Aside from art, Klaus Enrique is an accomplished individual where after growing up in Mexico City, he studied genetics in Nottingham, England, and completed his MBA in Columbia business school in New York City. Enrique is now a visual artist after turning to sculpture and photography after studying at the Parsons and The School of Visual Arts where he started to get worldwide attention for his work. Here are some images of his work “Arcimboldo,” accompanying with an essay he wrote along with the pieces.
“Four years ago I was working on a photographic series titled “Masks” in which different parts of the human anatomy are presented in the context of hundreds of different organic elements of the same kind, be it apples, flowers, or hair, to name a few. In December of 2007, I was shooting a human eye surrounded by thousands of dried leaves. One of the leaves happened to be aligned in such a way as to looking like the nose that belonged to that eye. The image was spooky, but it also seemed contrived. It appeared as if the leaf had been deliberately placed there to look like a face. In that moment I wrote in my notepad, “Make face with dried leaves”
Before I begin work on a new project, I always research the work that has been done on that subject by other artists. It didn’t take long before I came across the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo. This was an immediate disappointment to me. As with so many of my ideas, someone, somewhere had already thought about it (in this case more than 400 years ago) and had executed the idea magnificently. “Oh well…” I thought, and with that I abandoned the project.
But the idea kept stirring in my head. A long time ago I heard someone quote Alfred de Musset: “Perfection does not exist; to understand it is the triumph of human intelligence; to expect to possess it is the most dangerous kind of madness.” If perfection existed, improving upon it would be impossible. Thus art is like science. Indeed, to me art is pushing the boundaries of our understanding. It is the act of creating something novel. It is breaking a world record. It is discovering.
The more I researched Arcimboldo’s work, the more convinced I became of creating my own series.
Salvador Dalí once called Arcimboldo the “father of Surrealism.” However, Arcimboldo was certainly not the first person to create composite heads from different objects. That honor does not belong to Francesco Urbini, either, although Urbini painted the “Testa de cazi” almost 30 years (c. 1536) before Arcimboldo’s first composite head.
More interestingly are two medals: one attributed to Paolo Giovio depicting Pietro Aretino and the other is attributed to Pietro Aretino with Paolo Giovio as the subject. Both medals have on one side a phallic-satyr head, however the reverse of Aretino’s medal is a composite portrait of Giovio. The forehead is a lion’s head, the nose is a toad, a fish makes the jaw and the mouth, a snail is used for the ear, a tortoise for the cheek and a monkey face at the back of the head. This medal in particular has been cited by scholars such as Waddington as a possible influence on Arcimboldo.
Other influences on Arcimboldo included Leonardo da Vinci and Hieronymus Bosch. Leonardo himself wrote on how to create a mythical creature: “You know that it is impossible to fashion any animal without its individual parts, and that each of these in itself will bear a resemblance to those of other animals. Therefore if you wish to make your imaginary animal seem natural, let us say it was a serpent, take for the head that of a mastiff or a hound, the eyes of a cat, the ears of a porcupine, the nose of a greyhound, the brow of a lion, the temples of an old cock, and the neck of a turtle.”
Was Aretino the first artist to create a composite head? Probably not. Anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics to living and non-living things), Pareidolia (perceiving things where non exist – think of the smiley face J or the man or rabbit on the moon) and the cognitive processes of face perception are probably as old as mankind itself. None of this, however, takes away from the greatness of Aretino, or da Vinci, or Arcimboldo. But equally, neither of them has ownership over those concepts. Marcus Gheeraerts, Tobias Stimmer, Carlo Urbino, Ambrogio_Brambilla, Joos de Momper, Wenzel Hollar, have all created works that one way or another are similar to Arcimboldo’s oeuvre. More recently, Salvador Dali paid homage to Arcimboldo’s “Winter” in his “Portrait of Frau Isabel Styler-Tas”. One could argue that there is something Arcimboldesque in the work of István Orosz and Ju Duoqi, and certainly in the works of contemporary photographer Bernard Pras, who incidentally recently (2007) created his own version of Arcimboldo’s “Summer”.
“Knowledge is Power” Sir Francis Bacon
My research gave me the freedom to create my own series, which in homage, I named “Arcimboldo”. But knowing that other people before and after him have done similar work was not reason enough for me to create my own body of work. For me the reason came first of all from my original moment of Pareidolia. I saw a face where no face existed. The reality was simply hundreds of leaves randomly arranged over a human eye. Yet my mind was telling me that a face was there. A pear, an apple and a berry come together in synergy creating a portrait in my mind. Magritte famously said “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, equally I could say “This is not a face”, yet our powers of abstraction, a power that is uniquely human, allow us to see that face.
Arcimboldo used painting as his medium. Philip Haas has used sculpture to recreate one of his works (Winter). Bernard Pras has worked with photography. Even before I was aware of Arcimboldo’s work I thought that photography was the right medium for this series. Painting has the inalienable ability to create a fantasy completely removed from reality. Photography arguably lacks that trait, but in return it provides a picture of reality that the most consummate photorealist can hardly match. This series brings a fantasy back to life.
I can imagine one day in the future, distant or not, when an artist will use genetic engineering to create a living plant that looks exactly like Arcimboldo’s Vertumnus. It will be an arresting sight. Would that be the perfect Arcimboldo? Perfection does not exist.”
For More of Klaus, you can visit his website here: http://www.klausenrique.com/arcimboldo.html