegal for his project Mare Monstrum/Drown In My Magic and took photos that reimagined the water as a safe place instead of the tragic end it had for too many refugees.
And now, by the age of 24, he’s already worked on major Nike campaigns and with world-renowned artists like Pharrell Williams, tucking away awards and making Flicyr’s list of 20 under 20 along the way.
Namibian-born painter Maty Biaendya, doesn’t just use a regular canvas to paint, she uses nature’s ultimate canvas–her face as well. That’s because for her it’s important that she live her art.
In an interview with Vogue, the artist said “The characters I create often wear very intense makeup looks, so why not create that on myself? I have a dialogue with my art. What I do with my artwork, happens in my own life.”
In addition to making her physical appearance a work of art, she paints portraits that capture her African heritage (her parents are of French and Congolese descent) and black culture–particularly black women.
That artistic journey was inspired by artists like Adrian Paper and Michelle Magema and her portfolio demonstrates her passion for the representation of people of color in art history and society in general.
It’s fascinating to see what inspires great artists, for Monet it was nature and – for a few years – it was African art for Picasso, but for Cape Town’s Shakil Solanki it’s all about the secret garden.
Born in Cape Town to parents of Indian and Iranian descent, Solanki explores sensuality, tenderness, desire, and violence–mainly in the secret garden. And he captures all of it beautifully with delicate printmaking-based artwork and paintings.
He also leans into his experience as a queer brown man inspired by classical Eastern art to create his pieces–often heavy on the color blue. His work has garnered Awards such as the Simon Gerson Award as well as the Katherine Harris Print Cabinet award specifically for achievement in printmaking.
Growing up in a small town in the western district of Victoria, Beatrice’s early artwork was influenced by her Polish family’s myths and traditions, often capturing images of stoic women wearing not-so-sexy attire. To create her pieces, Dahllof says she cherishes silence and reflection which came in handy during a strict pandemic lockdown in Victoria in 2020.
Dahllof, who says she is very shy, used the time to take pictures of herself and then collage them in paintings that rendered a “brilliant, disjointed feeling” and women who look very much alike.
“The reason all the women look so similar [in my paintings] is because they all generally come from drawings of myself. I am a very shy person and was always too scared to ask other people to pose for me, I am also incredibly impatient and when the inspiration strikes for a painting I feel I must make it in that very moment. As I am always available as a model it makes it very easy for me,” she told Dans Les Yeux D’Elsa Art Mag in February of 2021.
And while she still enjoys depicting elements of her upbringing, she gravitates towards people being their authentic selves and sees her generation embracing their true selves earlier and more robustly than previous generations. But she also points out that Gen Z artists have more pressure to create content.
Artist Travion Payne (a Texas native who now lives in L.A.) lists the following Charles Dickens quote on one of his bios: “We need never be ashamed of our tears.” And it’s very telling in regard to what drives a lot of his artwork: pain–which makes his last name “Payne” poetically apt.
The artist says he was heavily influenced by growing up “in the hood” where black people and especially black men experience the sort of insecurity that comes from society’s dismissal of them. And he says that too often black people do not seek counseling to treat those insecurities and instead are simply asked to pray about it.
“Thinking back on my own struggle with dark skin, I wonder just how many other men are silently carrying that same of insecurity, no matter how concealed and subtle it may be. Why don’t more black men discuss this topic?” he shared with Art Now.
Recently Travion earned his BS in psychology so it’ll be fascinating to see just how deeply he can understand and convey black men and other people’s pain.
When artist Cielo Felix-Hernandez was little, she moved with her mom and her two siblings from Puerto Rico to Virginia. At the time, her mom was raising three children on her own and the move was tough as they faced displacement because of gentrification and other economic hardships.
But the experience taught Felix-Hernandez two things that affected her work greatly: 1) Neither Puerto Rico nor Virginia belonged to her and 2) bodies have mobility and can gain other mobility. Another large influence on her work is her experience as a transfemme Boricua (a person born originally from Puerto Rico).
All of these important influences in her life lead to detailed, bold and exciting compositions that convey “care, resilience and joy—while imagining an expansive transfemme future that exists beyond the confining narratives of coloniality and marginalization.”
Many artists love to explore color, but for Signe Ralkov nothing beats light blue to capture what inspires her, largely folklore, and mythology.
Using specifically cynotype–an accessible early photographic process–her drawings take on the look of photos–which have become her signature (using largely dry media).
Some of her drawing themes include anthropomorphised snakes and swans, thorns and images of dentistry and the human form, mostly contorted mouths. She also explores human behavior in photographs and on the internet.
Recently, Ralkov is fascinated by water and draws inspiration from her surroundings in Copenhagen. Her most recent showing was an exhibit called I’m Ago in Copenhagen and many of her pieces are on display permanently on her Instagram page.
These young artists raise so many questions. What will the world be like 20 years from now (with all this diversity)? How will societies change/evolve? What will they all be creating then and how will art influence the world?
While we can give educated guesses to those answers, one thing is certain, these talents will influence whatever the world may look like.
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