The Incredible Life of James Kuhn

James Kuhn, a 49 year-old eccentric artist from Three Oaks, Michigan says that he has always wanted to be an artist. In fact, his mother states that he even drew pictures in his oatmeal when he was a child. James has attended the Art Institute of Chicago and learned to draw from drawing live models there. Although his paintings done in a style that resembles ceramic tiles are unique in themselves, James has been getting notoriety from his face paintings.


James attributes his art to a religious experience. James says that he thinks visually and if he can picture something in his head, it becomes real to him. Says James, "I believe that any talent that I have was given to me from God for me to share, so I dedicated my art to Him." [1]


Besides face painting, James paints scenes from the Bible and uses a technique that makes his paintings resemble tiled pictures that he calls "paint mosaics." This collage style is made up of painted watercolor paper cut up and assembled on a canvas. Once James finishes a picture, he keeps it around himself so he "can sort of get to know it better." He often sees himself in the characters and situations of his paintings.


James Kuhn

A rare moment when James is posing in a suit and tie.

Says James of his paintings, "I think of them as paintings and they are made up of paint; but they are not 'traditional' paintings. I draw my composition onto a canvas and then paint it like a normal painting. This is the end of most paintings but only the beginning of mine. I then cover up this first painting with collage. I paint many sheets of thick watercolor paper with acrylic paint. This part is very free, abstract, and intuitive. I later cut up these abstract paintings and assemble them onto my painting until the entire surface is covered and often thick. The process seems more to me like appliqué or quilting, mosaic, or making a stained glass picture, than traditional painting. Each picture is made up of hundreds of pieces of painted paper glued into place to create a scene that has depth and volume. I draw with my scissors and choose very specific areas of the painted paper to achieve this effect." [2]


Although some of his escapades aren't appropriate to describe in a family friendly site such as The Incredible Art Department, he frequently dresses up in costumes and performs in parades. From this, he moved on to what has made him famous- face paintings. For his face paints he uses Kryolan Aqua Color, Snazaroo, and Paradise by Mehron.


James says he loves to paint on anything, including human flesh. He records his face paintings in digital photographs which are also a form of art in themselves. He uses a Canon Powershot A610 5 Mega Pixel camera. He says that his face painting takes on magical powers. He attributes the inspiration and change in his art to his attendance at the annual Burning Man event in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.


James in one of his costumes

James in one of his costumes at a parade. He dresses up in several characters.- Note: James says this isn't him. Sorry James!

Says James of Burning Man, "I believe it completeIy changed the way i think about art and perhaps the purpose for which I even make art. Art should never be a product. It should be a gift of love and a prayer. Art is silly, and fun, and can be powerful and sacred. I do show in galleries, but selling should never be your motivation for creating art." [3]

James has had an interesting life. He made a vanilla milkshake for Michael Jackson, danced with Stevie Nicks, met Andy Warhol at the Limelight Club in Chicago, met Pee-Wee Herman, served champagne to Yoko Ono and "partied" with Dr. Ruth Westheimer and the Fonze. He has appeared as a guest on the Jenny Jones show in Chicago. He has appeared in a television commercial and has traveled the world. His hairdos are extreme with his hair around three feet above his head. He says, that the higher the hair, the closer to God. One of his aliases is Junie Moon and has appeared as her in several parades. He creates his own costumes. He loves Klingons and attends the Wizard of Oz Festival in Chesterton, Indiana every year. He makes a point of chatting with the last living munchkins and wears various Oz costumes. James worked as a singing and dancing waiter at the famous Ed Debevics in Chicago for nine years. You can still see his picture on their menus.


James and his wild hairdo

James poses with his mother wearing one of his famous hair-dos.

James listens to contemporary Christian music while he paints. He gets some of his inspiration from attending circuses. His primary inspiration comes from Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo. James says he is an artist who refuses to give up against all odds and continues to make art in a world that really does not care. James believes that Van Gogh intoxicates people with his use of color.


As mentioned earlier, his face paintings have been what has put him on the map recently. He says that some faces take hours to create and other faces may portray the emotion with just a few lines. He likes many of his characters to be comical and fun. His pictures now appear all over the internet.


"Painting for me is not work, it is my pleasure and my prayer. I paint to relax and recharge. The obsessive nature of these pictures might wear another man out, but to me they bring me peace," says James. [4]

James has some great advice for all artists, teachers, and students. "Never quit. Express yourself and never waste your God given gifts." [5]


Below you can see his work on YouTube. As you can see, he has many fascinating faces. It is unfortunate that each painting must be destroyed to create another. However, the images are digitally reproduced for all to see for years to come.




Links to James Kuhn's work

May 12, 2009
Hey all! I found a few new pics of his face paintings that were so good I had to post them here:

james kuhn painting james kuhn face painting

1 Comment

Hey thanks! I love your article about me alot, but the guy with the silver face and glasses is not me. I took that pic at [a] Parade, but i don't know the man. James.
May 4, 2009 6:20 AM