37-year-old Liu Bolin from Shandong, China, has often been dubbed the invisible man. No, he is not some mad scientist tinkering with the idea of inventing something to make human beings invisible.
Liu is just an artist. But he is no ordinary artist. He has made an art of becoming the invisible man, creating incredible images by camouflaging himself into virtually any background, no matter how difficult they might be. The ingenuity of his highly unusual technique is really captivating.
Liu, who graduated from the prestigious Sculpture Department of Central Academy of Fine Arts in China, doesn’t need Photoshop or any fancy technology to produce the jaw-dropping illusion of invisibility – his camouflage photography is all paint and pure talent.
Liu claims his works make a statement about his place in society. The inspiration behind his work is a sense of not fitting in to modern society and is a silent protest against the persecution of artists in China. He sees himself as an outsider whose artistic efforts are not always valued, especially in his native country. His works are appreciated at an international level.
The Beijing-based artist spends up to 10 hours studying his chosen locations and painting himself and other subjects to create a single shot.
Standing silently in front of his chosen location, in places all around the world, Liu uses himself as a blank canvas. Then, with a little help from an assistant, he paints his body to merge as seamlessly as possible with the background. People walking by while he is carrying out his performances often have no idea he is nearby until he begins to move.
He said: ‘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.
‘After graduating from school I couldn’t find suitable work and I felt there was no place for me in society.
‘I experienced the dark side of society, without social relations, 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.’
His works depicting anti-government imagery, including some in which his Chinese subjects are in the grips of police officers, resulted in the Chinese government shutting down his art studio in 2005. The shut down further pushed Liu in his work.
He said: ‘At that time, contemporary art was in quick development in Beijing, but the government decided it did not want artists like us to gather and live together.
‘Also many exhibitions were forced to close.
‘The situation for artists in China is very difficult and the forced removal of the artist’s studio is in fact my direct inspiration of this series of photographs, Hiding in the City.’
He said his work requires a lot of patience with him having to pose and work on his photographs for more than ten hours at a time to get it just right.
‘My job is to choose a good background where I want to be “disappeared”, and then stand there unmoved until a design has been painted on me,’ he said.
‘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.’
“In my photography, historical statues, costumes and architecture become symbols of that which confines us,” Liu says. “I am expressing the desire to break through these structures. I portray subjects that seem to disappear into these structures and become transparent. The subject is released from social constructs and he is free.”
“Living in the red hot China, I feel that I am not in control of my own life. However, I have an indescribable burning desire inside of me. Art is a weapon that helps us untangle the chaos in our lives. I hope that my artworks can calm people down during this period of constant change, but at the same time, inspire people to re-evaluate our environment and reconsider the problems arising in our society. In this transition period, I can hear the voice of Hamlet whispering, “for in the sleep of death, what dreams may come.”
What an amazing artist!
For another YouTube video on Liu Bolin, go here.