Small Camel by Zhou Tiehai
external image SmallCamel.jpg
Small Camel
Zhou Tiehai 周 铁 海 (b. )
Oil on canvas
45 x 50 cm
Manfred Piccolomini Collection

Zhou Tiehai has worked in a variety of mediums including photgraphy, oil and acrylic painting, and filmmaking. His portraits of Joe Camel have become his most popular works of art. Tiehai creates fake Western art with a great deal of help from his assistants. He has made millions on paintings he didn't even paint. Marcel Duchamp has been a major influence on his work and ideas.
His work is said to be a combination of art and advertising that questions the value of made, not born, commodities. (,2000, p.3) At the end of this entry there is an art lesson inspired by Zhou Tiehai at end of page.

Descriptive Analysis
Small Camel is an oil painting on canvas of a portrait from the chest up of Joe Camel, the former advertisement mascot of Camel Cigarettes. It is a vertical composition 45 x 50 cm. Joe is wearing traditonal Chinese clothing--no he is depicted in a sort of 18th century european suit. A black coat lined in a thick gold trim and round gold buttons running down both open sides of the coat. The coat has a short collar lined with a second stripe of gold around the neck. The coat lays open revealing what looks like a red vest underneath, also lined in a thick stripe of gold and round gold buttons. A white shirt is underneath that with a high neck and soft ruffles down the front middle of the chest, tucked into the vest. This looks like a classical western portrait painting except for the large head of Joe Camel, the famous cigarette icon. His large cartoon head looks like a range of gold, airbrushed values. His large head and protruding nose and mouth seem to be glowing and is the focal point of the piece centered and slightly in the top of the compostion. Joe has a pleasant smile. His eyes are covered by black plastic framed sunglasses, the frames the shape of half circles. the shades are too dark to see the eyes. Very subtle short black hair stand on Joe's head, almost blending into the background. The backdrop is very plain and dark in a charcoal black as well as a hint of green. The highlighted line on the right hints that the background is is some sort of fabric backdrop. The great realsitic details in the clothing and hints of it in the background contrasts with the very cartoon-like, airbrushed head of the camel.

Formal and Contextual Analysis
After the "Great Cultural Revolution," China began to open up to the outside world and Western Contemporary art made its way in to China. Chinese artists began creating similar works of art. After years of analyzing the Contemporary art scene in China, Tiehai came to the conclusion that Chinese artists were basically creating Western-style paintings with Chinese elements. Foreigners saw politics when they looked at Chinese art, simple images of Mao and and the Cultural revolution. Tiehai knew he wanted to do somenthing different. He decided to center his subject matter on the absurdities of the art market. (The New York Times, 2006.)

His past work dealt with his frustrations of trying to make it as an international artist in the art market. After being told he was "not on the list" at a friend's studio in the U.S. Tiehai knew he had to make himself known abroad. He began to question and search for a way into the Western art world. He came to realize the success of contemporary artists was not based on their talent, but on their connections to collectors curators, and journalists. He was determined to make a name for himself internationally, and he accomplished this after putting himself on fake magazine covers, naming him the next big art star. His plan was successful in capturing the attention of foreign buyers. His works mock the art market and expose its commercialism.

He developed a series of paintings in which he took classical portraits and replaced the head with the famous head of Joe Camel. He used these paintings to represent China's conceptual understanding of the West. He explained how we see Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as humans, not animals, much like the way we perceive Joe Camel and his personality (, 2006). In the late 1980's when Joe made his first appearance, kids recognized him more than Mickey Mouse and Fred Flinstone.

In the Placebo series (this is the first mention you mention this), his appropriated images serve as a substitute drug, a "placebo." While his works display a narrative that draws on contemporary topics and mechanisms of artistic reception and the market, he strategically refrains from making any clear value judgements." (, 2006)--this sentence is disconnected with the previous thought. Does this painting belong to the "Placebo series"? then state that earlier.

These camels also reference "big noses," a vulgar nickname used in China to refer to Westerners. Tiehai's Joe Camel represents a prototypical Westerner, a funny, mischievous travelor playing in the Western art world. In Small Camel, the camel represents Tiehai's alter ego, his Westernized self in traditional Chinese clothing. (, pg.1-2)

Many of the backgrounds for these paintings were airbrushed by Tiehai's assistants under his supervision. They capture the essence of the classical, romantic picture screens used as backdrops in Chinese photo studios. However, Tiehai uses the airbrush to eliminate the trademark brushstroke of the European masters' as well as the individual brushstroke of traditonal Chinese ink painting. (www.artchina-gallery)

After these works of art made their way into the global market, Zhou, pronounced similar to Joe, became known as the "Joe Camel Guy." Tiehai's Joe Camel portraits have become his trademark and they remain popular and valuable among collectors. These Joe camel portaits have sold for $100,000 a piece. The joke was on the foreign collectors and journalists in high demand of his work. Tiehai himself said it was easy to make art, perhaps this was attributed to the fact that he did not paint his own paintings, his assistants did. Tiehai would take classical european painted portraits and added Joe Camel's head to it in Photoshop. He then would print it out and hand it over to his assistant which were poor artists he hired to do his paintings. They were often projected and traced onto large scale canvases and then painted and airbrushed under Tiehai's supervision. (, p.1) His goal was to make art easy and mass produce it. (, 2006, p.1)

Although Tiehai doesn't paint his own work, this is not the first time this has been done. Duchamp, Warhol, Koons, and Riley, have all used the help of their assistants. This freed up Tiehai's time to do more important things like coming up with new ideas for his digital images, as well as networking, and creating and maintaining relationships with galleries, collectors and journalists.The fact that he he did'nt cobtribute to the actual painting process didn't make a difference because it started with his idea and concept, making it his own. He openly admits that his assistance paint his work. In an interview Zhou Tiehai says; "Ten Years ago I wanted to show people how easy it is to make art. And I did that. Now I'm on the list." (The New York Times 2006)

The History of Joe Camel
The cartoon of Joe Camel was created by Billy Coulton, a British artist, in 1974. He was used for a Frach advertising campaign and was also used in other countries. The inspiration for the Joe Camel cartoon originally came from the "Old Joe" that was used on Camel packages from when the brand was established in 1913. The R. J. Reynolds marketing team rediscovered cartoon Joe in the 1980's in their company's archives and decided to use him to promote Camel Cigarettes for their 75th anniversary. (The New York Times)

There was a great deal of controversy over this image, in its phallic nature and cartoon style. There were a number of lawsuits accusing RJR of directing their advertising at children because of the use of a cartoon character. RJR argued how other companies have used cartoons in advertising directed at adults, one for example is the Pink Panther.

In 1991, the American Medical Association released a study stating 5 and 6 year olds more easily recognized Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse, Fred Flinstone, Bugs Bunny, or Barbie. The association asked RJR to discontinue their advertising of Joe Camel. After years of appeals, RJR decided to retire Joe Camel in 1997 and take a more adult approach with their campaign. They went with a beautiful, exotic, female of the 1930's theme, appealing to adults in their twenties. (, p.2.)
external image zhou-tiehai-placebo-series-edward-augustus.jpg
Edward Augustus

external image 438px-Zhou_Tiehai_3.jpg

Personal Interpretations
I was first drawn to the work of Zhou Tiehai when I found a cluster of his dessert/desert? paintings mainly because they were similar to my own subject matter and style. Once I began to look into more of his work I realized that was only a small part of what he does. At first I was a little put off to learn he didn't even paint his own pictures, but then I quickly changed my mind when I realized what a genious idea he had, making the images and then hiring his staff to paint them, saving himself the time to network, get his name and start making money. at first glance some of his works I assumed didn't have much meaning behind them but reading about Zhou came up with a very clever way of getting his point accross. I love the fact that he beat the art market and collectors at thier own game, basically proving it's not what you know, but who you know that makes the difference in your success.

Art China Contemporary Gallery and Art Store. Artist biographies, works, and information.
ArtSpeak China (ASC) Wiki. Biography and works.
Chinese Contemporary Art Portal. In The Studio With.. Zhou Tiehai by Lynn Zhang
Shanghart Gallery. Artist biographies, works, content of work. Lecture by Zhou Tiehai, Placebo-Swiss at Hara Museum 2000.
Zhou Tiehai is the capitalist Chinese version of Andy Warhol by Hone Watson 2007.
MP New Chinese Art- Manfredi Piccolomini's small collection of Chinese Contemporary works. Information on artists, their works, and a discussion forum.
Chinese Artist Zhou Tiehai Proves the Emperor Is Naked by David Barboza 2006.
History of Joe Camel, cigarette icon. Urban Legends reference pages by Barbera Mikkelson. 2011.
History of Joe Camel cigarettes and advertising.

Art Lesson #1
Title: Placebo Portraits Inspired by Zhou Tiehai

Grade Level: 8-12

Time: 7-8 class periods (about 55 mins each)

Standards and Benchmarks:
ART.V.VA.M.3 Compare the characteristics of works in two or more art forms that share similar subject matter, historical periods, or cultural context.
ART.I.VA.M.1 Selcet materials, techniques, media technology, and processes to achieve desired effects.
ART.II.VA.M.2 Employ organizational principles and analyze what makes them effective or not in the communication of ideas.
ART.II.VA.M.4 Use subjects themes, and symbols that communicate intended meaning in artworks.

1. Students will become familiar with the work and processes of Zhou Tiehai.
2. Students will create a portrait by combining images in Photoshop.
3. Students will use Photoshop image as a reference to create a portrait drawing.

Essential Questions:
1. What did Zhou Tiehai do to make himself known in the global art market?
2. Why did Zhou have his assistants paint his images?
3. Name an artist whose work and concepts have inspired Zhou.
4. Explain why Zhou used Joe Camel's head in his portiats.

Lesson Activities:
(about 1 class period)
  • Look at the work of Zhou Tiehai and Marcel Duchamp. What do they have in common? What is a common theme in Zhou's work? (Show works on projector)
  • Research/read about Zhou Tiehai and how he became well known in the global art market. Discuss his subject matter and the content of his work. Share main ideas with class. (each table will work together to gather information from internet resources)
  • Brainstorm people/characters that everyone recognizes today. (Form media, advertisements, etc.)
  • Homework- choose a rcognizable person or character to use for the head of a portrait, find the image online and take note of the site. Do the same for a classical portrait.
    • 20pts for classroom participation during group research and sharing
    • 10pts homework check- name of person/character and website, name of painting and website
Activity 2:
(1-2 class periods in the computer lab)
  • Students will got to the computer lab for a general lesson of how to use photoshop.
  • Students will first find their images online and then we will walk through the process step-byt-step together.
  • Students will take their classical painted portrait and photoshop their modern person's/character's head on it and print it out in color on 8x10 paper.
  • Image must okayed by teacher.
    • 20pts for Photoshop image
Activity 3:
(about 5 class periods)
  • Go over grading rubric.
  • Students will sketch the portait they created in Photoshop on 8x10'' paper in great detail. (Or they can trace it on the window!)
  • Students realistically color their portraits in colored pencil. (Prismacolor work best) Colors must be mixed, and a range of values and shadows must be included also.
  • Demonstrate mixing techniques and colors for skin and shadows. Suggest using complements for shading instead of using black.
    • 80pts Final drawing
  • Observation of participation during group esearch and sharing.
  • Observation of complete Photoshop image. (Did they follow directions?)
  • Evalutation of complete drawing according to rubric.

30pts - work ethic
20pts - quality
10pts - values and shadows
10pts - mixed and blended colors
10pts - overall realism