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Monday, June 11, 2018

The Psychology of the Body Painter

At one point in my career I was a body painter. I still am actually, but not to the extent that I once was. Much of my work was live shows done on stage and those were very tiring events. Studio body paintings were much more in keeping with my style of work. I much preferred the opportunity to work slowly with the model(s) and work my way methodically through my designs.

The point that many people missed about my work was that I never painted with an eye towards that being the final work. The work was not complete until it entered the digital studio. This confused some because they would look at the model and say "that's not as good as the ones I saw online". No, of course not, because I am painting towards what the camera and later the digital studio will reveal. It is for this reason primarily that I shut down doing live shows and kept the body painting in studio until the final work was revealed.

Body painting is probably my favorite form of art that I practice. No, its not for working with naked bodies, but because it is like having a human shaped canvas that you can do anything with. Its a shape that you cannot achieve working on a square canvas and it is three dimensional. It was the main catalyst for me becoming a sculptor because I hate working with a flat 2 dimensional surface. I want contour. I want difficulty. I want transformation. 

Body painters come in many varieties, from face painters to trans-formative artists such as Craig Tracy Sadly there are also a fair number of body painters who do it only for the kick of working with a naked form. 

There is also a fair amount of prejudice against body painting. Shows have been shut down because the model is nude. I fought many live venues who insisted the models had to have underwear and a bra on while being painted. Those I usually turned down. 

I never choose a model based on their aesthetic beauty. Funny as it may sound, I usually choose the model based on their personality. A model chosen only for their looks usually leads to trouble. Models chosen because they have an outgoing and intriguing personality, in turn often leads to an intriguing piece of art. 

A few years back I began my Revenant series. There were some rather amazing personalities in this group of 7 models. The very first model was devoutly Jewish, gay and had AIDS and terminal cancer. He was in his 50's. The ravages of time and a hard life were written on his body and I knew in the first five minutes of my first interview with him that I wanted him as a model. 

Another model in that same series admitted to me that he was facing a court case that would most likely result in his being jailed for a number of years. You could see the fear in his eyes over this. And those eyes haunt the work that was created of him.

I have had my best pieces of work result from taking time to know my models. Learning about them, understanding their strengths and weaknesses allows me to employ a certain amount of psychology to the work I create. The best work, whether its a painting, a sculpture, or a body is always the work that brings emotion to the viewer. 

Sometimes the shape and beauty of the model is important. The very first piece of body art I ever sold, was bought by a man in New Orleans who had purchased a large French Quarter mansion. One room was a rec room and he wanted something both erotic and beautiful to highlight one of the walls. After reviewing my work, he chose the following image.

In the end the image was blown up until it was 6" x 4" and was sent out to have a 1 inch poly laminate put over it, which added to the depth of the image in a remarkable way. 

So you can never tell what a buyer might want. But just like all my other models, I knew this model intimately and she and her partner had been the subject of many pieces of my early work. That close working relationship allowed the intimacy and psychology to leak into the images. 

Its not always easy working with a human as your canvas. One young gentleman that I worked with was so nervous the day of his shoot that he decided cocaine was needed to keep him calm. Unfortunately the opposite occurred and the model couldn't stop fidgeting and trying to climb out of his skin. But the final images caught something. They showed his vulnerability. They showed his apprehension of growing old and losing his beauty. There was fear and it translated into the work. This was a man searching for his soul. 

I suppose my greatest fear these days is that societies fear of the naked human form will force artists to shy away from body painting as an art form. The taboo and stigma forces what should be an amazing art form into the shadows.. Where does it end? Do we put underwear on the Michelangelo's David? What is acceptable in society and what is not and when do we stop conforming to a code of morals that refuses to see the human body as a beautiful thing? 


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