Anna Piccoli

Take the piss and make some art

The multifarious presence of urine in artworks

Most people think of art as a refined practice that has nothing to do with humble elements. Yet, sometimes artists can be very down-to-earth. Or, rather, they are able to turn base material such as bodily fluids into something completely different. Our case study: urine.


Ink in water - Fascinating patterns created by yellow ink mixing with water Leonardo Aguiar

Provocative or functional? What is the role of urine in artistic practices? Of course, there is no definite answer and every artist can use urine in a different way, if at all. For instance, Rembrandt or Demuth used it as a subject, whilst Warhol both as a technique and as a conceptual provocation. There are many more examples of pee's multiple functions in art, and we will try to collect them on our blog. Below there are some other (more or less renown) cases. Do you already know who used urine as...

... chemical material?

Historically, Rosalba Carriera, 17th-century Italian painter and portraitist, made use of children's pee to create her pastels which were lighter than the fundamental colours coming from Paris. Also stale urine was useful when applied to a given substance insofar as the ammonia present in it would have reacted, taking off the colour. The latter would have been collected separately and applied to the canvas. The practice of mixing urine and pigments is still in use, at least in the case of Brazilian visual artist Vinicius Quesada. His collages are created with a special paint that contains his own fluids, namely blood and urine as the title Blood, Piss, Blues should suggest.


Yellow water - The colour of the water is created by using a plastic bag as a background. Photo by Koshy Koshy

... compositional material?

The American photograph Andres Serrano uses to immerse his subjects in bodily fluids in general, among them urine. For instance, a big scandal arose in 1987 due to his Piss Christ, depicting a crucifix drawn in a glass full of Serrano's pee. The artist used urine for his works Madonna and Child II and Female Bust. In his case, the golden liquid is a way to obtain a yellowish tone, whilst milk and blood serve to paint in white and red. As an alternative, sperm is used. The latter material was essential for the creation of the series Ejaculation. The band Metallica decided to resort to two of Serrano's works, respectively Blood and Semen III and Piss and Blood, for the CD covers of their albums Load and ReLoad.

Another peculiar use of urine was made by the Taiwanese art student Wong Tin Cheung and earned him a prize, even though it was a pure accident. The story goes, Cheung happened to pee some blood with urine and realised that the components had mixed in such a way that the face of Marvel's superhero Iron Man was now visible in the toilet bowl. The Golden Avenger was born.

... performance material?

Franko B is also utilizing blood mixed with other organic fluids – piss, sperm, saliva – to create art. His work, though, is not photographic, but performative. Urine and the other bodily (by)products are turned into metaphors that represent what the artist literally consists of and that aim to fight the shame which often surrounds the naked body. All in all, we are flesh, we are organs, we are fluids and we are excrements.

Helen Chadwick has a different take on performance and art with pee: in winter 1991 she used her golden fluid to carve 12 flowers in the snow together with her husband. From the holes, bronze casts were created and later enamelled with white colour. They are now known as the Piss Flowers.


Piss Flower - One of the artworks made by Helen Chadwick. The series is called "Piss Flowers" (1991-1992) and was created by urinating in the snow. Bronze sculptures were then obtained from the shapes left by pee in the snow.

Curious about more pee-art? New cases are coming soon on this blog!