Painting the Surreal Politics of Long Hair and Nails

Hair occupies a fluid state in society: seen as sexy when untamed but disgusting when running rogue and even worse when found in food. Julie Curtiss and Hong Chun Zhang address the many sides of hair through themes of gluttony and vice, sexuality and sublime grace. Both artists are featured in the summer issue of Elephant—where we explore the theme of angst.


Hair can evoke a whole array of sensibilities in any given context. On the one hand it represents strength and beauty; the power of Samson and the orgasmic qualities of Herbal Essences. On the other, it can allude to disgust and anxiety, with the horror of a clogged plug hole or the shame surrounding leg stubble, not to mention the paradoxical fear of losing the hair on top of your head.

Two artists that investigate this variety of emotions are Julie Curtiss and Hong Chun Zhang, though their approaches couldn’t be more different. Curtiss’s hyper-saturated, surrealist world of anonymous figures and food products are rendered with ropes of hair and furry follicles, in a way that is both alluring yet unsettling. According to the artist, “Hair evokes something primordial, it’s a part of our body we can cut off without pain.”

Chun Zhang shares a similar instinctual connection to hair, through a personal relationship as an identical twin—they both sport long, flowing locks. Her larger-than-life ink paintings capture a luscious liquidity normally seen on supermodels, presented on grand Chinese scrolls. She is also interested in bringing something inherently repellent to her practice and has produced disturbingly life-like images of hairy noodles, ice cream and sushi.


Issue 35 is out now

Elephant Issue 35 Angst Independent Publishing magculture