Artist Yusk Imai has a long-held fascination with human anatomy, and he displays this reverence for the body in an unconventional painting project called Exoskeleton. The skin is his canvas as hands, arms, legs, and shoulders are covered in intricate textures that mimic reptile scales, brushed metal, and feathers. Imai's meticulous handling and solid black painting is reminiscent of the blackout-style tattoo trend we've recently admired. Unlike those tattoos, however, his work is created with acrylic ink and water-based markers, making its existence fleeting.
Real exoskeletons act as outer skin that protects an organism's body, most commonly seen on insects. As the name suggests, this concept is at the heart of Imai's project. In an interview with Hi Fructose, he stated, “My idea is to create a second skin for a human body, a protection, another layer.” This was a challenge for the artist, because he typically works on more conventional surfaces. “Unlike my paintings,” he explained, “I cannot twist, create, invent, do whatever I like with the body.”
Although a difficult endeavor, body painting has informed Imai's overall artistic practice. “It is a type of study. I learn a lot about the human anatomy when I paint in a body,” he reflected. “I see how the lines behave when the person moves, how the ink moves and changes the whole thing.” He took that knowledge and applied it to his works on canvas. “It makes me paint the shapes better. I can imagine the muscles, the bones. It works as a form of study to me.”