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6 Contemporary Relief Artists Who Put a Modern Spin on This Ancient Art

Relief Sculpture

Interior of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. “Monument of the Valier.” (Photo: WikimediaCommons (CC BY-SA 4.0))

Relief art is one of the earliest forms of sculpting, with the first records dating back to the cave art of the Upper Paleolithic, around 25,000 BCE. Over the centuries, it remained a popular art form in many cultures, from Ancient Egyptian wall carvings to the sculpted marble and bronze pictorial style of the Italian Renaissance. Today, many contemporary artists continue to practice the age-old sculptural technique, but often with a modern twist.


What is relief sculpture?

The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, meaning to raise. The ancient relief sculptural technique involves creating 3D elements that remain attached to a 2D background of the same material, resulting in sculpted motifs that are raised from the surface.

There are 3 basic types of relief sculpture: low relief (or bas-relief), whereby the motifs are only slightly raised above the surface; high relief (or alto-relief), whereby the sculpture projects at least half or more of its natural circumference from the background; and sunken relief (incised, coelanaglyphic, or intaglio relief), whereby the carving is sunk below the level of the flat surface.


Contemporary Relief Artists


Goga Tandashvili

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Russian artist Goga Tandashvili artistically transforms ordinary walls with his detailed bas-relief work. He uses a combination of carving tools and hand building techniques to create decorative three-dimensional motifs such as birds and flowers. His nature-inspired scenes seem to integrate seamlessly with their surroundings, as if they’ve grown organically from the walls.


Brad Spencer


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To many, a brick wall is nothing out of the ordinary, but North Carolina-based artist Brad Spencer turns them into incredible figurative sculptures. The sculptor’s growing collection playfully explores the boundaries of the architectural material by using the relief technique.

“Brick sculpture can be dated back to ancient Babylon but remains a fresh and interesting enhancement to any building, wall or environment,” Spencer says. “The brick medium has all the same characteristics of durability and low maintenance as a brick building, blends well in settings where other brick construction is present, looks good with landscaping and has a familiarity which is comforting to people.”


Gabriel Schama


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Rather than carve from stone, Oakland-based artist Gabriel Schama’s chosen material is wood. He creates mesmerizing, laser-cut relief sculptures that feature layers of intricate swirls and kaleidoscopic patterns. Some pieces resemble ornate cathedral ceilings, while others look like the inside of a mechanical clock.


Duffy London


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Design studio Duffy London (founded by Christopher Duffy) is known for its innovative furniture design and the stunning Abyss series is no exception. The multilayered wooden table and wall relief sculptures pay homage to the ocean. Organically shaped layers of wood resemble a 3D geological map—as the tiers descend deeper towards the surface, the bluer they appear, reflecting the seemingly endless depths of the sea.


Hadieh Shafie


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Brooklyn-based visual artist Hadieh Shafie blurs the line between painting and relief sculpture. Her mesmerizing wall art designs are made by arranging thousands of colorful rolls that jut out towards the viewer. Shafie explains, “The rolling process places razor thin edges of color closely together, creating a space for the viewer’s eye to blend adjoining colors.” She also honors her Persian roots by incorporating scrolls that feature handwritten calligraphy of significant words and phrases.


Paolo Curcio


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While most relief artists opt to create there works on a large scale, Paolo Curcio creates relief sculptures in miniature. He uses old coins as his canvas to carve out incredible intricate bas-relief designs. His impressive portfolio of “hobo nickels” showcases a range of carefully etched characters and scenes from literature and pop culture.


Related Articles:

Artist Brings Rooms to Life With Impressionist-Inspired Relief Sculptures on Walls

Mesmerizing Laser-Cut Wood Sculptures Feature Layers of Intricate Patterns

Artist Arranges Scrolls of Hand-Dyed Paper into Kaleidoscopic Relief Sculptures

Ocean-Inspired Relief Sculpture Invites You to Gaze Into Its Soothing Blue Abyss

Emma Taggart

Emma Taggart is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Originally from Northern Ireland, she is an artist now based in Berlin. After graduating with a BA in Fashion and Textile Design in 2013, Emma decided to combine her love of art with her passion for writing. Emma has contributed to various art and culture publications, with an aim to promote and share the work of inspiring modern creatives. While she writes every day, she’s also devoted to her own creative outlet—Emma hand-draws illustrations and is currently learning 2D animation.
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