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The artist known as the ‘invisible man’ reveals how he disappears into his works

Most artists won’t admit it but public recognition is important when it comes to becoming an established name in the art world. However, if you’re Liu Bolin, being noticed would be a sign he’s really messed up.

The Chinese artist is known around world as “the invisible man”. He’s spent over a decade trying his best to disappear.

The idea came about when, in 2005, authorities in China demolished the studios he’d been working in. His way of protesting was to have his friends paint him among the rubble.

Everything – his clothes, face, hair – were painstakingly covered to identically match the background behind him. The finished photo is incredibly powerful, the insignificance of the individual being swallowed up by the surrounding world is apparent.

The Chinese artist has become world renowned for his camouflage art

Since then Liu has “disappeared” around the world, including in New York, Paris and Venice.

“It’s asking the basic philosophical question of where we all came from,” Liu explains through a translator as we meet at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

As his pieces aren’t overtly political, at his studio in Beijing, he says he’s largely left alone by the authorities as his photos subtly explore everything from the rise of modern China to global capitalism.

“It started out in China as an opposition to the government, but I’ve been doing it for so long, not only at home, because every single country has its own problems and so I decided to make this more international.”

Liu Bolin, the Chinese artist is known around world as 'the invisible man'
Liu’s pieces explore everything from the rise of modern China to global capitalism

At the START Art Fair in London, for the first time he’s allowing members of the public to watch how he does it.

It is day three of a five-day process when I meet him. Three London-based artists, specially selected to paint Liu, are blocking out colours onto a pair of trousers and a jacket using grids.

Tanja Hassel, who is one of them, explains they’re constantly making checks from a fixed position to ensure Liu will blend-in correctly.

“In order to do the outline, which is most important, one person will always be there guiding us,” she said.

Once complete, Liu should disappear completely infront of the giant sculpture of sunflowers made from Lego bricks. The sunflower is a symbol of obedience in China. The use of the iconic child’s toy explores how China has “embraced consumer culture”.

Liu Bolin, the Chinese artist is known around world as 'the invisible man'
Liu’s UK performance continues until Sunday

Jagroop Mehta, a director at art consultancy Mehta Bell, helped orchestrate Liu’s UK performance.

“It’s proven to be very engaging for an audience,” she said.

“We live in such a digital age, [the finished photos] could easily have been done by Photoshop, our minds are almost so lazy these days that it reads it as that.

“To actually have it in front of you, that insight into his practise and performance, it really makes you aware of the level of physical work that goes into this.”

When the piece is finally finished, all that an audience should see is a shadow of Liu. It is a thought-provoking concept, designed to question if any of us can ever really make much of a mark on society at large.

Liu’s performance is taking place at the START Art Fair at London’s Saatchi Gallery. It ends on Sunday 17 September.

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