Artists and image-makers have often found beauty in the grotesque. Now they are honing in on strange, slimy textures, colored liquids and imperfections of the body to inject imagery with careless playfulness and light-hearted fetishism. This assault on the senses is most prominently observed in art direction, beauty, styling, and experience design.
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New products are failing at a disastrous rate, according to Martin Lindstrom in his book, Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy. “Most advertising campaigns do not register anything distinctive in the customer’s mind. Most products come across as interchangeable commodities rather than powerful brands,” the author notes.
As a result, Lindstrom suggests that brands need to be prepared to deliver a full sensory or emotional experience to the customer, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do in today’s overstimulated society.
The up-and-coming and influential Gen Viz mindset constantly demands new formats of visual stimulation. As a result, creatives are raising their game and crossing the boundaries of visual intimacy to engage with image-savvy and over-stimulated audiences
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In order to capture the attention the Gen Viz demographic and appeal to their senses, creatives are experimenting with unusual surfaces, highly saturated, synthetic-looking colors, liquids, and slimy textures, distortions of the body, and substances affecting perception.
Key innovators of this trend include artist Maisie Cousins, makeup artist/illustrator Isamaya Ffrench, and visual artist Hayden Dunham. This emerging design direction melds together attraction and disgust to achieve a discordant and jarring visual quality. Concerned purely with sensual attraction, works target audiences’ hormonal impulses, instincts, and subconscious desires rather than aiming for an intellectual response.
“I think there needs to be a word for arousal that doesn’t have to do with sex, something that motivates you to do something bodily,” argues London-based photographer Maisie Cousins. Her works best represent the gaudy, humorous eroticism of this aesthetic. Its distinctive visual cues are hyper-saturated colors, spills and splashes of ambiguous liquids, and distorted portrayals of the body.
This subversive direction, which originated in the context of fine art, is now being adopted in commercial communications to appeal to the Gen Viz mindset.
Faces and bodies fall victim to whimsical experiments, often distorted and covered in liquids as make-up artists and imagemakers zoom in on and elevate bodily functions.
The signature aesthetic of London-based French is constructed around bold and unabashedly grotesque transformations. In her work, faces become characters, often covered completely in bright hues or dramatically distorted to hint at a storyline. “It is really important in our work that there are always elements that people can somehow subconsciously relate to,” the artist explained in a recent interview for Riposte magazine. “An image isn’t enough. You have to have some sort of narrative to go with it.”
This subversive approach to portraying the body is reflected in Plasticity, an editorial created by make-up artist Mathias van Hooff and photographer Paola Kudacki for Beauty Papers. Trapping the models’ skin in strips of translucent cellotape transforms it into an abstract and moldable surface. Van Hooff and Kudacki skillfully tread the line between disgust and attraction in this modern homage to bondage.
A similarly surreal and suggestive mood pervades the imagery created by Berlinbased Jonas Lindstroem for cosmetics brand Aesop. The Crying Tears of Body Scrub series focuses on bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva, fetishizing natural functions of the body in tight, intimate frames.