10 Visual Artists Whose Imagination and Intellect Will Inspire You

Creative innovators who challenge and enlighten

Our digitally fueled world continues to grow more visual with each passing year, with photography and illustration being joined by the constantly evolving worlds of video and animation.

As part of Adweek's Creative 100, our annual list of the 100 most creative professionals in America, we've assembled a list of some of the most dynamic and detail-oriented visual artists who keep us enthralled and inspired: 

 Michael Kaplan
Costume Designer, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Los Angeles

You have Kaplan to thank for every Star Wars: The Force Awakens Halloween costume you'll see this October. He's the creative mind behind everything from Rey's functional beige scavenger get-up to Kylo Ren's menacing and intriguingly unfinished cape and mask. The costumes are rich in subtle detail, like the fact that Rey's sand goggles are made from stormtrooperhelmet lenses to highlight her scrappy ingenuity. To figure out the visual design of the new Star Wars characters, Kaplan spent many hours in George Lucas' archives, but he also applied lessons he picked up from working on Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. For Star Wars, he took "old military gas masks, and tubes and hoses" and revamped them, he tells Vanity Fair. Kaplan is also responsible for the looks in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboots, as well as decades of other popular films like Fight Club, Armageddon and Flashdance.
—Kristina Monllos

 
 
Ekene Ijeoma
Artist / Interaction Designer
New York City

With data-driven artwork dedicated to, as he says, "using design in poetic ways, to humanize data and technology for a more empathetic society," Ijeoma is driven as much by purpose as by creativity. Earlier this month, the Brooklyn-based designer released his latest creation, Look Up, a "participatory public art app" that's meant to get New Yorkers to look up from their phones when they near intersections. The app, which is currently available only on Android as a Live Wallpaper, uses crash, injury and fatality data from NYC's Division of Transportation road safety project, Vision Zero to make users aware of the "human energy loss from crashes" and to look up from their phones through vibrations and visual cues. His previous work also used data in inventive ways; he created an interactive installation, "Wage Islands," that addressed wage and housing inequality as well as an interactive map, which he called "The Refugee Project," which looked at worldwide refugee migration. —K.M.

 
 
Waris Ahluwalia
Jewelry Artist / Fashion Designer
New York City

"All my work is a search for truth, search for a story, search for connecting with one's self and the other," says the multitalented and infallibly stylish Ahluwalia. "It's trusting your instinct and letting the universe guide you." The India-born jewelry and fashion designer has lived in America since childhood, but his business, House of Waris, finds inspiration in all cornersof the ancient world. The occasional actor is also bridging history and the modern world in other ways, such as his upcoming role as Bhagat Singh Thind, a World War I soldier who fought for the U.S. but, as a Sikh from India, was denied citizenship in a legal battle that went to the Supreme Court. Ahluwalia is also one of the faces of Playboy's new, more mature push to compete with the likes of GQ and Esquire, hosting a dinner-party series that included Natasha Lyonne, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and filmmaker Liz Goldwyn.
—Tim Baysinger

 Lynsey Addario
Photojournalist
New York City

Addario tells Adweek she is inspired by the idea that her work can "inform policy makers, inspire change and flip people's misconceptions about a place, a culture or a group of people." The Pulitzer-winning photojournalist has been documenting the human toll of conflict for nearly 20 years. From Africa to Afghanistan, from Iraq to India, she has captured stunning images that are stories unto themselves. "My creativity comesfrom access, from the ability to sit with a subject, and to make him or her feel comfortable, to use the light and to get in close," she says. But it is dangerous work. In 2011, Addario and four of her New York Times colleagues were taken captive in Libya and held for six days. Her greatest accomplishment came in 2009 when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, a so-called "genius grant." It allowed her the time and a fiveyear stipend to write a memoir and give birth to her son. "These are probably two things I never could have done without the support of the MacArthur," she says.
—Chris Ariens

 

 

#WorldRefugeeDay: roughly 65 million people are currently displaced from their homes on account of war and persecution, according to @unrefugees. This photo: Nofa, 25, an Iraqi Yazidi woman, weeps over the kidnapping of her relative by fighters with the Islamic State in the Dera Bon camp where her family is now living near the border with Syria, in Northern Iraq, August 17, 2014. When ISIS overran the village of Gohobal, Nofa's family was told by Arab neighbors to remain in their village, and those same men later joined ISIS and kidnapped Nofa's relative. Since fighters with the Islamic State started making its way across Iraq, and overrunning various towns, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced across the country, and many Yazidis believe their Arab neighbors betrayed him. Photographed on assignment for the @nytimes

A photo posted by Lynsey Addario (@lynseyaddario) on

 
 
Harley Weir
Photographer
New York City

Weir is known for her provocative work, which often pushes boundaries, even for brands that are already famous for sexually charged content. Take her work for Calvin Klein earlier this year, which featured an upskirt shot of a model and made headlines, with some questioning whether the campaign was too salacious and others arguing that it was a feminist statement. While the shock value of her millennial-focused work may garner free media for clients, Weir seems more interested in reframing how we see gender and sexuality. She's crafted campaigns that do just that for brands like Proenza Schouler, Stella McCartney and Missoni. —K.M.

 

#inmycalvins

A photo posted by HARLEY (@harleyweir) on

 
 
Christine McConnell
Photographer / Baker / Model
Los Angeles

It's hard to say which is more improbable: That Christine McConnell built a hip personal brand around Stepford Wives-esque wardrobe and macabre humor, or that she did it primarily thanks to Reddit. While most viral stars find fame on YouTube or Instagram, McConnell's darkly amusing and meticulously crafted self-portraits vaulted her to the top of "the front page of the internet" and scored her a book deal. "Before Reddit, I was a struggling photographer, just kind of getting by and doing fun projects in my free time," she wrote in a gallery thanking Redditors for the launch of her 2016 book, Deceptive Desserts. "After a few months of successful posts, I started getting offers from publishers and TV production companies." She's also got 250,000 followers on Instagram, where the 34-year-old blends a cornucopia of aesthetics, from a sultry, full-bodied girdle to a nice afternoon walk with a pet facehugger from Alien. "My goal is always to get better at the things I love doing," McConnell tells Adweek. "I'm not motivated by money or prestige, but rather finding out how much better of an artist I can ultimately become."
—Christopher Heine

 Ronnie Fieg
Sneaker Designer, KITH
New York City

If you're a brand with a lot of nostalgia but slumping sales, Ronnie Fieg might be able to make you cool again. The New York native is a prolific brand collaborator, with somewhere around 50 of them under his belt, and he's credited with helping put neglected sneaker companies Asics, New Balance and Diadora back on the map. The collaborations are impressive enough, but it's his work with unexpected labels like Italian hiking boot maker Fracap and practical outdoor clothing company Columbia Sportswear that deserve the most attention. He launched his KITH shoe stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn in 2011, and has spent the years since then growing the brand into an empire that includes a line of men's and women's apparel, a store dedicated to women's sneakers and New York's first cereal bar, featuring 23 different cereals and five varieties of milk.
—Charles Goetz

 
 
 Samantha Jayne
Illustrator / Art Director / Writer
Los Angeles

After catching up with friends over a few drinks, Jayne discovered the life of a 20-something isn't as glamorous as the Instagram pictures may lead you to believe. That sparked @QuarterLife- Poetry, an Instagram account with more than 100,000 followers where Jayne posts clever, witty quatrains paired with illustrations tackling what millennial life is really like. "It has really helped me feel a lot more connected to everyone my age," says the 26-yearold. "I think people share it because it's the kinds of things people don't talk about every day." Now working full time at Anonymous Content, Jayne is celebrating a book version of Quarter Life Poetry and working on a TV show adaptation, titled The Struggle. Earlier this year, she debuted a tremendously popular series of promotional ads for the book, which she starred in and created with director Arturo Perez Jr.
—K.R.

 

 

 Jessica Walsh
Designer / Partner
Sagmeister & Walsh, New York City

If you ask Walsh to create something, it's likely you'll get an explosion of vivid color, along with a message that has humor and heart. A partner at Sagmeister & Walsh since she was 25, the art director and designer might be best known for a social experiment she did with Timothy Goodman where the two tried dating for 40 days to see if they could fall in love. Their aptly titled "40 Days of Dating" blog went viral and led to appearances on morning talk shows, a book and a movie deal with a script penned by Lorene Scafaria. They partnered again in 2016 for a new project, "12 Kinds of Kindness," which is just one of the ways Walsh seems to be working to pay her success forward. She's also running a salon with six different creative women each month, offering portfolio help and input on works in progress.
—K.M.

 
 
Kara Walker
Artist
New York City

Walker's work, often consisting of large-scale black paper silhouettes contrasted against stark white walls, is world-renowned for its exploration of race, gender, history and culture. In 1994, the year she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with an MFA in painting and printmaking, Walker rose to fame for her debut mural, "Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart." That defining piece came from Walker's plan when she got to RISD to "try to look at everything as though it were black," she says in an interview she did with her father, fellow artist Larry Walker, in Bomb Magazine. By using the lens of "everything is a black woman," Walker was able to create a distinct point of view that has made her one of the world's most sought-after artists. In addition, she is currently the Tepper Chair in Visual Arts for Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts.
—K.M.

Check out the rest of Adweek's Creative 100 honorees for 2016:
50 Agency Creatives
20 Content Creators
20 Celebrities and Influencers

Also, see the full list of honorees in alphabetical order here.

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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