• Bob Recine
  • Bob Recine
  • Bob Recine

PEOPLE: Bob Recine on exploration, transformation and the role of magic in his life and art

Interview: Emma de Clercq
Images: Bob Recine, Bjarne Melgaard, Mario Sorrenti, Tom Sibley
Portrait: Alberto Maria Colombo

Bob Recine, Dimensional Spell, 2014 (detail)
Mario Sorrenti, 2008, Hairpin Sculpture By Recine

In Bob Recine’s hands, distinctly everyday objects – plasticine, pins, matchsticks – are transformed into surreal and captivating sculptures. Renowned for his inventive assemblages, the hair artist pushes materials to their limits to create sculptural pieces which can be interpreted as hairstyles, or equally, as art objects which just happen to sit upon the head. “The whole area of the head is my realm and domain,” Recine says, “it’s been my fascination for a very long time”.

Mario Sorrenti, 1996 (Numéro Magazine)

Growing up in 1970s New York, Recine first began to find his feet in the creative world as a young musician and artist. It was Andy Warhol who introduced him to the legendary French hairdresser Jean Louis David, who, recognising Recine’s talent, offered him the chance to move to Paris to learn more about hair artistry. He has since created a vast and varied catalogue of work that includes sculpture, photography and painting. Well known for working with celebrities including Lady Gaga and Tilda Swinton, his collaborations with top photographers such as Mario Sorrenti, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn have pushed the boundaries of hair within the editorial image.

Alongside this, Recine has worked on a series of fine art collaborations with Vanessa Beecroft and Bjarne Melgaard, and devised immersive window installations for iconic New York department store Barneys. His work fluidly moves between the realms of fashion, beauty and fine art. Recine views the parameters differently, or rather, does not feel the need to align himself with one or the other. “Whether I’m working alone, on a photoshoot, for a store or in collaboration with an artist, I personally don’t really see the differences between those fields,” he explains,“I feel like it’s all a sense of alchemy and collaboration”.

This idea is beautifully realised in his 2012 book Alchemy of Beauty. Featuring original artwork by Recine, the photographs, sketches and paintings offer a tantalising glimpse into the artist’s working process. The book’s imagery illustrates Recine’s desire to dismantle the complexities of our inner worlds and translate them into a tangible, visual form. At the heart of his quest is beauty, that ever-shifting, mysterious ideal.


Bob Recine, 2004 (i-D Magazine)

In the past, you’ve talked about approaching hair in the same way as you would any other as a medium, such as paint or pencil. Yet hair differs to other materials in terms of its origins, its human connection – it has a past life whereas other materials do not. Does this appeal to you, or do you try to disregard that element of the material? I don’t disregard it, but I disagree… It takes millions of years to create marble and even hair, to create that so-called fabric. From a scientific point of view, I’m interested in atomic structure. Atoms make up stone, they make up hair, they make up all the material one needs to manipulate in order to transfer a message. I don’t really have that differentiation of material in that sense, and I think that was my main interest in becoming a hairdresser – it was just another material for me to express with. 

Your practice is very multifaceted. Does it appeal to you to be able to create work across different spheres, and to move freely between disciplines? Well, I have to tell you that I don’t really see the difference between what others might consider different disciplines. “I think hair is art and art is hair. You can create a sculpture in marble or a sculpture in hair – I think it takes the same interest. You know, originally I never really had any intention to be a hairdresser. But working on a project in art that involved hair, I soon discovered the real arena of hair and understood that, for me, there really is no difference.

Bob Recine, 2004 (Exit Magazine)

Your work often makes reference to magic and ritual. Why do these themes interest you? I think my interest in what they call the world of ‘high magic’ is in the power of conviction and belief. Magic is a very real part of my life, it is something a person meditates on and it has expectation. I personally consider the fabric of hair a very magical substance. It lasts for eons, whereas the flesh disintegrates. It serves as a kind of record, a history. I hope that in the future they will be able to extract a person from the molecule, the structure of a strand of hair. I’m very in tune with that – the futuristic aspect of the material, as well as its present magic.  

Could you tell me about Alchemy of Beauty? What inspired you to create this book? Well, I think when a person wants to do a book it has to really retain what that person’s quest and real interest is. I remember putting the book together and having people tell me, “why don’t you put in more of the celebrities you’ve worked with, or more things that relate to the fashion business?” And you know, I have to say that I never had great aspiration to be those things – to work with celebrities, or certain aspects of the so-called fashion business. When people say, “Oh you’re Bob Recine, the famous hairdresser, what do you think of my hair?” I say, well, I actually really don’t think of your hair. I don’t have that mind-set, of “well it should be a little bit of this, a bit of that”. Which of course is a part of me, but that part is, let’s say, the commercial end of what we do.
My interest is in transformation, in the realms of art, creation and adornment. The mystery of the power of beauty. That amazing, powerful engine within all of us that responds to the beauty of a woman, of a child, of innocence, of demonic power. It is all, I believe, the alchemy of beauty. I think that’s what my book really underscores. I want it to be able to make my colleagues in the beauty world understand that the hairdresser is far more than just a manipulator of hair. The whole area of the head is my realm and domain, it’s been my fascination for a very long time, bringing sculpture to the head.

Bob Recine photographed by Alberto Maria Colombo

“I personally consider the fabric of hair a very magical substance”

Bob Recine

You’ve worked extensively with creatives including Mario Sorrenti, Paolo Roversi, Vanessa Beecroft and Bjarne Melgaard. If you had to narrow it down, what would you consider your most memorable collaboration to date? I think most recently, my collaboration with Bjarne Melgaard is very interesting because we are completely opposite personalities, yet we have a very singular artistic perception. When I first worked with Bjarne, his concept for me was, “I want you to do whatever you want to do, I don’t want to tell you what to do”. We also have a very similar perspective on what we agree is important and artful. Bjarne is not defined or restricted by any of the norms which the art world – or even with myself and the fashion world – imposes upon us. I think that we have to either drag the art world or the fashion world into the next realm, that’s why it’s always been my complete repulsion to be involved with what they call ‘retro’. Of course, I love the 30s, 40s and 50s hairstyles but I don’t think that it’s important for me to repeat myself. I’ve never really been interested in doing what I was supposed to do as opposed to what I have to do. I’m not really doing what I do for approval, you know, that is a career. I’m not interested so much in a career, as my book will testify… that’s why I think its appropriately titled, the alchemy of beauty. It means being able to take a chance. 

Installation View, The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, Bjarne Melgaard with Bob Recine, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Paris, 2015