Gesine Marwedel
Gesine Marwedel

11 Incredible Artworks That Use People as a Medium

Gesine Marwedel
Gesine Marwedel

Paint on canvas can create striking images, but if an artist really wants to make an impression, getting people involved can transform art into something truly stunning.  

1. "Hiding in the City - Beijing Magazine Rack"

Liu Bolin

Chinese artist Liu Bolin hides himself in his photographs as a metaphor for the relationship between culture and its development. He's better at it than Waldo!

2. "Treasured Tiles"

Emma Hack

Emma Hack's "Treasured Tiles" are less about getting lost and more about voluntary immersion. Inspired by her travels in Spain and Portugal, Hack spent hours painting the same patterns on human bodies. You might recognize her work from this well-known Gotye video.

3. "The Human Flamingo"

Gesine Marwedel

It's a bird. It's a brain. It's Gesine Marwedel's stunning "Human Animals" series depicting animals and organs on human canvases.

4. "Frog"

Johannes Stotter

Body artist Johannes Stotter has also turned humans into animals —in this case, five humans into one frog.

5. "The Fall of Adam, after Hugo Van Der Goes"

Laura Spector

Laura Spector's "Museum Anatomy" series recreates 19th-century paintings of women on a contemporary male body—that of her husband, fellow painter Chadwick Gray. "The paradox of culture is reformulated," Spector explained. "The original painting of a woman, which was painted by a man, is now re-painted by a female [Spector] on a male body [Gray] in the 21st century."

6. "Landline"

Aakash Nihalani

Ouch! Aakash Nihalani's latest series uses neon tape and 3D trickery to make it look like human subjects are being impaled in the coolest way possible.

7. Yarn People


Crochet artist Olek has covered billboards, cars, and an entire train in colorful yarn. How could humans be off-limits? The artist frequently uses crocheted people in her public installations and gallery shows. During a recent project in Hawaii, she even had her subjects go scuba diving.

8.  "The Artist Is Present"

Performance artist Marina Abramović frequently uses bodies as the subject and medium of her work. During her 2010 MoMA retrospective, naked models stood in doorways and against walls. But the biggest attraction was Abramović herself. Museum visitors lined up for hours to sit down and stare into her eyes.

9. The Human Pencil

When does the artist become the medium itself? Or is an artist always a medium? Think about it while you watch Heather Hansen draw with her entire body in a series of literal art movements.

10. "Valley of the Reclining Woman"

Carl Warner

Carl Warner's "Bodyscapes" series uses unclothed bodies to evoke expansive deserts and mountain ranges. Each work is made of numerous body part images, all belonging to one person.

11. "Pop Culture As Art"

Syaiful A. Rachman

Indonesian artist Syaiful A. Rachman's "Pop Culture As Art" photo series employs thousands of anonymous people to recreate portraits of famous figures, including the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Lee. The lesson: Even the most iconic public figures—or artists like Rachman himself—wouldn't be anything without the little people.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

Dan Bell
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.


All images by Dan Bell


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