Artist Kazu Hiro creates sculptural portraits that look so natural you might think they are real people brought to life. His hyperrealistic artwork includes busts of Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dalí as well as historical figures including Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. From their supple skin to perfectly placed hairs to soulful eyes, it's as if these people, who have long since passed, have seemingly been brought back into existence.
Hiro’s interest in hyperrealistic sculpture came from a love of visual effects in movies. Star Wars, in particular, was a big inspiration. He wasn’t sure if that was an avenue for him, however, because he didn’t like gore and horror films, which is where the effects are most often applied. But he eventually realized that this type of makeup spanned a variety of genres, and he began to teach himself as much about it as possible. While still in high school, Hiro reached out to the artist Dick Smith (known for his work on films including The Godfather and Taxi Driver) and began a mentorship with him after high school, traveling from his home in Japan to Hollywood.
Hiro continues to work on films today but began creating hyperrealistic sculptures two decades ago. “I started to make a portrait of Dick Smith for his 80th birthday in 2001,” he tells My Modern Met. “Basically, I used a lot of techniques for special effects makeup to create the portrait.” After seeing the response, he wanted to continue creating busts.
“Around that time, I was a bit tired of working in the film industry, because most of the jobs I was getting were not what I wanted to do,” Hiro shares. “So one time I decided to quit my film job, turn down all jobs, and focus on portrait art. To me, what I was doing, the act of creating, was the same as in the film and art industry. I believe that the important thing to do is create what I think is important and express it in a way only I can do.”
Constructing a sculpture is a fluid process and one where the design and concept can change a lot. “Coloring,” he explains, “even one hair, changes how the final sculpture [looks].” But of all the components, it’s important that Hiro gets the eyes just right. “Eyes tell a lot, so we tend to see what’s going on in someone's mind by looking at eyes. If the eyes are off, everything falls apart in the sculpture. So I pay a lot of attention to it. Especially when I position eyeballs in the sculpture, usually that is the last process to finish the sculpture.”
Scroll down to see more of Hiro’s incredible sculptures and follow him on Instagram to see what he’s working on next.