The artists and writers selected as ArtAscent Gold from ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal issues.

Kerry Milligan—ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2024 Future call for artists.

Kerry Milligan

Kerry Milligan—ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2024 Future call for artists.

Collage is the technique of unpredictable, free associations, of speculation without the reins of rationality. Kerry Milligan freely uses it, as one should imagine the future: a space to be collectively designed.

At first glance, Kerry’s digital photo collages appear as surreal environments in which cityscapes, buildings, and people overlap in curious and surprising ways—a jumble of visual inputs that inspires a chaotic energy. However, as often happens when observing this wonderful associative technique, collages are much more than the sum of their tiny parts. Dwelling analytically on the details, one grasps the artist’s wit, juxtaposing seemingly random elements and exploiting forms with a prolific compositional logic. Space observatories, like caskets, hold tangible feminine objects; Las Vegas becomes a futuristic lysergic dream between nature and artificiality; store mannequins begin an uncanny, humanoid conversation.

Kerry’s technique, like her collages, also lies between the real and the imaginative, between the analog and the digital. Her collages are digital reworking of personal photographs or scans of old photo prints. The artist’s creative process involves several executive steps that lead, filter after filter, manipulation after manipulation, to a transformed, imaginative, futuristic rendering of reality—a kind of augmented surreality achieved with different layering levels. The artist’s painting practice, with which she is best known to the public, has the same approach. Spontaneity is at the basis of her natural and floral paintings, between reality and abstraction, as if they came from a dream world.

Kerry’s approach is intuitive and worthy of the Surrealist tradition. The twentieth-century Surrealists loved associating images from different sources with free associations and automatisms. Offspring of recent psychoanalysis, collage represented for them a way of using the most spontaneous, irrational, latent part of their selves, creating playful and free art. Similarly, Kerry’s collages are unpredictable and multiple. Objects from different fields, styles, and eras coexist in the same space, finding connections. Looking at her collages, one thinks about the great masters of Surrealism as Salvador Dali, who, behind every seemingly random juxtaposition, concealed symbolism, or the self-portraits dense with pregnant elements by Frida Kahlo. Kerry’s digital collages are a modern transposition of the Surrealist paintings of the past, sharing the same desire to capture the serendipity of reality, which is increasingly complex and fast-paced.

Whether she paints abstract landscapes dissolving into curvy lines and organic forms or experiments with surreal digital collages, Canadian visual artist Kerry Milligan consistently demonstrates vivid imagination and sensitivity. Her paintings are featured in national and international exhibitions and are also part of public collections. Through her experimental collages, Kerry Milligan fully embodies three magical skills for imagining the future: intuition, organization, and the ability to envision what is not yet there, like in a lucid dream.

Kerry Milligan is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Future call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Future issue.

B. Fulton Jennes—ArtAscent Gold Writer of the 2024 Future call for writers.

B. Fulton Jennes

After Another January Without Snow, My Husband Imagines the Last Snowfall on Earth

It’ll fall at the top of a remote mountain—a place with no sherpas,
no base camps, no frayed prayer flags flapping in the wind,
because people won’t climb mountains anymore—why bother?–…

Imagine an ordinary morning: Breakfast cups are in the sink, and you are casually chatting about the weather. Suddenly, the conversation becomes deeper: It didn’t snow this January. Will we see snow again?

B. Fulton Jennes draws from this excerpt of everyday life, an ordinary conversation with her husband, to compose a poem of extraordinary evocative power. Strong and deliberately exasperated images follow one after another to tell of climate change and environmental crisis. The pretest of an intimate talk turns into a question for the community, an urgency that is anything but private. As often happens, the most inescapable and complex issues emerge in insignificant moments. In New England, where the writer lives, there was no snow. The feeling is nostalgic: the white snowflakes seem like a distant memory. It arouses melancholy and, at the same time, anger and fear. Will normality ever return? Or is this the new normality to which we are gradually becoming used?

After Another January Without Snow, My Husband Imagines the Last Snowfall on Earth is more than a freer-flowing narrative, more than a literary experiment. It emerges from a sincere concern for the future. This eco-anxiety includes environmental perils such as global warming and melting glaciers, as well as war, nuclear power, and land and ocean pollution—a feeling of danger for the future that sprawls tentacularly across various domains.

Likewise, the composition verses move swiftly between different and dramatic images. B. Fulton Jennes writes in a fluid, energetic, and cinematic manner. In her literary production, she ranges from poems with rigid structures, such as sonnets, pantoums, and ghazals, to poems with freer compositions. The willingness to mutate and experiment is part of her creative process. In the poem, the future is represented as something catastrophic, bordering on dystopian and grotesque, using a lashing vocabulary, but the ending verses remain evocative. The final repetitive refrain is a sort of inner self-reflection, a moment of self-awareness: “We used to love the Earth. Do you remember?”

B. Fulton Jennes mixes poetry and prose, drawing on examples of contemporary novelists and poetic masters. Like George Saunders’ novels, she creates poetic fiction and streams of consciousness from a personal perspective. Poems by Dorianne Laux or Marie Howe also show affinities with her style in their ability to capture metaphysical and spiritual dimensions of everyday life.

Poet laureate emerita of Ridgefield (Connecticut), B. Fulton Jennes has also worked as an educator, introducing students to poetry and organizing workshops and readings. Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, winning numerous awards, including the recent New Millennium Award and the International Book Award. It is hard to remain indifferent to such a lucid take on collective faults, and it comes back to mind the plentiful snow we encountered as children. It differs from the plastic version children meet today in yet another dazzling amusement park.

B. Fulton Jennes is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Future call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Future issue.

Wang-Yiwei—ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2024 Emotion call for artists.

Yiwei Leo Wang

Wang-Yiwei—ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2024 Emotion call for artists.

How exciting and, at the same time, wistful can a party be? The disco ball is still spinning. However, the lights are on, and the party is over. Yiwei Leo Wang investigates these dizzy peaks of emotions through visual arts.

Imagine a long night of partying in a club. What mixed emotions flow as we dance? The loud music, the flashing strobe lights, the feeling of being in another dimension…but suddenly, the euphoria vanishes. Lights come on, and only the leftovers remain all around: bottle shards and remnants of a night that has ended. The dance hall is empty. The club is a refuge but also a cage. From a state of grace detached from the rest of the world, it plunges you violently back into reality. Leo (Yiwei) explores this nocturnal dichotomy. He embodies mixed emotions characterized by peaks of excitement and disconsolate melancholy through art installations. His works are visual metaphors for the intricate world of feelings, and they precisely dissect their psychobiological roots, telling us about dopamine and its effects, from euphoria to loneliness. Dopamine causes pleasure, distancing us from the anguish of everyday life, but, like a dark club in which to lose ourselves, it is only a momentary relief. Soon, reality returns to overwhelm us.

The connection to clubbing culture is apparent in Leo’s (Yiwei) works. Everything hints at a party aesthetic, from the disco ball-like quilts to the confetti of glazed stoneware to the silkscreen prints inviting caution on the dancefloor. Yet, something doesn’t feel right. The confetti has now fallen to the ground; the caution signs create a lively phosphorescent grid, but they seem a distant mirage. As in ancient Chinese fairy tales, euphoria and joy are ephemeral and go hand in hand with melancholy.

The complexity of emotions also comes through materials. Even in the medium, there is a substantial dichotomy: Leo (Yiwei) uses unconventional materials with traditional techniques. Textile elements and found materials mix with ceramic crafting. Tradition and pop culture create new visual narratives. This approach, capable of skillfully mixing high and low, ancient tradition and consumerism, recalls the style of great contemporary Asian artists. The ceramic confetti echoes Ai Weiwei’s handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds. At the same time, the use of repetitive patterns recalls the immense work of Japan’s Yayoi Kusama and her immersive installations of flashing polka dots.

Leo Yiwei Wang’s art is rich and blends different languages and disciplines. As a “world citizen of the digital age,” art is his primary form of expression. An artist, curator, performer and raver, he skillfully draws from his Chinese roots, mixing them with his education and career in Chicago, United States. His work has garnered several merit awards and has been showcased in five solo exhibitions and various publications. Capable of mixing clubbing and pop culture blend and the contradictory nature of emotions, his works are bold and impressive.

Yiwei Leo Wang is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Emotions call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Emotions issue.

ArtAscent Distinguished Writer of the 2024 Emotion call for writers.

Karla Linn Merrifield


Maybe he’s simply afraid
of becoming just one more
poem in some book’s collection.

Maybe he’s simply leery,
doesn’t want to be numbered
sixty-three in her in-progress opus…

Some poets can perfectly delineate suggestive images to tell an emotion. They put powerful narratives on paper that can evoke or deconstruct a mishmash of feelings. Karla Linn Merrifield achieves this. Simply.

Karla’s style is always recognizable when she writes poems in longer or shorter formats. In this brief poem, she makes emotions visible through her vivid narrative rhythm. Words follow the syncopated pace of heartbeats. How do 16 lines contain the entangled emotions of infatuation? Four concise stanzas reveal longing, desire, and the essence of an intimate connection. The poem is “chock-full of emotions”; it appears to be simply true, not a simulated emotion for literary purposes.

Karla openly declares her inspiration: this is the story of a poet who has found her muse. But relationships are never that simple, and they bring with them doubts and ruminations. The structure of the poem is lucid and plays on duality. It seems a silent dialogue between two lovers, fragments of an amorous speech. This stream of lovers’ thoughts is revealed on paper. The poet reflects on her beloved’s feelings in the relationship: will he trust her, or will he fear becoming just another literary subject? Will he believe her genuine feelings, or will he think he is just another source of inspiration for poems? On the other hand, is it infatuation or just food for thought?

Karla is a poet who questions the best form to express emotions from the beginning to the end. Each stanza is calibrated to close the poem with a decisive and forceful line. Poetic closure is one of her stylistic hallmarks. Her lyrical compositions are eclectic and characterized by immediacy. They play with sounds, metrics, and registers. They result from sharp images, crystal clear first in the brain and then in the writing. The author does not disdain the use of photographic media that allows her to fix emotion and inspiration first visually rather than verbally. Moleskine journals and photographs in the phone’s memory are just some of the visual notes that led Karla to write such accurate poems. The frequent use of imagery harks back to great masters of poetry like Walt Whitman and William Heyen without being an epigone of them. Karla’s references are also strongly contemporary, dialoguing with current poets such as Miriam Sagan.

Research, emotion, and lucidity are the keywords of Karla Linn Merrifield’s poetry. A high standard that has been achieved over a long career, with a thousand poems written, 16 books published to her credit, nominations for National Book Awards, and frequent literary contributions in journals and anthologies. Her immediate poems reveal a paradox: they simply show that emotions are never that simple.

Karla Linn Merrifield is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Emotions call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Emotions issue.

Kalom_Noelle—ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2023 Abstract call for artists.

Noelle Kalom

Kalom_Noelle—ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2023 Abstract call for artists.

Golden light, crimson red, turquoise and umber earth: the art of Noelle Kalom arises from colours. Embodying the bold and intense contrasts of her homeland, New Mexico, the artist creates an abstract topography that starts from a real landscape.

Noelle is a great observer. Thanks to its energy and dynamic nature, the American Southwestern landscape is her primary source of inspiration. The High Desert of Taos, where she was born and surrounded by a community of artists, is where she gets in touch with natural elements. In the middle of the desert, Noelle can create a visceral bond with them, trying to channel the same power onto the canvas. Her paintings are abstract at first glance, but they start from nature. Noelle captures the thin line that defines the horizon. She absorbs the vibrant hues of fire, circles, and shapes of natural landscapes, the mysterious atmosphere of collective rituals and ceremonies. Each of her works, characterized by evocative titles such as Inception, which refers to the origin of everything, or Secret Chamber, which brings to mind the magmatic chambers of volcanoes, the crevices where energy accumulates, seems wrapped in a mystical aura.

Noelle’s paintings are highly recognizable by her recursive colour palette, embellished by incorporating bright and shiny-looking mixed elements such as tiny glass beads. This blending is her stylistic signature. From a technical point of view, the artist combines acrylic with the precious finesse of other materials. The execution process consists of a gradual layering. After a layer of thick gel, Noelle spreads numerous layers of paint using the palette knife until she recreates an abstract landscape. Rivers, fields, and canyons lose their connotations to become dreamlike territory.

The painter’s practice is rooted in the style of Abstract Expressionism, particularly that of female artists, with whom she shares impulsiveness and experimental techniques. Like painters like Lee Krasner, Noelle also creates abstract paintings using knives, brushes, fingers, and hands. There are also affinities with contemporary abstract expressionist painters, such as Laurie Barmore, who uses multiple layers on a structure, or the painter Vivian Suter, who can capture the wilderness of the Guatemala landscape.

Noelle’s abstract topographies can combine the primitive force of colours with the elegant preciousness of glass beads, almost as if they were Klimt mosaics embedded in abstract paintings. These two voices coexist on that same canvas, revealing an independent language cultivated in her life full of inspiration. Raised in the New Mexico desert, Noelle Kalom lived and worked in New York City, the Pacific Northwest, and Portugal, exhibiting nationally and internationally. She is currently represented by Magpie Gallery in New Mexico and at Atelier Natalia Gromicho in Portugal. A visionary artist, each of Noelle Kalom’s paintings leads to an unknown territory, revealing a path that is perceivable only on an intuitive level and not through rationality

Noelle Kalom is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Abstract call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue.

Gold Writer of the ArtAscent 2023 Abstract exhibition.

Susas Nickerson

The Dance

”How long do I have before my hair falls out?” I asked the team of nurses administering the heavy-duty chemo. I had already undergone six months of treatment to prepare for my bone marrow transplant, and this was the final, destructive blast. A week to ten days was the final consensus. Some people, they said, don’t lose it all…

It is tricky to mix emotional power and humour, light-hearted imagery and stomach-punching facts in literature. Susan Nickerson can do it, dealing with one of the most daunting human themes: illness and how to live with it day by day.

Susan’s pieces seem a sort of dance. The writer moves with a cadenced rhythm between pain and irony. She juggles both, like a professional dancer, leading them between the lines of the page. The metaphors overlap one upon the other, blending reality and imagination. The ultimate result is a curious literary mix that makes readers reflect on the pain and anxiousness of illness while impressing them with creative images.

According to Susan, writing is the most immediate medium for dealing with the discovery of a serious disease, the diagnosis of Myelodysplastic Syndrome. How can one narrate life with it without exaggerating in drama and, at the same time, without diminishing this overwhelming burden? Susan transfigures it through abstract images. She depicts the physiological consequences of her disease and bone marrow transplant through abstraction. In this piece, hair loss becomes a surreal, out-of-body scene: a dance of humanized hair follicles that come to life, tangoing on her head, instilling vitality. The urgency to write about the inescapable changes in her body makes her words so powerful.

The disease is invisible; Susan cannot see or touch it. However, she can give shape to her correlating emotions and the physical consequences she is experiencing, starting from the increasingly sensitive tip of her hair. Tingles and discomfort become a dance, constantly changing rhythm. This mad dance creates a physical state of chaos and confusion that is twin to her entangling thoughts and spreading concerns.

Susan’s literary style perfectly matches this kind of surrealist storytelling. It is a mixed salad of genres, tones, and vocabulary, following the topics she covers and changing as fast as the images she creates. It is a creative non-fiction piece that recalls contemporary American literature, like Wally Lamb’s novels. As in his case, Susan attempts to overcome the limitations of her struggling experience, asking herself how to cope and talk about it universally. Her hair loss thus becomes that of many others dealing with a body they no longer recognize, as it happened to her.

Born and raised in Massachusetts (US), Susan Nickerson lives in Florida with her husband and their dog, cultivating her literary practice. Susan’s writing resonates with the experience of all the people who are facing the same inevitable assault. Each word seems written for them.

Susan Nickerson is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Abstract call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue.

Transmutations by Dina Torrans. Gold Artist of the ArtAscent 2023 Spring exhibition.

Dina Torrans

Transmutations by Dina Torrans. Gold Artist of the ArtAscent 2023 Spring exhibition.

Made of bronze, marble, wood, and minerals, artist Dina Torrans’ sculptures intertwine and mix. Assembling traditional materials and natural elements, her works are expanding creations, lush and flourishing like spring blossoms.

Dina’s art incorporates the most potent aspect of spring: the ability to move forward. She embodies this constant sense of rebirth in her sculptures, rich in diverse materials, colours, and languages. The artist has a strong connection with the natural world: the inspiration for her objects comes from the variety of forms and textures she encounters outside. Her sculptures are whimsical, as if a breath of life pervaded them. They are co-creations between the human hand and the invisible touch of nature, generating something new and unexpected.

The artist collects found objects and assembles them in nature-inspired forms with a playful and spiritual approach. If, at first glance, Dina’s assemblages may appear random, on closer inspection, one can notice recognizable motifs: arrows, hatches, red crosses or circled details. Her works resemble treasure maps, with directions to follow and destinations to reach. They become metaphors for the paths and choices we decide to take in our world. They are miniature continents through which we move to find our way.

Dina’s style is distinctive. The artist combines classic and traditional techniques, such as sculpture in cast bronze, first modelled in wax, or using marble, cement, and other metals with mixed media and other significative found objects. She incorporates shells, stamps, flowers, fibres, and moss, giving a surrealist flavour to her art. Dina’s artistic practice is a game of correspondence between living and non-living elements. The result is a hybrid system of references. Looking at Dina’s composite sculptures, we are confronted with a Babel of different but intertwined voices, a metaphor for ultimate interconnectedness.

Dina’s systems hark back to a long tradition of abstract assemblages. They recall the automatic scribbles of painters like Cy Twombly, the machines of avant-garde artists like Jean Tinguely, composed of metal and rubber scraps, or the installations of Ghanian artist El Anatsui, made from various recycled elements such as bottle caps, cans, and clay. Dina adds spiritual and literary inspirations to these visual references, such as the poet Rumi or Herman Hesse. Like her works, the reservoir of references she draws is composite: a constellation of bonds.

Dina Torrans has a strong art career. She graduated from the Art Centre of Central Technical School in Toronto, where she also worked as a sculpture and printmaking instructor for ten years. Her sculptures have been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in national and international galleries, like the Canadian Sculpture Centre, The Art Gallery of Ontario and different art museums in Italy. Her artworks can be found in international collections. Looking at her body of work is like accessing an expanding archive, private but speaking of universal systems. Dina Torrans is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Spring call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Spring issue.

Gold Writer of the ArtAscent 2023 Spring exhibition.

Karla Linn Merrifield

Spring Disptych: Lessons in Evolution

Twin butterflies twist
out of a single cocoon–
spring booms on their wings.

Mergansers in flight
over the lake this morning,
sun gathers its flocks…

Karla Linn Merrifield’s poems draw inspiration from the natural environment to subtly discuss human nature. During springtime, animals, plants, and humans respond to the powerful imperative to grow. In this majestic project that involves all, each role is put into perspective.

In this intense poetic diptych, Karla celebrates the evolutive capacity of nature. During springtime, flora and fauna propagate. It is a prolific expansion, a fractal growth that affects all living things. Spring Disptych: Lessons in Evolution captures the multiplication of different life forms.

The first composition is dedicated exclusively to animals and plants responding to spring’s call. Two identical butterflies emerge from the same cocoon; mergansers flutter across the lake’s mirror-like surface; hemlocks extend their branches like touching fingers; bees move industriously, producing honey. It is spring: time to awaken and fulfil the promise of life. Karla depicts these buzzing and dynamic ecosystems involving all the elements in air, water, and earth.

In the second poem, Karla alludes to human beings, treating them for what they are: animals. Even humans in spring feel the same primordial urgency for renewal. In this moment of interconnectedness, the poet physically empathizes with the rest of the environment: she merges with the damp moss; she imagines herself like starfish in the sand; she hides like a spider in the gutters. In this exercise of empathy, the human learns the most important lesson: to recognize oneself as a lesser being, a small retiring entity subject to the cycles of nature, like all others.

Spring Disptych: Lessons in Evolution is a poem conceived by Karla on a vivid Florida morning, sitting in her canvas camp chair under an oak tree, but it does not lack analysis. It is a diptych that undermines the anthropocentric conception of human beings, accepting their fragile, changing, relative existence.

Karla’s style is also eclectic. The author plays with words, like a pianist, experimenting with both humourous and soulful tones, ever-changing registers and metrics. Even in the vocabulary, the author demonstrates her ability to range over different domains, showing zoological and botanical accuracy and defining nature as precisely as possible.

Though expressing with a more modern tone, her poetic description of nature brings her close to great masters of the past, such as Pablo Neruda, who captured the vital summer explosion in a few lines, or Charles Baudelaire, who saw in nature a ‘forest of symbols.’

Spring Disptych: Lessons in Evolution is just one of many poems by Karla Linn Merrifield, who has more than 1000 poems and 16 published books to her credit. Her newest poetry collection was recently nominated for the 2022 National Book Award. A frequent contributor to literary journals, Karla Linn Merrifield’s style is constantly self-reflecting and evolving, but there is always something visceral in her words

Karla Linn Merrifield is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Spring call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Spring issue.

Olivia-Patricia Terrell O'Neal, Gold Artist of the ArtAscent 2023 Journey exhibition

Olivia-Patricia Terrel O’Neal

Olivia-Patricia Terrell O'Neal, Gold Artist of the ArtAscent 2023 Journey exhibition

Each work of art by Olivia-Patricia Terrell O’Neal feels like a journey between metaphors. Her paintings are realistic and truthful, yet they resonate with archetypal power. The mother, the daughter, departure and uprooting are canvases filled with symbols.

In Olivia-Patricia’s artistic production, the subject of travel loses its elements of pleasure and takes on mysterious connotations. A metaphysical silence hovers over the canvases. The paintings capture the viewer emotionally: mother and daughter separate in an intimate and painful embrace. A family departs, projected into an unknown future, leaving shadows of a hazy past in the background. Diverse faces of immigrants tell of individual suffering, like different stories intersecting in the same compressed space. Olivia-Patricia delineates powerful scenes. It feels like watching the frame of a film projection. They are paintings that are open to stories. We do not know what happened before or after, but we can imagine it.

Olivia-Patricia’s figurative narratives open up questions about the destinies of her subjects. Where are the immigrants headed with their bulky bags and suitcases? And where is the family leaving from? Or where is the prodigal daughter going, a famous biblical reference morphed into the feminine? The destinations are journeys into the unknown. We perceive the emotional aspects: the weight of distance, separation, and future expectations.

The emotional element gains even more value through the skillful use of colours. The painter uses a limited colour palette of dark tones: ultramarine blue deep, burnt umber, white, and possibly yellow ochre, enlivened by symbolic touches of colour. The painter’s technique is also a creative process open to intuition.

Her motifs take shape in different steps, changing from brushstroke to brushstroke. Olivia-Patricia creates her paintings from various charcoal sketches, capturing the magic of inspiration thanks to this rapid technique. From this starting point, she continues to elaborate, letting the flow dictated by the painting guide her. Her creative process is itself a journey of imaginative discovery.

The intuitive aspect is primary in the painter’s practice, so much so that among her most relevant references is the experimental painting of the 1960s, capable of radiating a spiritual force. Foremost among them is painter Jay De Feo, whose vast and rough surfaces reveal celestial connections. Olivia-Patricia is a figurative painter, not an abstract artist like Jay De Feo. Still, her works are multi-layered with meaning and embodied energy from the mere canvas.

Raised in Tennessee, Olivia-Patricia Terrell O’Neal graduated with an MFA degree from the New York Academy. She works in the United States, Mexico and France, where her works are part of a permanent collection at Chateau St. Philippe. She has collaborations with solid international galleries to her credit and 14 solo exhibitions, and she doesn’t stop: the journey is a foundational component of her subjects and artistic process.

Olivia-Patricia Terrel O’Neal is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Journey call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Journey issue.

Gold Writer of the ArtAscent 2023 Journey exhibition.

Christopher O’Meara

Hush Hush

“Oslo, Rotterdam, Madrid,” the detective says, “you’ve had me on quite the road trip, I must say.”

I meet Detective Dawson’s gaze and can tell he’s exhausted. His lids are heavy, their flesh the colour of bruised fruit. He’s overweight by more than a few stone and could be easily outrun. But running would be suspicious. Running would get me caught…

Imagine an escape across Europe and a secret to hide. The story by Christopher O’Meara is a cat-and-mouse chase in which the protagonists follow, hide, and lose track of each other, only to find themselves, finally, in an anonymous café.

The journey traced by Christopher has the connotations of a detective story, revealing clues through hermetic dialogues. The plot unravels little by little, gradually dissolving the mystery. It comes to mind that the journey is not only undertaken by the characters in their chase across Europe but also by readers, who slowly connect the pieces of the tale. By joining the dots, they reach the solution, the final destination of their literary journey.

Hush Hush is a story to be read in one breath but paying attention to revealing details. The plot is simple: a detective pursues a suspect on an exhausting road trip from Norway to Spain. The journey connects distant corners of the continent, but the story focuses on the final part of this ride. The two protagonists meet for a showdown in an unidentified café: the fugitive is trapped. However, the conversation, setting, and characters are deliberately vague. Who is the narrator thief? Why is detective Lawson looking so desperately for him? Who has he abducted?

In Christopher’s story, the abducted go beyond a typical narrative framework and seem especially alive, embodied in a unique reality. The girl is wrapped in a quilt, and her haunting gaze is mesmerizing, shining like her pearlescent earring. The second kidnapped character almost makes a noise: his scream is more penetrating than most.

Christopher specializes in stories set in the past, approaching with Hush Hush contemporary storytelling and crime. He often recreates a working environment that stimulates him to bring his characters to life: music, candles, and the subdued atmosphere help him outline mysterious scenarios. Tight and ambiguous dialogues that create suspense characterize his style, which is very close to the best-selling thriller novels by journalist Paula Hawkins. Like Hawkins, Christopher adds a psychological component in delineating his protagonists, which subtly seduces the reader.

Christopher O’Meara is a freelance writer from New England with a nonfiction education and a degree in journalism from Suffolk University. His stories combine the faces of iconic works of art and the trajectories of the two protagonists in a physical and mental road trip. Artworks in Christopher O’Meara’s writing become activators of inspiration, a visual stimulus that leads to imagining ever-changing stories. And we readers follow him on this journey, discovering how art and literature may intertwine on a written page.

Christopher O’Meara is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Journey call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Journey issue.

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2023 Portraits call for artists.

Brian McClear

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2023 Portraits call for artists.

Have you ever tried to think about skin as a canvas to paint on? The representational painter Brian McClear portrays people who are like works of art, focusing on the imaginative and symbolic realm of their tattoos.

Brian’s paintings range among different subjects: still-life, small objects, and portraits, but they demonstrate stylistic coherence for balance and solidity. His selected Ink&Oil series is an original interpretation of the contemporary portrait genre, halfway between realistic—almost photographic—representation and abstract intentions. Brian chooses to portray subjects who are very different from each other but share a unique trait: the presence of numerous tattoos on their bodies as powerful forms of self-expression. They are not decorative ornaments but identity statements that express their personal history and attitude. Their body artworks are immediate insights into their personalities, intriguing and inviting the viewer to interpret.

Looking at Brian’s figurative portraits, one could wonder: why do people dress their skin with pictures? This ancient form of body art, born for tribal and therapeutic purposes, has motivations that often transcend rationality. It may arise from the need to commemorate a significant life event. They may be talismans laden with power or a sign of belonging. They could be elements of self-narration or arise from a simple impulse—the reasons are diverse and extremely personal. The painter captures the symbolic load of this choice. Like the protagonists’ tattoos, Ink&Oil portraits communicate so much, but without the use of words.

Brian’s style is akin to his content: communicative, intuitive, and energetic. These oil-on-canvases linger on the form and textures of the elements depicted, highlighting surprising visual connections. The painting process is also pure vitality. Brian starts with an archive of material references, sketches, and photos and through quick and energetic gestures, he paints them on canvas. The ideas that flow out in the first hours of work are as meaningful as the final result.

The gesture, the energetic painting process, and the vivid use of colours are elements that distinguish Brian’s practice. Therefore, among his favourite references is Jackson Pollock, the master of abstract gestural expression. In addition, the realism of Brian’s portraits embodies a symbolic dimension; it brings to mind the great American school of the 19th century, the characters portrayed by George Wesley Bellows or Winslow Homer. Each person seems to tell a story outside the frame.

Currently living and working in the United States, Brian McClear earned a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design. He worked as an illustrator and in leading marketing agencies. Recently, he decided to devote himself to painting, preferring bold brushstrokes to the mouse. His works received national awards, and private collections and museums exhibited them. Brian’s portraits do not leave you indifferent: they are full of liveliness and always allow a sense of wisdom and strength to shine through.

Brian McCLear is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Portraits call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Portraits issue.

ArtAscent Gold Writer of the 2023 Portraits call for artists.

Karla Linn Merrifield

Self-Portrait Triptych

1. Gestalt


The triptych formula is frequent in art history: churches are full of altarpieces divided into three intimately related panels. However, Karla Linn Merrifield realizes triptychs with words. Her poems are masterful self-portraits divided into three acts.

Each of Karla’s poems unveils a section of her being, as a complex and dissectible artwork. Through the self-investigation tool of poetry, the author breaks down her personality into different facets. Her capacity for self-reflection is strikingly lucid. Karla borrows metaphors from technology, chemistry, and cognitive psychology, to accomplish this almost surgical operation. She is not afraid to juxtapose literature and sciences. This hybrid aspect makes her lexical choices so meaningful.

Her three poems, Gestalt, Like Totally Gizmo and In My Element, have different tones. They create mixed atmospheres. They go from Zen-like introspection to the robotic iciness of techno-speak to a lyricism achieved through chemical metaphors. Like a threepiece mirror, they reflect different angles of Karla’s experience. The same principle guides the Gestalt theory mentioned above, the construction of a technological device, and chemical formulas: they combine distinct elements to assemble a whole and functioning organism.

The writing style of this self-portrait reflects the search for varietas of the author. Neologisms obtained through compound words characterize Gestalt, a minimalist poem in which the sum of the parts gives significance. And thus, are born words like shamanwoman, poeturtle, and friendloversoul, that combine different terms to find the most accurate one to self-define. Abbreviations, acronyms, and precise technical specifications distinguish Gizmo, a poetic portrait of an enhanced woman, like a cyborg with new potentialities, a “fivestar gadget” trying to understand her programming codes. Through the metaphor of quicksilver, in the third poem, In My Element, Karla highlights her analytical but fluid spirit, a “heavy metallic liquid muse.” Even the words are arranged on the paper (or screen) following a sort of chemical structure. The technique immediately echoes the historical calligrams by Guillaume Apollinaire, in which form and content mirror each other.

Karla’s poetics is rich in references, drawing on literature and interdisciplinary fields. The American poet William Heyen is among her cornerstones, with whom she shares the attempt to grasp the self through poetic memory. Furthermore, the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, with his visionary sensibility and lexical accuracy, is one of Karla’s great influencers.

Karla Linn Merrifield has lost count of her thousands of poems and has 16 books to her credit. Her poems appeared in specialized journals and anthologies, and her newest collection, My Body the Guitar, was recently nominated for the 2022 National Book Award. She is a contributor to literary journals, assistant editor, and a member of the Florida State Poetry Society, the New Mexico Poetry Society, and The Author’s Guild. Currently, Karla Linn Merrifield is completing a poetry manuscript about the men of her life. In the spirit of research and divergence, she opted to portray a woman she knows intimately: herself.

Karla Linn Merrifield is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Portraits call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Portraits issue.

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the October 2022 call for artists.

Kate Greenway

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the October 2022 call for artists.

The sunflower, the quintessential representation of summer, becomes a symbol of strength at the hands of artist Kate Greenway. Her artworks depict a fragile and ephemeral plant, dependent on sun and heat but capable of acts of resistance and self-determination.

Looking at Kate’s artworks, expertly crafted with mixed media techniques, the mind immediately flies to the iconic sunflowers painted by Vincent Van Gogh. But if this flower represented the search for light in times of darkness for the Dutch master, for the Canadian artist, it acquires contemporary meanings. In Kate’s works, sunflowers are charged with new metaphors: it is the flower that stands for summer vibrancy, but it also fades with the passage to Autumn. But there is more. It is the national symbol of Ukraine, currently ravaged by war, but which, like a sunflower, remains fiercely standing. What at first glance appears to be a classic still life thus becomes a symbol of pride and hope for a nation. Kate’s images are strong works that tell of a contemporary tragedy and fight for democracy.

Moreover, Kate concretely supports the Ukrainian cause with her art. The series is part of the Sunflower Project, an artist initiative that aims to raise funds for humanitarian relief, donating a percentage of proceeds to Ukraine. The attempt to break this loop of suffering and negativity is one of the most important goals of Kate’s creative practice. The artist showcases a variety of media and techniques that reflect the feeling that art could be a tool of true enlightening.

Kate works with watercolours—a medium in which colours are diluted—playing with reflections, transparencies, and layers of hues as delicate as a flower. Her skillful use of glass techniques is delightful. Some of Kate’s works are glass on glass mosaics, where she achieves saturated and crisp images through transparent and opaque pieces of glass.

Watercolours and glass works have one aspect in common: the suggestive use of light. Light passes through the glass and shines on the watercolours, infusing warmth and luminosity. Kate’s artistic technique thus becomes a metaphor for this quest for light. It is no accident that Kate’s work, particularly in its use of glass, is comparable to that of master Marc Chagall. Like Chagall, who, in addition to paintings, made spectacular religiously themed stained-glass windows, Kate also silhouetted synthetic and impressive images that use light and matter to create visions.

Kate Greenway is a Canadian artist who manages to reconcile technical skills and the symbolism of flora, fauna, and landscapes. She completed a Masters and Ph.D. in Arts Education, honing glass techniques, including fused, stained and mosaic. She exhibited across Ontario and recently in a solo exhibition in Toronto. Her mixed media pieces always carry metaphoric weight in their ability to be transparent or opaque, inviting viewers to go beyond the surface.

Kate Greenway is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Summer call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Summer issue.

Gold Writer of the 2022 ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Summer issue

Joyce Fox

The Summer Warning

I knew something was coming, and I waited. Throughout the Summer of 2019, I waited. I didn’t know what was coming – all I knew for certain was that it wasn’t anything good. That much I knew. When I tell you my roses gave me the message, you will imagine it a strange thing to say. But they did…

How often do human beings search for answers in nature? Sometimes, we see mysterious messages in vegetation, the sky, and animals. Clever writer Joyce Fox transports us into this forest of symbols through powerful poetic images.

The Summer Warning is a piece that reaches the reader on an implicit and subconscious level. Like the symbolism it deals with, it does not speak explicitly. Joyce selects every word to evoke sensations without telling too much. In the summer of 2019, according to the author, her roses were shivering even without a breath of air. Chills ran through them, even though the air was disturbingly still. Through this cinematic image, Joyce conveys the foreboding that something terrible is about to happen after the end of summer. She tells of her fear, her trembling, inspired by what was the 2020 pre-pandemic period: a time in which we were all still oblivious to the soon-to-unfold frightening, collective crisis.

Since ancient times, humans have been investigating nature by trying to predict the future. From the omens brought by snakes and birds, seen as messengers of rebirth or misfortune, to the formation of clouds or the study of trees, nature and its transformations have always revealed underlying messages in popular culture. Joyce instinctively taps into this tradition, using nature as a symbolic, poetic, and unsettling element.

Roses—that Joyce watered, fed, and kept healthy— became as delicate as the human bodies, revealing their fragilities. The text presents metaphors related to breathing and lack of air which bring the reader’s mind to the pandemic’s terrible respiratory effects.

From the stylistic and technical point of view, The Summer Warning astonishes with a great sense of rhythm. The rhythmicity makes the text somewhere between prose and poetic composition. Joyce developed a style in which repetition plays a relevant part. The formal repetition of words and constructs emphasizes the writing, contributing to creating attention and pathos. Joyce’s vocabulary is simple and immediate and fits into the pattern of literature that uses words to portray, not to show off.

The strength of her text lies in the images she creates: as powerful as photographs and metaphorical as lines of poetry. Joyce finds inspiration in authors such as Kent Haruf, the novelist who paints life in small towns of the United States through accurate descriptions. Likewise, her scenes become intimate, silent, and symbolic.

Joyce Fox is an 89-year-old writer who embodies elements of every day in her texts: the velvet petals and palest shades of pink of her roses. Her texts have been read on BBC radio, and she recently had an hourlong two-act musical broadcast on different local radio stations. The stories written by Joyce Fox transfigure reality. They give vent to fears, emotions, and human forebodings.

Joyce Fox is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Summer call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Summer issue.

Gold Artist of the 2022 ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue

William Horton

Gold Artist of the 2022 ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue

Some photographers can paint with light. William Horton creates photographs that dissolve the literal meaning of objects. His images blur into abstraction, celebrating a swirl of light and shadow.

The series of photographs entitled Shadow and Light, featured in this issue of ArtAscent, investigates abstract patterns, also displaying their materiality. What shapes, trajectories, and perspectives can sunlight create when refracting household objects? William captures them through the medium of the camera. His images capture lines of light projecting onto walls like abstract Chinese shadow plays. His pictures directly present nothing physical; everything evokes imaginary and unrecognizable forms. The photographer carefully captures light, the imperceptible element that permits the photography itself and makes it solid. William is able to give structure to this evanescent element par excellence. He creates shining architecture as if they were material structures.

William is interested in capturing the three-dimensionality of light and shadows. For this reason, he has to use an experimental technique. William does not merely observe what light projects on the wall. Rather, he zooms in and pushes the lens of his camera. He repeatedly performs various tests to achieve the desired effect. The Shadow and Light series was shot with a digital single-lens reflex camera and edited digitally. The goal is as simple as it is priceless: to make the observer’s eye more attentive, more accurate, and more inclined to read abstraction even in everyday life.

The world around us—especially its transformations and transfigurations in light—is a relevant source of inspiration for William’s photography. This is why his artistic practice can be linked more intuitively to that of painters than to that of photographers. Painters, such as the English J. M. W. Turner, abstracted natural phenomena through the medium of paint. Turner captured storms, cloudy skies, fires and glimpses of the sun to play with light and natural effects. Similarly, William’s photographs also capture the energy of brightness. His chiaroscuro-enhancing use of black and white and his focus on revealing hidden geometric patterns bring him stylistically close to the 20th-century photographer Edward Weston. Like Weston, his subjects become abstract through daring close-ups.

William Horton has experimented with photography since his first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Interested in different technologies, he worked with both film and digital photography. His work has been displayed in art-oriented publications and many art exhibitions, like the American Society of Media Professionals Exhibition in Denver. He also won numerous awards, including the Camera Obscura Journal award. William Horton lives  photography as his preferred tool of revelation: it brings out unnoticed patterns, fleeting moments, and unseen aspects of ordinary life.

William Horton is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Abstract call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue.

Gold Writer of the 2022 ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue

Susan Nickerson

In the Room

The small chairs that lines the walls of the shrink’s office were filled with nervous, toe-tapping people, waiting for their turn on ‘the couch.’ I stood in the middle of the room. My large, heavy body is invisible to those around me. Just as well, I concluded. As previously arranged, a therapist appeared in the waiting area and called my name…

A waiting hall of a psychotherapist’s studio, several nervous people, and a flashy, big, pink elephant in the center of it all. This is the surreal scene that writer Susan Nickerson masterfully sketches in her short novel.

However, what lies behind this awkward pink character with surrealist features? What does the writer want to communicate to us with the metaphor of a pink elephant in the room? Susan plunges through her serrated writing style into an abstract territory: that of pain, psychological distress, and addictions. Through implicit clues and dialogue, the writer’s words try to let the reader understand the problem. The body of the elephant is giant but invisible to most. Its appearance should be a warning, but only a particularly sensitive few people can see it. Materializing the metaphorical idiomatic expression of “the elephant in the room,” Susan makes tangible in her story subtle and dangerous sufferings too shocking to be faced.

Inspired by a postcard depicting a drunkard and a pink elephant, Susan continued to elaborate on this metaphor, often used to indicate states of drunken hallucinations, as it happens with Jack London’s pink elephants or the ones in the Dumbo Disney cartoon. Her style, at times ironic and grotesque, resembles a children’s fairy tale. This makes it powerful: Susan’s writing is simple and curious but deals with stomach-punching issues. The sense of estrangement is strong, and it is created by the clash of an almost naïve character, such as the pink elephant, and the abstract and burdensome concept it represents.

Although Susan calls herself an essayist, her story is strongly emotional without ever being explicitly tragic. The writer grasps the fun challenge of the writing game, but one senses that it springs from a deep need. Her short stories echo the fluidity and emotionality of American novelist Wally Lamb. The symbolic weight of this story joins an established literary tradition, which often sees, starting with fairy tales, animals as bearers of allegories and abstract concepts. Recall Franz Kafka’s cockroach, a symbol of alienation and social stigma, or the fierce whale of Moby Dick, a metaphor for the struggle between good and evil. In The Room, the pink elephant is the symbol of defeat. It makes the reader feel frustrated and angry, like when you realize too late that you could have helped someone in pain.

Susan Nickerson was born and raised in Salem (Massachusetts, US) and currently lives in Florida. Her short stories have been published in several magazines and were awarded in Writers-Editors International Writing Competition.

Susan Nickerson is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Abstract call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue.

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2022 Cold call for artists.

Vicky Knowler

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2022 Cold call for artists.

We live in complex times, where the metaphorical cold of loneliness is commonplace. In a context of destabilizing detachment, Vicky Knowler searches through the medium of photography for a deep and steady connection between souls.

Vicky takes photographs set in an icy setting that are far from emotionless. Moved by the alienating experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, the artist searched for elements that could restore warmth and emotional contact. Interestingly, she found emotional support for her and her family in the household pet, Wendy the cat. This genuine and authentic relationship becomes the motor of her photographic project, My Dog and Me, which portrays children with their beloved dogs, close and safe in mutual trust even under the snowstorm. Vicky’s photos thus become the storybook of this peculiar bond. The art project presented here involves several families who recognized the spontaneous relationship between humans and animals in their children and pets captured by the artist. What makes Vicky’s photographs so special is that her point of view is never that of adults. She truly investigates what excites and interests children. Her photos try to give back the sense of wonder and imagination of their world.

Stylistically, Vicky’s photographic practice is highly narrative. Each image is captured as a precise frame of a larger story and then edited in Lightroom or Photoshop, enhancing its more dreamlike aspects. But that’s not all: Vicky accompanies the vision with a textual apparatus, which tells the characteristics of the protagonists, children, and animals, allowing the viewer to get in touch with their simplicity. Best friend, brother, sister, guardian, or confidant…many roles are entrusted to the dog of the house. These roles are based on a bond that creates deep memories even in cold stress or discomfort. The photographs were taken in harsh outdoor conditions, specifically in January 2022 on the coldest days in the Kawartha Lakes. Vicky’s photography fits within a particular artistic genre of portraying the world of childhood because of its joy and lack of fictional artifice. Although staged and elaborately premeditated, her photos—like those of the famous photographer Anne Geddes or those dedicated to children created by Elliott Erwitt—retain the purity and vulnerability of the tender age of infancy.

Vicky Knowler was born in Québec, Canada and moved to Toronto in 1997. She has come a long way before finding her mission and deciding to fulfill her passion for art and photography. She specializes in newborn, family, and children photography, winning several awards from International Baby Photography Contests. As a single mom who raised two children, she finds a powerful source of inspiration in their dreamlike world and expectations. Capable of keeping you warm from the cold.

Vicky Knowler is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent Cold call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Cold issue.

ArtAscent Gold Writer of the 2022 Cold call for writers.

Kesja Dabrowska


there comes a rainbow after rain
So where the hell
is mine hiding…

With its 8850 meters of height, Mount Everest is the highest mountain above sea level. Freezing temperatures, constant winds, and sudden storms make its environment unsuitable for life. Everest became a sharp symbolic image in the poetry of Kesja Dabrowska.

The emotional potential of nature inspires Kesja. Meteorological phenomena such as rainbows and storms blend with the changing seasons and the summer or winter days’ hot and cold climates. However, nothing in her poetry is literal: everything becomes a metaphor to speak of moods, an observation of her sentimental flow. The poem Everest refers to the subject of cold, exploring it on a physical, instinctive, emotional level. So, rainbows, radiant and positive days, are hidden or can be counted on the fingers of one hand, overshadowed by heavy years of storms and thunders. The warmth of a soft summer afternoon suddenly chills, becoming as spiky as an ice stalactite. It gets lost in the winter of her life. Dark periods of life, when you feel alone, helpless, hopeless, transfigure into icy peaks, like those of Everest, lonely and treacherous. The bitter cold can overwhelm the traveller, which can get lost.

The work of Kesja as a poet is the daily expression of the situations of life and mind. Pandemic and the state of health emergency greatly influenced her writing style and content, primarily modifying her mentality. The impact is not just on a day-to-day level, but it affects a different way of seeing and relating to the world. In this manner, driven by the urgency of getting to the substance of a matter, her poetic style has been intensely purified. It tends towards simple and essential forms, working on evocativeness. Kesja’s poetry acts as an attempt to reflect and draw a connection between the darker and more ambiguous side of poetry and the more explanatory and narrative one of prose. The lucid, visionary world of Edgar Allan Poe influenced her writing since her teenage years, providing with the same sense of foreboding and anguished apprehension. But also, famous poets such as Sylvia Plath and Rupi Kaur inspire her poetry, especially in the metaphorical and emotional use of natural elements and in the simple and immediate literary style.

Kesja Dabrowska is renowned as an illustrator and art practitioner in Greater Manchester, UK. She won several honours and awards both as an illustrator and a writer. She works as an illustrator of books for children and curates live projects. Her propensity to work with images as an art enthusiast makes her poetry incredibly visual and imaginary—an identifiable style, anything but cold.

Kesja Dabrowska is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Cold call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Cold issue.

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2022 People call for artists

Matthew Usukumah

ArtAscent Gold Artist of the 2022 People call for artists

Before being a photographer, Matthew Usukumah is a storyteller. Through his actors’ bodies, postures, and clothing, he expresses the freedom and struggles to be who you are.

The mise en scène of Matthew’s photographs is studied, but their aroused emotions are real. The photographer places his actors in contexts as if they were on a theatre stage. Each photo is the scene of a play, the frame of a film, the verse of a song. Using images, Matthew tells the unfolding of a story, which often starts from a creative suggestion or the need to get to the bottom of social and human issues. He creates a series accompanied by texts that explain each scene’s evocative and poetic content.

The selected six photos are taken from different series, but they all revolve around a single theme: identity. They are photographs of people who express themselves or fight to do so. The role of self-reflection and introspection is well exemplified by the recurrent scenario of a bathroom, such as in The Enabler or The Woeful Hedonist. The bathroom becomes the metaphorical setting for an intimate moment of selfanalysis, an inner monologue on one’s vices and fears. The element of water is also symbolic in Matthew’s photos. Water, transparent and pure, calms the mind and reconnects us to our most intimate nature. However, what happens when others do not hear and accept our identity? The photographer also addresses the issue of vulnerability, of not being recognized, as occurs in the case of gender-fluid people. Some photos, such as Furious Mime, also display the anger that pervades people when they suffer violence because of their race.

Matthew is intrigued by the possibility of expressing himself through art forms, like photography. His style is extremely tied to the narrative as if his photos were all acts of longer pièce. From a technical point of view, his fine art photography is also heavily influenced by his career as a fashion photographer. The models are in scenographic poses, sculptural in the center of the composition. The use of light, clothing, hairstyles makes them very aesthetic but still uncoated photographs. The great fashion photographers like Richard Avedon, with his human portraits, Irving Penn, elaborate black and white, or Robert Mapplethorpe, the undisputed king of the rendering of bodies, are certainly relevant references.

Matthew Usukumah is a British-born but New York-based fashion photographer. After working in economics, he collaborated during fashion weeks with magazines such as V Man Magazine, Downtown Magazine, or FUSED. From the turmoil of 2020, he began to embark on the path of art photography, winning the award as Best Rising Artist at the Art Expo in New York already in 2021. His photos reach the intimacy of the spectators, like a confession.  

Matthew Usukumah is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent People call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal People issue.

ArtAscent Gold Writer of the 2022 People call for artists

Alex Steiner

Grading Diamonds

“Diamonds wear the poorest people.” That’s what I told myself. Back then. Back when nothing made sense. Back then, that ring was as worthless to me as those that valued it. People carrying their worth on the very hands they used to introduce new liars….

Alex Steiner gives us a piece that, like a diamond that grows day by day in the depths of the earth, is a crescendo. It is a text that evolves, changing shape and concealing hidden facets, like the people who are its protagonists.

Grading Diamonds is a work of literature that cannot leave indifferent. It reveals through physical and mineralogical metaphors, symbolic objects, the temperament and memories of its main characters. It depicts them as so complex, scratchable, human that they seem close to us. As if they belonged to our family. Grading Diamonds is the story of a father and a daughter. However, it is above all the story of a relationship that—as frequently happens in the closest ties between people—changes and reveals itself as time passes. Alex quotes the words of the Lebanese American author Khalil Gibran: “Perhaps time’s definition of coal is the diamond”; it is necessary to observe the transformations over time, to have a diachronic and patient perspective. It invites flexibility, in pricing and labelling people. Accelerations, collisions, slowdowns, and departures are all part of the process of evolution. They are essential to give us the tools to grade and understand what is authentically valuable, worthy, precious. What dirt can create a diamond? How much beauty can be hidden in chaos and calamity?

Alex’s story takes its cue from a significant object: a ring. However, she aims to talk about people, the forces and events that modify their identity, like rocks eroded by the wind. Grading Diamonds wants to inspire hope in readers, showing how time changes and redefines people and personal values.

The creative process of Alex reflects the themes of change and settlement that also characterize her work. The author worked on the text for a long time, editing and reworking it several times. The excerpts of her story follow each other fast, brilliant, direct, allowing us to follow the flow of emotions and situations step by step. The use of the first-person singular gives this to creative non-fiction text an autobiographical tone that is realistic, honest and creative at the same time. Alex’s writing style is rich in references. She is guided by authors who can describe personal experiences with veracity, such as Cupcake Brown in her autobiography, and novels that deal with life changes, such as the award-winning She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Her way of storytelling is also very reminiscent of the contemporary tool of podcasts, from which she has absorbed the incisive and fast-paced sound.

Alex Steiner is first and foremost inspired by people and their lives. She studied Criminal Law and worked as a teacher at several non-profit NGOs. Currently based in London, she works as a writer, getting closer and closer to people and their stories.

Alex Steiner is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent People call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal People issue.