UK-based embroidery artist Amber Griffiths is riding a wave of anatomical inspiration in her latest designs. Typically inspired by nature, Griffiths tells Colossal that her series kicked off when looking to put a non-traditional spin on the iconic Valentine’s Day heart. “I’m not particularly someone who’s into all the mushy classic love hearts, so I thought the anatomical route would be much more interesting,” Griffiths says. That set off an obsessive exploration of human anatomy through her primary embroidery technique—the punch needle. This method pushes yarn or thread through the fabric while staying on one side, in comparison to normal stitching during which the needle moves in and out of the fibers.
Griffiths finds the ways the organic shapes, layers, and textures fit together endlessly fascinating. While anatomy is an enjoyable yet challenging subject to dive into, she also finds it educational. She spends time researching the particular organ or system, finding at least 20 to 30 reference images before starting. The embroidery artist embellishes her anatomical pieces with various beads and even mimics a fused spine using real metal screws.
Although she learned how to sew at a young age, Griffiths took up embroidery as a way to relax while on holiday break during her final year at university and hasn’t put down the punch needle since. She’s also become a resource for those wanting to try the difficult punch needling technique and shares her process on YouTube.
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Based in Austria, Natalia Lubieniecka scours Vienna’s markets for antique objects, fabrics, and anatomical posters that eventually inform and meld into her peculiar sculptures. Whether it be a blush-colored heart enveloped in florals, a supine frog with exposed entrails, or a deceased bird covered in a lace bodice, her fantastical works speak to the fragile relationship between life and death.
The sculptor tells Colossal that her interest in organs and bodies began after a visit to Naturhistorische Museum Wien, where she encountered taxidermy of birds, insects, and other animals. Her favorite piece, though, is her faux anatomical heart because it pushed her to expand her source material. “I think that human and animal anatomy has something magical about it. Each organ is responsible not only for the functioning of the body, but also for feelings, thoughts, and emotions, and these transport us to another magical dimension,” she said.
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Back in the early days of anatomical illustration (c. 1500 – c. 1800), artists often rendered the human figure within the lavish landscape of the anatomist’s hometown. These historical illustrations are part of what inspired photographer Jan Kriwol and CGI artist Markos Kay to create the photographic series Human After All. The main character is the human circulatory system in the context of mundane urban life—grocery shopping, eating a burger, and even taking a cigarette break.
The Warsaw-based Kriwol is influenced by his connection to the Polish urban skateboarding scene, and he often infuses his photography with optical illusion and humor. So when he saw his girlfriend’s drawing of a human circulatory system smoking a cigarette, he thought creating a realistic version was the perfect challenge.
Kriwol approached several CGI artists with his idea, but the complexity of the project proved too difficult. He finally found Kay, a self-proclaimed visual alchemist based in London, who immediately took to the challenge of figuring out how to render the circulatory system in a way that looked as natural as possible. Kay found inspiration in the anatomy textbooks of Andreas Vesalius, Giulio Casserio, and Henry Gray. The two artists also studied images of the plastinated human circulatory systems pioneered by Dr. Gunther von Hagens of the infamous Body Worlds exhibits.
Kay shared with VICE Creators Project that, “the biggest challenge for this project was creating an anatomical character that looked life-like and integrated with the real environment. We spent a lot of time experimenting with different postures, and oftentimes we had to exaggerate the posture greatly so that it could translate visually with the deconstructed structure of the circulatory system.”
Kay started by modeling the main arteries and then used generative simulation to organically grow the thinner arteries and capillaries to fill out the figure. Meanwhile, Kriwol shot the urban settings in Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Masada hill in Israel, Grenoble, Berlin, and Brussels, as well as Cape Town, South Africa. Kay then recreated each photographed environment in 3D so that he had control over the reflections and shadows. The end result is a harmonious render of a delicate anatomical figure within its environment. Especially fitting is the circulatory figure at the bus stop with its reflection of the rivers and tributaries in the topography map.
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Vibrant Skeletal Interpretations of Celebrities and Fashion Icons Define Bradley Theodore's Paintings
Energetic brushstrokes, chromatic colors, and the skeletons of pop culture icons make up the prolific work of Miami-based artist Bradley Theodore. His bold use of color is inspired by his roots in Turks and Caicos and the fashionable subjects he’s met in New York and Miami.
The skeletal theme represents something far from morbid. Theodore explained to Omeleto in his documentary Becoming: Bradley Theodore, “a skull for me represents a symbol of a person’s spirit. It’s like I’m wrapping someone’s soul around their skeletal system.” Theodore finds a middle layer of vibrancy that serves as a source of unity.
Theodore is a self-taught painter learning primarily from YouTube and by analyzing the techniques of famous artists, like Salvador Dalí. The artistic practice came from a particularly dark period in his life where he decided that rather than be consumed by darkness, he would metamorphose through art. Theodore spent a year in near-total isolation obsessively painting—so much so that he injured his shoulder from repetitive motion.
Theodore emerged from isolation and painted an outdoor mural of fashion icons Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld together to honor their long-term friendship. The debut went viral and remains one of the artist’s most iconic pieces.
Since then, Theodore has depicted some of the most recognizable icons from fashion, music, celebrity, and history, including Tom Ford, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Kate Moss, Prince, Cara Delevingne, and Queen Elizabeth. His murals can be spotted on the streets of major cities, like Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Oslo, and Paris.
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In an effort to make his otherworldy works more accessible, San Antonio-based artist Jason Limon began creating a substantial collection of small paintings in 2008. Today, Limon continues to add to his Fragments series, which centers on skeletal figures and anatomical forms that often feature stripes, polka dots, and other intricate patterns. His anthropomorphic works indicate movement, like a tube of bone cream that oozes out a skeleton or another character who drives a metal spear through a cracked heart.
With a focused color palette of muted jewel tones and neutrals, Limon’s uncanny projects largely consider how history pervades daily life. “Within the elements that surround us every day are bits of someone else—a record of thoughts made up of color, typography and symbols marked onto paper and metal to represent products throughout time,” he said in a statement.
The artist tells Colossal that Fragments feels especially personal and serves as an exploration of ideas that often turn into larger projects. “I will sometimes have some of these smaller pieces in gallery shows, but for the most part they are a direct connection between me and the collectors,” he says. “I often hear them tell me that the piece struck a chord on how they are feeling or how it relates to their past.”
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Designers Daishi Luo and Zhipeng Tan of Mán-Mán Studio have ensured the stability of otherwise impermanent objects, like delicate lotuses and the human spine. Manipulating copper and brass, the pair conceives of tall spinal chairs with pelvis seats and other stools and tables mimicking the tops of lotus pads. The duo told China Design Centre that their frequent use of copper is in part “because of the charm of the material. Copper is alive, its plasticity is very high, and it is not what we always see.”
Because Luo and Tan release limited editions of each structural piece, their projects work counter to larger productions. “This is an introspection behavior in the process of industry. After industrial mass production meets most of the needs of life, handicraft often represents the products of nature and culture. People begin to pursue the appeal of inner spirit instead of fast consumption,” they said.
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Editor's Picks: Illustration
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