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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Body Art

Disappearing Model, 2000, Joanne Gair
From the profound to the
profoundly silly.
Some forty years ago while I was an undergraduate at Ohio University, there was a joke going around the College of Art that asked the profound question: "Is there art after death?" The wise-ass answer was, "Only if you dig body painting." Although applying various earthen pigments to the human body may well be one of the oldest forms of "art" known to man, in terms of modern-day art, we could well set its beginning to the year 1933 when the famous Hollywood makeup artist, Max Factor Sr., and his "canvas" Sally Rand, were arrested for causing a public disturbance at the New York Worlds Fair. He body-painted her with his new make-up formulated for Hollywood films. A slightly different form of body painting evolved into a minor alternative art movement in the 1950s and 60s, involved the covering a model in paint and then having her (usually a her) touch or roll on a canvas, or other surface medium. to transfer the paint. French artist, Yves Klein, is perhaps the most famous for this type of art. He called it "Anthropometries." The effect produced by this technique creates an image-transfer from the model's body to the medium including all her curves being reflected in the outline of the image. Multiple colors on different body parts sometimes produced interesting effects.

Body art by Andy Golub. Picasso would have liked this one.
Vanity Fair cover, Demi Moore,
August, 1992, Joanne Gair.
Probably the best known body artist today is Joanne Gair. For more than ten years her work appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue adding her painted alternatives, what one might call the ultimate in brevity (not recommended for actually swimming, though). She first came to notice for her August, 1992, Vanity Fair cover featuring Demi Moore in her painted birthday suit (right). In a similar manner, not all painted "clothes" are intended to evoke a tromp l'oel effect as seen in the illustrative, somewhat whimsical outfit (below). More recently, in 2000, Gair created Disappearing Model (top) which suggests a whole new meaning to the traditional foreground to background relationship. Of course, like "fool the eye" illusions painted on sidewalks, such works rely upon extremely precise photography to be effective. In a very different mode, Artist Andy Golub (above) employed multiple bodies in his "painting" using motifs reminiscent of Picasso.

She appears to be wearing a fashion illustration.
A Jen Seidel's "half and half" creation.
Another body artist, Jen Seidel, likes to "mix and match" her painted fashion statements in which the lower half of the outfit is real while the matching upper half is painted over the nude body. Body painting is not always large areas painted on fully nude bodies. It can also involve smaller anatomical portions on otherwise clothed bodies. There has been a revival of body painting in Western society since the 1960s, in part prompted by the liberalization of social mores regarding nudity, which often comes in sensationalist or exhibitionist forms. Even today there is a constant debate about the legitimacy of body painting as an art form. In support of the art of body painting, there are today, in many major cities around the world, body painting festivals (below) in which artists compete for prizes and the "art" nakedly (or nearly so) parades the streets often challenging the thin line involving public decency and indecency.

Vancouver Body Art Expo, airbrushing competition.

Body painting combined with a
Echoes of virtually every type of art can be found in body art from anatomical illustration (below, left) to gold-plated statuary celebrating the joys of "tennis, anyone?" (below, right). Johannes Stotter, (below, left) attempts to go beyond Joanne Gair with an even more daring mergence of foreground and background seen in his camouflaged figure strolling up from the surf, evoking the effect of a semi-visible sea nymph of some kind. That one must have taken some patience, not to mention photographic trial and error.

Body Art, Johannes Stotter
Combining body painting with the talents of a contortionist (and a good sense of balance) results in the fascinating anthropomorphic figure above. Don't try this at home without adult supervision. Body painting is very closely related to the art of tattooing, only less permanent (usually about one day).

Muscle man and Goldfinger's tennis opponents.
In researching this type of art, which was a lot of fun, but terribly frustrating (some of the best photos I found were too risqué to be used) I noticed, not surprisingly, that the models employed were overwhelmingly female. So, in an effort to remedy the situation, let me present the "G" rated images of male body painting (below).

Super heroes, as well as various costumes and uniforms from the past,
are a big items in the art of male body painting. 
Big boys and little boys too seem to enjoy becoming
works of art (at least for short periods).

Hope they're going someplace warm on their honeymoons.


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