Many years ago, a friend of mine (hello Becky, or “Becqui” as you called yourself back then) sent me a postcard from eastern Europe, where she was on holiday.
If my memory serves me correctly, I think she was visiting Transylvania at the time, soaking up the gothic atmosphere that gave rise to the region’s vampiric myths and legends, although that isn’t strictly relevant, as the subject of the card was a painting by an Italian artist.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a sixteenth century painter who took the stuffy, formal format of portraiture and gave it a bloody good shake up.
He didn’t achieve this by choosing to pose his subjects in interesting or controversial ways, but by using something other than their own bodies to depict them.
His more conventional art is now largely forgotten, but the paintings he produced in his own inimitable style are still fascinating people to this day
Here is the picture Becky sent me:
Yes, it’s a man made of fish.
He also used vegetables, plants and animals in his surreal composite images, all themed to tie in with the subject of the portrait.
I have always thought it was a fabulously warm and somehow friendly picture, and yet many people I’ve shown it to find his art disturbing and uninviting.
Which got me thinking; When it comes to the human form, what is it that makes something disturbing to look at?
Our faces are an important part of what defines our personality to other people, but not necessarily to ourselves.
Having multiple piercings, for instance, may give some folks the impression that a person appears threatening or in some way confrontational, yet (despite my own personal antipathy towards any sort of “body modification” such as piercings and tattoos) I’ve met all sorts of perfectly lovely people who, when you actually make the effort to get to know them, just happen to like covering themselves in ink and/or metal studs and are otherwise no different to you or I.
Rolf Buchholz – the world’s most pierced man. Airport security was always a lengthy process.
There are of course cultural differences;
The Tā moko face tattoo tradition of the Māori people, which has been the norm for hundreds of years, would almost certainly be deemed unacceptable in western society, a social convention which is reflected in the fact that most tattoo artists are reluctant to have their art facially displayed, even in today’s liberal society.
Māori or Sharpie – you decide.
However, the Yakuza, (famously-inked Japanese gangster hard men) cover their entire bodies with tattoos, yet shy away from continuing their decoration above the neckline, presumably to make membership of the crime organisation somewhat less obvious.
So it isn’t just how “hard” you are which determines how you wear your face, nor should you assume that someone is going to stab you, just because they’ve got Mummy tattooed on their neck.
But the use of the face to give us nightmares is a long and freakishly enjoyable tradition.
Whether it’s the simple application of grease paint to achieve the look of that most terrifying and disturbing of entertainers, Clowns…
Stephen King’s Pennywise the Clown from IT – “We all float down here!” – soon to terrify an entire new generation.
…or the reliance on everyone’s ability to imagine the pain of having sharp points pushed into their flesh, like cheerful sado-masochist and Cenobite-in chief, “Pinhead” from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (which you can watch in full at the end of this post) there is a deep-seated visceral reaction to any type of facial disfigurement.
Pinhead – “Another hedgehog joke and you’re going to hell.”
The reason for all this physiognomy fixation comes from yet another burst of photographic and digital fiddling that I’ve been engaged in this week, this time using my insertion and layering gadgets to assemble new and interesting versions of my own face, using only parts of…..yep, you guessed it, my own face.
And the odd hand or two.
monstrosities portraits were posted on my new Facebook photo page, much to the horror of several group members, who seemed to find the new me somewhat less attractive than usual.
But why? What is it about this type of face manipulation that makes us so uneasy?
Well, now you can judge for yourselves.
Brace yourselves, it’s face time.
First of all, I went for a bit of face-palming…
…then I tried a bit more organ transplanting..
…which ended up getting a bit out of hand.
After that, things just got a bit silly…
…culminating in this masterpiece of unhinged and demented clownery.
All body parts model’s own.
The catchphrases of two ’80s crime-stopper shows spring to mind at this point;
“Keep your eyes peeled” (not literally) and “Don’t have nightmares.”
Here’s some bedtime viewing for you.
Watch Stephen King’s original IT ***HERE***