7 Curators pick the visual artists to watch in 2021

Who's hot in 2021? We asked seven curators to name the visual artists who are on their radar for the year ahead.


Selected by: Ellie Buttrose, Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, QAGOMA (QLD)

Why: Are you tired of looking at your screen? Do you want to revel in the material stuff of life? Created with a punk sensibility, Erika Scott’s artworks ‒ with their intense surfaces and erratic textures – visualise hybridity and metamorphosis. Kitsch and grotesque sculptures are created through DIY alterations to household objects and pop culture debris. Masses of incongruous objects give the impression of props and sets from a series of B-grade horror films where class and capitalism is in meltdown. One of the joys of Erika’s work is talking to fellow viewers about their simultaneous feelings of repulsion and attraction.

She is also the dedicated director of The Soylent Spot, and ARI with a wild program and killer rooftop view. Erika has an formidable new installation in On Fire curated by Tim Riley Walsh at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, a must see for 2021!

Instagram: @the_soylent_spot

2. Pepai Jangala Carroll

Selected by: Margaret Hancock Davis, Curatorial Director, JamFactory (SA)

Why: Pepai is a Pukatja-based artist whose advanced manual dexterity and formidable community standing has only turned to art making during his retirement years. Since 2009 he has been working from Ernabella Arts, establishing a reputation as one of the art centre’s most senior and revered practitioners. Within his oeuvre of painting and ceramic sculpture, Pepai is committed to his custodial responsibilities of Luritja/Pintupi country, merging his deep knowledge of country with his beautifully intricate yet minimalist style.

Pepai Jangala Carroll. Photo: Rhett Hammerton

JamFactory has had a long association with Ernabella Arts, and were instrumental in the foundational years of the Pukutja Pottery. Pepai Jangala Carroll is our JamFactory ICON for 2021 and the first Aboriginal artist to be celebrated in this series of annual exhibitions which recognise the achievements of South Australia’s most influential visual artists working in craft-based media since it launched 8 years ago. This major solo exhibition of new ceramic works accompanied by paintings and tapestry will premiere at JamFactory in July 2021 to coincide with the annual SALA Festival.

Instagram: @jamfactoryau @ernabella_arts_pukatjapottery

Justine Youssef, Under the table i learnt how to feed you, 2019. Image courtesy the artist.

3. Justine Youssef

Selected by: Clothilde Bullen, Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections and Exhibitions, MCA (NSW)

Why: Justine Youssef’s practice seems timely and necessary in the current global political climate. Born in Western Sydney, Justine utilises the powerful tools of empathy and a kind of collective communion to peel apart pressing issues of xenophobia, post-colonial effects and our complex relationships to land and home countries. Her often iterative practice is both meditative and direct.

Through video, installation and performance, the artist draws often difficult narratives such as faith, family and home into the generous sweep of her work.  She offers the audience a chance to breathe and connect with the narratives embedded in her own Lebanese culture as a way to reconfigure memory and emotion connected with material culture. Justine is a co-founding Director of Pari, an artist-run initiative based in Parramatta. 

Instagram: @justineyoussef

Tim Meakins Hotdog 2020 and  Protein 2020. 3d render. © the artist.

4.Tim Meakins

Selected by: Robert Cook, AGWA Curator of Western Australian and Australian Art (WA)

Why: My curatorial-eyes in deep lock with the goggle-eyes of an determinate number of crazy morphed and morphing cartoon entities. Neither male nor female, neither human nor not; sometimes lanky, sometimes compressed; maybe buff in a tubular way but also kinda soft in a cookie dough way, they’re the two-d and three-d render-bots of Perth artist and designer Tim Meakins. 

These mercury-spill between-forms channel Meakins’ intuitive grasp of the poetics of the sugar high mapped over an explicit approach to meaning production as a meaning-staging. So, dealing with its promise and its limits, he frames the ways messaging operates in relation to meaning that parallels how the Road Runner whips back on Wile E. Coyote: it is always in-advance, always behind, always around…  It’s from this charged frontal and peripheral zone that he activates the sensation of communicative address to float recurring moments of antic rupture around the tropes of advertising, social media, pop and high culture as they involve the ongoing play of desirous self-making and self-satisfying. 

In the most weird and surprising of ways they angle around the propulsive subjectivity created in the severing interstices of our current media-scapes. Think Deleuze working for Hanna-Barbera. Think Tim Meakins. 

Tim Meakins’ Pump Iron Till You Are Iron is on show at Tributary Projects, Canberra, in March 2021. 

Instagram:  @tim__meakins

Dylan Mooney, This moment (from ‘Love’ series)  2021, Digital Illustration. Image courtesy the artist.

5. Dylan Mooney

Selected by: Angela Goddard, Director, Griffith University Art Museum (QLD)

Why: Currently on my radar is Dylan Mooney, a man of Yuwi, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander heritage. Mooney’s practice includes painting, printmaking, digital illustration and drawing ‒ inspired by history, culture and family, and responding to community stories, current affairs and social media.

Mooney has already amassed 22.5K followers on Instagram and nearly 6K on Facebook where he posts images of tests and completed portraits and self-portraits in a high-impact illustrative style with bright, saturated colour. His works reflect his experiences with keen political energy and insight, and he’s about to release a new editioned series of seven large prints focusing on love in queer communities; deftly opening out issues affecting Mooney’s lived experience in ways that are very moving, and very much of our moment.

Dylan Mooney is currently an Honours student at the Queensland College of Art.

Instagram: @dylanmooney__ 

Mel Douglas in studio. Image supplied.

6. Mel Douglas

Selected by: Sarah Schmidt, Director Canberra Museum + Gallery + The Nolan Collection

Why: Watch what Mel Douglas produces in 2021, then keep watching; her work surges from strength to strength. A master of form, glass, and drawing, sustaining practice that is constant, focused and exemplary. Mel is Master of Black: from matt charcoal vessels with shiny black inners, to opaque engraved black surfaces that toy with ceramic appearance. She performs artist collaborations, and moves effortlessly from voluminous pieces to diminutive works like Sake Set, 2018.

An Australian National University School of Art, Glass Workshop graduate, with a stellar CV of international art prizes and residencies, Douglas is collected by major institutions around the world, and Elton John! Liminal, 2018 was the National Gallery of Australia’s first Robert and Eugenie Bell Decorative Arts and Design Fund acquisition. Subtle shifts Dr Melanie Douglas makes from series to series are masterstrokes. Her pieces are bold, demanding attention, yet quiet and serene.

Watch next at Milan Design Week 2021.

Instagram: @meldouglasglass

Teelah George, The boxer / Is the lover with the flower / Is the naked motif (2019-2020), Thread, linen and bronze.
Photo Bo Wong.

7.Teelah George

Selected by: Annika Kristensen, Senior Curator, ACCA (VIC)

Why: In early 2020, Teelah George moved from Perth to Melbourne – into a Collingwood share house with fellow artist Gian Manik, and effectively into lockdown. In this fertile creative bubble, George worked fastidiously and prolifically, channelling the rigour of her dedicated studio-based practice into a routine to pass the days.

This year we will be rewarded with the creative output of this time, through a solo exhibition of George’s work at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in July; appearances at art fairs in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney; and a forthcoming solo show at Neon Parc in Melbourne. Filled with light, space, historical undertones, material obsessions and visual ambiguity, George’s art is the perfect tonic after a year spent largely in lockdown – the kind of work that by nature defies being easily ‘seen on screen’.

Instagram: @teelah_george

Read: 8 curators pick artists to watch in 2020

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina