Hilarious Artistic Fails That Look Nothing Like Their Subject

Art is difficult, and it's also incredibly subjective. Something heralded as a masterpiece might be considered a complete failure by others. Despite this, sometimes a lucky combination of genetics throws up a human so strikingly intelligent, creative, or beautiful that the rest of the world feels an overwhelming need to commemorate them — athletes, inventors, dashingly-handsome internet writers, you know the sort of people we're talking about. And what better way to salute the memory of these geniuses than by immortalizing them in a work of art? Unless, that is, the finished work winds up looking absolutely nothing like its subject. These artistic failures tug at your heartstrings for all the wrong reasons.

Oscar Wilde as a writhing mass of monster snakes

Quick: what's the first thing you think of when you hear the name Oscar Wilde? If you said: "a writhing mass of unholy monster snakes crawling out a blackened coffin to devour us all" then congratulations, there may be a job in sculpture for you (also, seek help, you total psycho).

A Conversation With Oscar Wilde is a statue just off London's Trafalgar Square, that takes the above sentence and turns it into horrifying reality. Forged from bronze by sculptor Maggi Hambling, it supposedly represents Wilde's head rising from his grave in a cloud of cigar smoke, for an evening of witty repartee and shining bon mots. Or it would, if bronze looked anything like smoke. Instead, the green tendrils that make up Wilde's features look more like an assemblage of possessed reptiles, coiling together to recreate the face of a lost soul.

Amazingly, this monument to the lovespawn of Cthulhu was the result of nearly 20 years' work by the great and good of Britain's capital. Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian Mckellan, artist Derek Jarman, and poet Seamus Heaney all sat on the committee that birthed this nightmare. Not that their pedigree phased the Guardian's art critic, who called the work a "bronze zombie ... horrible," and demanded a public apology from Hambling for inflicting her painful vision on the city. In short, either the statue goes, or he does.

Kurt Cobain as a crying wino

On April 5, 1994, Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide by shooting himself (or was murdered by his wife, depending on how badly you wanna spend the next decade paying off Courtney Love's legal fees). The news affected sculptor Randi Hubbard so badly, she immediately got to work on a statue celebrating Cobain's life and work. In this case, "celebrating" meant "throwing together a bunch of asinine '90s cliches and passing them off as art."

Made with the help of local students, Hubbard's statue reimagined the complex, troubled Cobain as a depressed, guitar-strumming wino with an uncanny resemblance to homeless Jesus. Gone was the intensity that made Cobain an icon. Gone was his black sense of humor. In their place were ripped jeans, a gratuitous single tear, and the tortured expression of a man desperately failing to hold in a poo.

The statue was originally offered to Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington. They turned it down on the basis that it was demonstrably awful. So Hubbard installed it in her shop, where it became such a tourist attraction, the city relented and bought it off her. In 2014, in a ceremony officially dedicating the booze-addled wino statue to Cobain, Aberdeen's mayor, Bill Simpson, expressed his hope that it would one day make his town "as big as Graceland." Keep hoping, Bill.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Kate Moss as a solid gold yoga demon

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and unfettered pleasure. Kate Moss is a British model who doubled as Generation X's goddess of heroin and anorexia. Neither is primarily associated with being so good at yoga, they can seemingly crawl out their own fanny. But try telling that to Marc Quinn — in 2008, the artist unveiled a solid gold statue of Moss as a "modern day Aphrodite." This was apparently Marc Quinn-code for saying she looked like something out of a disco-era version of The Exorcist.

Quinn's Moss isn't just flexible like a master yogi — she's flexible in a way that seems to defy human biology. Her hips are cranked up so far, it looks like she's pointing her anus threateningly at viewers. Her golden limbs coil behind her at joint-snapping angles, so distorted that it's not immediately clear how many legs there are. Here's a piece of advice: if you see something like that crawling down your wall in the middle of the night, douse it with holy water first and ask questions later.

Despite its obvious insanity, Quinn's statue wound up fetching around £10 million. However, the artist did offer hope to those terrified by its distorted madness: "If there was a war ... this will be melted down and turned into bullion." So at least something good will come from World War III.

The terrifying Maradona statue in Buenos Aires

There are about a bazillion statues of Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires (trust us, we counted). But only one has the power to haunt your daymares from the moment you set eyes on it until the moment you collapse in a pool of blood at its feet and slowly expire. Situated in the European-influenced district of La Boca, this statue re-imagines Maradona as a giant-headed, aimlessly-grinning cartoon character from an LSD-induced trip.

There's absolutely no pretense towards realism, as far as this monstrosity goes. Rather than a likeness of Maradona, you get a big, squashed head that juts and swells at all the wrong angles, a painted-on grin that looks like the product of Joker Gas, and two wide, bizarre eyes that are so simultaneously dopey and scary, you won't know whether to laugh or scream (or, more likely, both).

To be fair, this statue is clearly the work of an amateur, if not someone who outright hates sculptures. But there's being an inspired amateur, and then there's being an amateur so uninspired, even the other uninspired amateurs laugh at you after they've had a tough day at the office.

Mister Rogers as a pile of conjoined turds

So many generations of American kids grew up with Mister Rogers, his image is indelibly associated with happiness in the minds of millions. So it was a no-brainer that his hometown, Pittsburgh, would want to put up a statue honoring the guy who guided us all through childhood. Only someone on the committee seems to have gotten "guiding" confused with "making us all wanna chunder." The finished statue looks less like a human, and more like a pile of magically conjoined turds — not exactly the kind of stuff Mister Rogers wanted us to make-believe, we're assuming.

The sculpture was the final work of Robert Berks, an artist who seemed to take a perverse delight in recreating beloved figures as something you might find in your toilet after an ill-advised trip to Chipotle. Here, for example, is an image of JFK suffering from what we're gonna call "toxic diarrhea face syndrome." And here's another of Frank Sinatra, also inflicted with a nasty case of TDFS. You can find hundreds of examples of this distressing medical condition online, each more stomach-churning than the last.

But it's Berks' Rogers statue that takes the artistic failure cake. Not only is Mister Rogers made of backside-waste, he's also leering at us with the creepy expression of the child snatcher in a "stranger danger" warning book for kids. Thankfully, there exists another Mister Rogers statue for discerning Pittsburgh citizens — in that one, he's portrayed as a freakin' dinosaur. Won't you eat my neighbor.

William Wallace as Mel Gibson

William Wallace is one of those historical icons 95% of us only know because we drunkenly watched a wildly-inaccurate Hollywood biopic of his life. While that's not a big deal if your job is, say, "professional lover" or "full time hobo" (or, like ours, an intoxicating combination of the two), it certainly is if your job is "the guy carving the official William Wallace statue for Scotland's Wallace Monument." Not that such matters bothered Tom Church — commissioned to create a likeness of Wallace in the late '90s, Church took one look at the piles of research this would require, said "aw, hell with it," and instead knocked up a statue that looked exactly like Mel Gibson.

This was ... controversial, to say the least. The statue was to be located at the entrance of the Wallace Monument in Stirling. But rather than make visitors mull over Wallace's life and achievements, it was more likely to make them think of Gibson screaming "FREEEEDOMMM!" (or, in later years, hollering anti-Semitic abuse after a few beers too many). To be fair to Church, he was pretty upfront about his inspirations. He once told the BBC he'd started carving immediately after watching Braveheart (and judging by the look on his face, Church particularly loved the part where Wallace had his guts removed mid-torture.)

Despite the controversy, the statue remained at the Wallace monument for over a decade before finally being removed, possibly to form a new partnership with an old, unwanted Danny Glover statue that someone had lying around.

Lucille Ball as a bug-eyed alcoholic crone

Just hearing the name Lucille Ball conjures warm, nostalgic images of a bug-eyed crone with bared teeth, staggering after you on a rainswept night, swigging a bottle of hooch and screaming that the government's planting radios in her brain. Oh, what's that? Absolutely no one associates those horrific things with the star of I Love Lucy? Well, someone better invent a time machine and tell sculptor Dave Poulin, since that's exactly what his 2009 statue of Ball looks like.

In the mid-2000s, Ball's tiny hometown of Celoron decided to honor their most-famous resident. Unfortunately, their population of 1,250 meant they couldn't afford any real, hotshot sculptors for the job. So they hired Mr. Poulin, who promptly delivered a statue so horrifyingly ugly, it immediately won the nickname "Scary Lucy."

"Scary Lucy" looked like concept art for a bad-taste horror movie involving the desecrated corpse of Lucille Ball crawling out the grave in search of an all-day Happy Hour. Locals hated it so much, the town begged Poulin to change it — he refused unless they paid him. For tiny Celoron, that wasn't an option, so the town was stuck with Poulin's "masterpiece" for seven years, before four anonymous donors who, actually did love Lucy, ponied up the cash for a replacement.

The Ronaldo statue that looks like someone else entirely

To look upon the work of sculptor Emanuel Santos is to look upon a likeness so uncanny, it will take your breath away. Unveiled in the local airport of the Portuguese island Madeira in March 2017, it resembles the former Republic of Ireland football captain Niall Quinn almost perfectly. Except ... it's meant to be of Quinn, but rather of Portuguese soccer captain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Installed at the newly-dedicated Cristiano Ronaldo Airport in Funchal, the bronze head comes complete with a slicked-over quiff, a pair of googly eyes, and a grin that's probably meant to be cocky, but looks more like its subject is suffering an intense stroke. When Ronaldo was photographed next to the bust at the airport's opening, social media went into meltdown over the hilarious lack of similarity between the two. In no time at all, photos of Ronaldo and Quinn were circulating, with a whole buncha people pointing out the statue looked more like the latter than its actual subject.

As for Santos' take on the controversy: he claimed his sculpture was a "matter of taste" and that not even "Jesus please(d) everyone." Sadly, the ancient Romans have yet to crucify Santos for his affront to figurative art.

The painting of the Queen that looks like an aging drag queen

Most artists given a commission to paint Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Britain would, rightly, wet their pants at the sheer responsibility involved. The longest-lived currently-alive monarch in the entire world, the Queen is a global icon for all that is upright and proper. So when Dan Llywelyn Hall was asked to paint the famously-prim monarch to commemorate the 60th anniversary of her coronation, he must've felt the pressure. This may go some way to explaining why his finished painting look less like the Queen, and more like an old man in drag.

Unveiled in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, the portrait features the "Queen" sat in an ornate chair, wearing a red dress and giving the viewer a tight-lipped frown. We put "Queen" inside quote marks like that, because it's genuinely difficult to tell just who exactly Hall was painting here. His version of Liz has a heavy male jaw, thick wrists, and undeniably masculine features. You could've told us that this was a portrait of "Luscious Liz, Soho's Nonagenarian Queen of the Night" and we'd probably have believed you.

When the painting was unveiled, critics mauled the work, with the London Telegraph claiming it looked like a man in drag. Not that this deterred Hall — three years later, in 2016, he unveiled yet another painting of the Queen in the same red dress and the same fabulous sense of style.

The painting of Jesus that looks like a monkey

Let's wander across the oceans to a little corner of rural Spain, where a painting of Christ resides in an old, forgotten church. Created by artist Elias Garcia Martinez in 1930, it was, by 2012, in dire need of restoration.

Thankfully, help was at hand, in the form of Cecilia Gimenez. A big fan of the painting, Gimenez had been heartbroken to see it crumbling away. So she did what any publicly-spirited pensioner would do: she attempted to restore the painting herself, despite no artistic training, knowledge of restoration, or even proper paints. Her "restored" Jesus wound up looking less like the Lord Our Savior, and more like a monkey in a badly-fitting tunic.

Hilarious, huh? Well, wait till you hear what happened next. Far from vanishing into ignominy, Gimenez used her newfound notoriety to become a real artist, while the tourism dollars Monkey Jesus brought in turned her town from rural and poor, to rural and stinking rich. By 2013, the money raised from the botched art-job had paid the care home bills of 60 local elderly people (not bad in a town with a population under 5,000). Gimenez had overseen her own professional art show, and had just signed a lucrative contract on the rights to her botched restoration. Fast forward to the present, and there's everything from Monkey Jesus t-shirts, to ash trays, to an actual Monkey Jesus opera. Proof that sometimes, even the biggest artistic fails can turn into unexpectedly heartwarming wins.

Brandi Chastain as a leering old man

For over a decade, Brandi Chastain did more than anyone to make soccer seem like a sport America didn't actually suck at. A member of the U.S. women's soccer team, in her heyday she picked up two Olympic gold medals, two FIFA Women's World Cup wins, and the admiration of millions of soccer-minded girls everywhere. So when it came time to induct her into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, it's perhaps not surprising the moment was memorable. It's just a shame that what made it so memorable was a nightmarish artistic failure, a statue of Chastain reimagined as a leering old man (via NPR).

The Hall of Fame's version of Chastain is the sort of thing John of Patmos probably saw while writing down the Book of Revelation. Real-life Chastain looks like a friendly woman. The Chastain on the Hall of Fame's plaque looks like Doctor Moreau drunkenly cross-bred Mickey Rooney with every Munchkin in Oz. When social media got hold of the image, it was compared to everyone from Jimmy Carter to Gary Busey. Jimmy Kimmel called it "a Russian powerlifter mid-squat."

Still, Chastain is nothing if not a class act, and she managed to shrug off the bronze abomination, saying it had "been a day of great laughter." The Hall of Fame agreed to try again and, this time, said they'd let Chastain choose the photo — presumably to ensure the sculptor didn't accidentally use another picture of Biff Tannen.

The Virgin Mary that looks like it's been drawn by a child

Did you know it's perfectly legal in Spain to try restoring an old painting without any qualifications whatsoever? Well, apparently Spain's amateur artists are all too aware of this and have taken it upon themselves to make full use of the law's lackadaisical oversight. In 2012, this led to Monkey Jesus, when Cecilia Gimenez tried to restore a church painting. But the trend didn't die with Gimenez's dignity. In June 2020, a furniture restorer in Valencia offered to clean a portrait of the Virgin Mary for €1,200. The end result was less "divine face of the Madonna" and more "something your child draws during art therapy session."

The Guardian has the woeful story. The original painting was by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, a 17th-century master of the baroque still respected enough to have works housed in London's prestigious National Gallery. Luckily, he was so respected that people made copies of his work — including one of his Virgin Mary. It was one of these copies that wound up suffering the artistic equivalent of the sacking of Rome, resulting in the 2-D nightmare you see above.

Still, it's possible some good will come of this latest Spanish fiasco (which is like a regular fiasco, but with more flamenco). Art experts are now calling for stricter regulations on who can restore what — a major lose for the internet but hopefully a major gain for centuries of culture.