11 Incredible Artworks That Use People as a Medium

Gesine Marwedel
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"

Wikimedia Commons

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

Heather Hansen – Emptied Gestures from Heather Hansen on Vimeo.

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.