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Art History at the Tip of Your Fingers

Talking to Susi Kenna about taking on the modern masters, one manicure at a time.
July 30, 2015, 2:15pm

Last year, Susi Kenna became obsessed with nail art when she discovered she could have visual artists works recreated on her fingers. After getting a manicure inspired by Warhol and Basquiat by nail artist Ami Vega, Kenna launched the Tumblr, Nail Art History, to explore the possibilities of art-inspired manicures. “Nail Art History is an extension of my personal style, taste and interests,” says Kenna, who once ran a gallery out of her apartment. “I've always loved art, design, and technology, and this project provides me the ongoing opportunity to bring it all together.”


May 13, 2015 | Designed by Susi Kenna | Hand-painted by Mei Kawajiri / @ciaomanhattan2012 | Inspired by Yayoi Kusama, GIVE ME LOVE, 2015 | Nail Art History

Kenna, who has since had sets inspired by Keith Haring, Joan Jonas, and Yayoi Kusama on her nails, strides to create unique renderings of the artists' works across all 10 fingers. “NAH was the first place to fuse nail and art in this way, and continues to be the only destination where you can find images of hand-painted nail art commissions created in collaboration with some of today's top nail artists in juxtaposition to artwork that links back to more information about every artist that is featured,” explains Kenna of the Tumblr that has grown to attract more than 57,000 followers.

May 2014 | Designed by Susi Kenna | Nail art by Mei Kawajiri / @ciaomanhattan2012 |  Inspired by Chiharu Shiota, Dialogue with Absence, 2010 |Nail Art History

For the 56th Venice Biennale, Kenna paid tribute to her exhibiting artists by creating five sets of nail art work that included two collections of sculptural nail art. “I'm wild about the Venice Biennale collection created in collaboration with Mei Kawajiri,” she explains to The Creators Project. “My favorites from the collection were inspired by the work of Chiharu Shiota and Marco Maggi because they both required sculptural elements to achieve the intended concept. Like the strings we used to build the Shiota nails—which were so long it took three people just to set up the shot,” says Kenna, who also advises art galleries and art fairs on social media strategies.

May 2014 | Designed by Susi Kenna | Nail art by Mei Kawajiri / @ciaomanhattan2012 | Inspired by Marco Maggi, Monochrome (Solar Yellow), 2014 | Nail Art History

To achieve the level of detail found in the art manicures Kenna has featured on her site, it takes about 24 hours per manicure—that is, after Kenna settles on the artist. She takes her selections from galleries and museum spaces but also uses social media, art magazines, and auction house catalogs to identity those whose works she seeks to highlight on her nails. In addition, she's also shown graffiti artist Barry McGee and drawings of rappers Biggie and Tupac in sets. “The most important things are if the core qualities of the artwork will successfully translate using the tools and techniques available for creating nail art, and whether or not the essence of the artwork is preserved through the process,” says Kenna, who has plans to turn Nail Art History into a book that include the stories behind each set of nails.


May 29, 2015 | Designed by Susi Kenna | Hand-painted by Mei Kawajiri / @ciaomanhattan2012 | Inspired by Nichole Van Beek, Why?, 2014 | Nail Art History

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