The Disappearing Chinese Artist That Advertisers Can’t Get Enough Of

An artist known for disappearing into the background has an exhibition at Galerie Paris-Beijing and appears at TED today. Liu Bolin’s work has also inspired a lot of… tributes…in the ad world.

Liu Bolin is neither a magician nor a mafia hitman, but one of his great talents is making people disappear.

Liu Bolin “The Invisible Man”

Over the years, with his ongoing “Hiding in the City” series, Liu has blended himself seamlessly into the background of places as unlikely as a supermarket aisle, a graffiti’d wall, and a chain-link fence, an effect achieved without the use of any Photoshop sorcery. The series began after the Chinese government destroyed artist village Suo Jia Cun in Beijing, where he studied, in November 2005. His art was a kind of silent protest against the state; “I was a meaningless person, according to society,” Liu has told The Smithsonian. “Those years made me feel like people can exist or completely disappear.”

The artist’s work has gained more and more notice in the last few years and has been shown around the world. The latest exhibition is happening now at the Galerie Paris-Beijing, where it will remain until March 9. And this week, he will speak at TED.

But a growing number of fans have been exposed to to Liu’s work not through shows but through advertising. Given that his work is political and evocative of state oppression, it’s perhaps surprising that so many advertisers have “paid homage” to Liu’s work with ads that incorporate his background-blended techniques. But the visual device has proved too compelling a metaphor, apparently.

Tiger Beer “Know the not known” Ad

Of course, in addition to all the tributes to Liu’s camouflage techniques, some brands and advertisers have hired the artist to work his magic for their projects. Just this month, in fact, he was commissioned by Valentino create a piece in a storeroom filled with camo-clad mannequins.

Have a look through the slide show above for more of his original work and some of the ads it has influenced.