One might learn something from staring at the tattoos of Italian artist Michele Volpi (previously). The composition, detailed dot work, and precise lines of his tattoos transcend both ink-infused skin and science textbooks. The Bologna-based tattoo artist relishes in scientific books—from Frank Netter’s painterly medical illustrations to the exquisitely rendered biological specimens and marine life of Ernst Haeckel. He often visits bookshops during his travels to discover and acquire these new sources of inspiration.
Volpi’s customers seek him out to tattoo an array of botany, astronomy, physiology, and chemistry-based compositions. Sometimes customers let him choose the branch of science, in which case he renders his favorite subject—anatomy. Even then, Volpi combines subject matter like in his tattoo comparing the shape of a human pelvis to that of a butterfly or another that features a human skull being stretched absurdly through a wormhole.
The artist tells Colossal that his “dream is to make a scientific book with all of my conceptual scientific illustrations that I love.” View Volpi’s body of work and booking information on Instagram. For those not ready for the permanence of a tattoo, there are prints of his pen-and-ink, anatomical illustrations available in his shop.
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Face Masks Hold Fish Tanks and Overgrown Patches of Botanics in Surreal Illustrations by Kit Layfield
A long way from the packs of blue, disposable masks many of us bulk purchased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face coverings Philadelphia-based illustrator Kit Layfield envisions are a bit more complex and otherworldly. He draws intricate contraptions featuring the traditional nose-and-mouth covering that then are connected to larger collars adorned with luxuriant shrubs, miniature ecosystems, and tiny fish tanks. The individual subjects all are situated within the diverse environments, providing the necessary structure to keep the micro-systems flourishing.
Layfield shares with Colossal that his surreal illustrations reflect a fascination with what he terms digital climate change. “I like to think of the various information ecosystems online in the same terms I would think of a natural ecosystem,” he says. “A fact can not exist alone, in the same way a flower can not exist alone. It needs to be rooted in something.” As media floods online, it becomes more difficult to wade through, which he expands on by saying:
The perfect example of digital climate change is the information ecosystem surrounding actual climate change. Every year, the information supporting climate change has become more and more undeniable, and simultaneously Americans’ belief in climate change has dropped. I think the information online backing up the truth of climate science is out there. However, the ecosystem that allows that information to survive and spread has been severely endangered.
Although Layfield’s illustrations are interwoven with fantastical elements, he hopes they inspire people to understand how connected they are to others and their environment. “Could somebody see a mask online, one that is so absurd it could never exist in reality, and make them think about wearing a mask in reality? I think it’s possible,” he says.
Find more of Layfield’s bizarre projects that merge social and environmental commentaries on Instagram.
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Berries, Cookies, and Salami Slices Anonymize Vintage Portraits by Digital Artist Harriet Moutsopoulos
Telling someone that there’s an errant herb stuck between their teeth or a dot of sauce just below their lip is likely to spur embarrassment, so noting that they’re covered in egg or raspberry or a gloopy mound of ketchup might be too much to bear. Harriet Moutsopoulos, though, helps her subjects save face by completely masking their distinct features with singular bites of fruit, bowls of ice cream, and slices of salami, ensuring their anonymity.
The Australian artist, who works under the name Lexicon Love, combines found portraits and edibles into strange collages. Although her techniques are digital, Moutsopolous often considers analog practices, preferring basic technologies to programs like Photoshop or Illustrator. She also imposes limits of two or three elements to maintain the integrity of each piece. “The most significant challenge for me is giving each artwork the slight imperfections of hand and the general look and feel of being made entirely from traditional, analog practices,” she says.
Moutsopolous tells Colossal that she’s “drawn to the surreal and unsettling and try to inject that into my work where possible, always seeking out the unexpected connections between humor and tragedy.” At times both comical and unsettling, the bizarre compilations inspire questions about the subjects’ identities. “On the surface, this absurd combination appears to reject any sense of reason (an extension of my own twisted sense of humor). However, obscuring the faces of my portraits with food is designed to not only challenge traditional notions of beauty but also to provoke, tease, and confuse the observer,” the artist says.
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If Marija Tiurina’s latest watercolor appears to be a random mishmash of dreamy scenes, that’s because it is. The London-based illustrator (previously) recently completed “The Lockdown Project,” a dense composition inspired by dozens of submissions she collected during the first few weeks of quarantine. Complete with childhood memories, dreams, and colloquialisms, the illustration depicts a rich network of bizarre characters and fictional tales that flow organically between scenes.
In a short video (shown below) detailing her process, Tiurina said she began with a central figure resembling herself before sketching submission ideas in the surrounding areas, aptly referring to the project as “a weird salad where everyone’s thoughts, memories, dreams, and ideas are mixed in a bowl and dressed with my imagination.” Out of nearly 1,0000 contributions, her favorites included a coat snatcher, a pasta-eating man named Anchor, and a floating potato.
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Stefan Visan fashions surreal interventions out of mundane objects: a silver safety pin pierces verdant leaves, a burning candle is sliced and positioned at a tilt, and limp spaghetti lengthens fork prongs. The artist spends hours tinkering in his studio each day, constructing bizarre combinations with no prior intention for what he’ll create. Often sharing his unusual projects on Instagram, Visan doesn’t limit his artistic process to one medium. “I’m always exploring different things, from painting to collage, video collage, photography, illustration… For example, collage is a break from painting and reverse. Everything that I create is hand-made, nothing digital,” he tells Colossal. The result is a series of interventions that merge the ephemeral aspects of nature with enduring, manufactured objects.
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Through life-sized sculptures, artist Yinka Shonibare CBE considers the grasp of colonialism and its lasting effects on modern conceptions of identity. Each faceless figure is in the midst of an action, presented shooting a mass of cherry blossoms from a rifle, lumbering forward with a hefty mesh sack, or balancing a towering stack of cakes. Evocatively posed, the figures are topped with globes and astronaut helmets, which simultaneously gestures toward movement in the form of travel and exploration while obscuring individual identities.
Known for using patterned textiles across mediums, the British-Nigerian artist outfits his surreal sculptures with Batik fabrics, which have a history rooted in colonialism. Originally practiced in Southeast Asia, the wax-dyeing method was adopted by the Dutch, who commercially produced the patterned textiles and sold them to West African colonies. Since the 1960s, the vibrant fabric has come to signal African independence and identity.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.