The Artistry of Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin is a man fascinated with fooling our eyes. He does this by disappearing into his art, being literally painted into the landscape. In Beijing he is known as the Invisible Man and you’ll see why in the photographs.

His best-known stuff are performance pieces recorded in a photographic series entitled Hiding in the City. These pictures show him blending seamlessly into a variety of backgrounds, sometimes so well that the eye is momentarily blinded by the illusion.

His art is an exploration of meaning, combining both performance and display. There are strong components imbedded in his settings that speak to greater concerns, including political and cultural dissonance.

Featured in the book, Stairway to Heaven, this bilingual volume includes the creativity of eighteen cutting-edge artists seldom seen outside Asia and a glimpse into the cultural and artistic revolution of the Post-Mao era.

Though a resident of Beijing, Liu Bolin has created several ongoing series, such as Hiding in Venice and Hiding in New York where he may be found disappearing into the local cityscapes.

Don’t see him yet? Look for his shoes.

Recent collaboration with high fashion designers has produced a variety of interesting compositions found in fashion publications.

There are many slideshows and film clips on youtube about his work, but I liked this little video because it illustrates how he is painted into the background for a photo shoot.

If you take just a minute to watch, you’ll understand part of his interest in these compositions stems from his personal experience of being dislocated by government intrusion.

Liu Bolin’s work encompasses a wide array of venues. There are visually striking locales, whimsical settings, and those that resonate with a harsher tone. Some are fun while others are intoxicating. Many are powerful.

There are so many amazing images I don’t have room to include here: Liu Bolin in front of a mound of coal, on a bridge in Vienna, in the central plaza of the Forbidden City, in front of a bookcase, and within an ancient theater.

The artist had this to say about his work:

After graduating from school I couldn’t find suitable work and I felt there was no place for me in society…and had a feeling that no one cared about me, I felt myself unnecessary in this world. From that time, my attitude turned from dependence into revolting against the system.

Some people call me the invisible man, but for me it’s what is not seen in a picture which is really what tells the story.

There are many people who like my work I think because my work has a quiet strength, in the photographs. I am standing, but there is a silent protest, the protest against the environment for the survival, the protest against the state. I wanted to photograph the reality of scenes of China’s development today. My work is a kind of reminder, to remind people what the community we live in really looks like, and what kind of problems exist.

Liu Bolin is represented by the Eli Klein Gallery in New York and Beijing. There is a large collection of photographs documenting his work at this gallery, so take a few minutes and scroll through the pages at the bottom of the link. Enjoy.

I find much of his work reminiscent of double-exposure photography, except that he’s the secondary exposure painted into the scenery…a fascinating visual double-entendre.

When I wander through city streets now, I find my eyes looking for him, trying to discern a humanoid form blending into the background. I scan for the shape of shoes at the edge of the landscape, searching for the elusive hint that someone might be watching back.

I am intrigued by the haunting eloquence of his compositions and someday I hope to find him melting into a building facade. Don’t you?

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  1. #1 by Alica on March 27, 2012 - 7:52 am

    Those are amazing!!! Thanks for the tip to look for his shoes I wouldn’t have found him several times without it.

    • #2 by Leslie on March 27, 2012 - 10:22 am

      I know – they are amazing! I just love this guy…that smile doesn’t hurt either. I hope he someday puts together a huge coffee table book of pictures, I’d love to see this is big full-color format. There are hundreds of photographs, some so astounding, but I just couldn’t put them all in the post. Glad you liked it!

  2. #3 by Traci Kenworth on March 27, 2012 - 12:22 pm

    Wow. Amazing is right.

    • #4 by Leslie on March 27, 2012 - 11:28 pm

      After I watched the video clip, I found myself wondering how many times he’s done this process. Imagine the gallons of paint he’s scraped off his skin! It’s amazing what good moisturizers will do.

  3. #5 by Bridgette Booth on March 28, 2012 - 6:17 am

    These are amazing! I was searching for his shoes each time because I couldn’t see him otherwise. We read “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, and this would be a wonderful compliment to that . . . excuse me, teacher-hat on. 🙂 Thanks for introducing me to these wonderful artists, Leslie. Fascinating.

    • #6 by Leslie on March 29, 2012 - 9:30 am

      I think it’s fascinating how many times I have to really look for him in the photograph. The human eye is a precision instrument and adept at locating distortions, imperfections, etc. That he’s able to fool the ocular synaptic leap is pretty cool. I think the one with the panda heads is really effective because the rich tones are very distracting. Don’t you love it when the right visual pops up, just perfect to tuck into an assignment? I love that too. Glad you’ve enjoyed!

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