The art of distortion and exaggeration can completely transform an image, giving new meaning, intention and feeling to subjects that would otherwise be familiar to the eye. Here, we take a look at artists who push the boundaries of distortion, exaggerating features, manipulating colour and reconfiguring familiar images. These artists warp our sense of reality to create artworks that sit on the boundary between ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’.
These artists disregard the need for optical illusionism, throwing away the ideas of beauty, perfection and normalcy for distorted images that embrace abnormality and change. More than the exaggeration of shapes, distortion takes many forms.
Whilst Nadia Attura uses her powerfully saturated colour palette to distort our perception of nature scenes, Dan Hillier, like Damien Hirst, digitally alters his images by repeating the use of faces, wings and limbs and use contortion as his main method of distortion. Nick Smith and Takashi Murakami play on the audience’s preconceived knowledge of famous artworks and popular culture, distorting images that are so familiar to the eye. The purpose of art is not to recreate reality, but to transform it into something more intriguing. We love how this selection of artists plays with perception, distorting reality to great effect.
Dan Hillier is a true experimenter, seamlessly combining the imagery of the Victorian era with elements of nature and portraiture. Hillier collages found imagery with his own ink drawing and engraving to create gothic-inspired artworks that are unsettling yet intriguing. Hillier embraces the freedom of expression that comes with collage, blurring the line between dream and reality and using the distortion of images to his advantage. His work embodies the ‘Steampunk’ aesthetic, embracing vintage-inspired, moody elements with a futuristic twist. Hillier distorts his figures, multiplying limbs, giving them wings, and turning them into otherworldly beings.
Hillier loves to “create work that reflects my love of the source material I work from, the natural world, various ancient mystery traditions, and the ever-unfolding and often mystical experience of being alive in a world that is apparently material, immaterial, and prone to all manner of interesting archetypal expressions and wonderments.” Hillier’s classically based subjects are unsettling, blurring the line between dream and reality.
Contemporary artist Nadia Attura masterfully blends landscape photography with tactile collage to create poetic portrayals of place and time. Her unique, idealised interpretations of paradise are beautiful artworks that seem to be plucked straight out of the artist’s imagination. Attura reconfigures her exotic scenes of deserts, jungles and gardens by utilising a stunning oversaturated colour palette, distorting the image and giving it a new lease of life. Nadia’s enriched colours add a touch of the absurd to her compositions and distort our ordinary perception of our natural environment.
After gaining a degree in Photojournalism, Nadia Attura has featured multiple times in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and has been shortlisted on other occasions. Press features include The Guardian, The New York Times, and artist of the month for Vogue Magazine. One of five finalists at the VAO, Attura's work continues to delight viewers and feature in prominent residential and public projects across the world.
Internationally renowned artist Takashi Murakami is best known for his witty and playful artworks that blur the line between high and low culture. Drawing from a variety of motifs such as anime, traditional Japanese painting and popular culture. Murakami’s work is the intersection between art, fantasy and popular culture, combining a plethora of references to create his unique art style. The artist coined the term “superflat” to describe his well-known aesthetic, which is characterised as the visual distortion of iconic visual icons and motifs.
Murakami studied at Tokyo University of the Arts, where he earned his BA, MfA, and PhD. He studied the art of Nihonga, a painting style that draws on the traditional Japanese artistic techniques and subjects. He still uses these techniques in his work today. Murakami has also collaborated with various fashion designers. His first collection with Louis Vuitton catapulted him to fame. The artist has also worked with a variety of musicians such as Kanye West, Billie Eilish and J Balvin.
Contemporary artist Nick Smith repurposes iconic artworks and distorts them through methods of pixelation. Smith meticulously arranges small chips of colour swatches to create a collage of pixels. Inspired by his 11 year career in design, Smith’s handmade collages explore complex art-historical concepts. As the eye adjusts, the artwork that inspired Smith’s creation becomes clearer and clearer; from the distortion emerges another, more familiar artwork. We love how Smith uses the art of distortion in such a unique and effective way. Smith deliberately leaves his constructions open to viewer interpretation, sparking new debates and meanings.
Nick Smith’s work brings the old together with the new, by creating striking limited edition art prints of iconic artworks, simply using the humble Colour Chip swatch. Using colour theory, Smith is highlighting both the complexities and subtleties of the tones in these classic art prints. By juxtaposing classic art with modern digitalisation, Nick is making a commentary on the unforgiving culture of the modern digital world, whilst making the historic work relevant and accessible today, with his stylised pop art practice.
Throughout his career, Gerhard Richter has navigated between realism and abstraction, exploring the material implications of various mediums without restraint. The artist has said of his practice: “I blur to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant.” Richter actively distorts his artworks by dragging paint across the surface, obscuring the marks he made previously. This multi-step process of creating an artwork and then immediately covering it with more layers is the perfect example of painterly distortion. We love this focus on the process of creation and how Richter uses distortion to add an air of mystery to his artworks.
H10-5 Taytu Betul by Damien Hirst
Rising to fame as a figurehead of the YBAs in the 1990’s, and excelling on the international art scene, Damien Hirst has solidified his position in contemporary art history. A master of digital manipulation, Hirst takes one motif and multiples, distorts and rearranges his compositions so that the original subject is practically unrecognisable. Hirst creates hypnotising patterns that practically float away from the surface, giving the illusion of three dimensional space. This act of distortion shines through in Hirst’s butterfly series in particular, where the endless repetition of wings distracts and confuses the eye.
Hirst studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths college and was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995. He is an immensely established artist, with over 80 solo exhibitions and 260 group shows worldwide. Hirst has already had multiple major retrospectives, including ‘The Agony and the Ecstacy,’ at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, and a show, ‘For the Love of God’ at the Tate Modern.
Has our distorted collection of artworks got you feeling inspired? Check out our large collection of artwork for all preferences here.