Body painting, or sometimes bodypainting, is a form of body art. Unlike tattoo and other forms of body art, body painting is temporary, painted onto the human skin, and lasts for only several hours, or at most (in the case of mehndi or “henna tattoos”) about two weeks. Body painting that is limited to the face is known as face painting. Body painting is also referred to as (a form of) “temporary tattoo”; large scale or full-body painting is more commonly referred to as body painting, while smaller or more detailed work can sometimes be referred to as temporary tattoos.
Body painting in the commercial arena
Many artists work professionally as body painters for television commercials, such as the Natrel Plus campaign featuring models camouflaged as trees. Stills advertising also used body painting with hundreds of body painting looks on the pages of the world’s magazines every year. Body painters also work frequently in the film arena especially in science fiction with an increasing number of elaborate alien creations being body painted. One of the more notable commercial body paint artists is Syl Verberk (nicknamed ‘syllie faces’) who, as a two time European champion and winner of various prices, is frequently consulted by major companies and theme parks for their advertisements and designs. Other celebrated commercial artists are Guido Daniele, Jean-Paul Bourdier and the Australian company “Human Statue Bodyart”.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, published annually, has frequently featured a section of models that were body painted, attired in renditions of swimsuits or sports jerseys. Also Playboy magazine has frequently made use of body painted models. In the 2005 Playmates at Play at the Playboy Mansion calendar, all Playmates appeared in the calendar wearing bikinis, but Playmates Karen McDougal and Hiromi Oshima actually appeared in painted-on bikinis for their respective months.
The success of body painting has led to many notable international competitions and a specific trade magazine (Illusion Magazine) for this industry, showcasing work around the world.
Body painting is not always large pieces on fully nude bodies, but can involve smaller pieces on displayed areas of 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 and often comes in sensationalist or exhibitionist forms. Even today there is a constant debate about the legitimacy of body painting as an art form. The current modern revival could be said to date back to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago when Max Factor, Sr. and his model Sally Rand were arrested for causing a public disturbance when he body-painted her with his new make-up formulated for Hollywood films. Body art today evolves to the works more directed towards personal mythologies, as Jana Sterbak, Rebecca Horn, Youri Messen-Jaschin, Jacob Alexander Figueroa or Javier Perez.
Body painting is sometimes used as a method of gaining attention in political protests, for instance those by PETA against Burberry.
Body painting led to a minor alternative art movement in the 1950s and 1960s, which involved covering a model in paint and then having the model touch or roll on a canvas or other medium to transfer the paint. French artist Yves Klein is perhaps the most famous for this, with his series of paintings “Anthropometries”. The effect produced by this technique creates an image-transfer from the model’s body to the medium. This includes all the curves of the model’s body (typically female) being reflected in the outline of the image. This technique was not necessarily monotone; multiple colors on different body parts sometimes produced interesting effects.
Joanne Gair is a body paint artist whose work appeared for the tenth consecutive year in the 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She burst into prominence with an August 1992 Vanity Fair Demi’s Birthday Suit cover of Demi Moore. Her Disappearing Model was part of an episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.
Body painting festivals
Body painting at the World Bodypainting Festival in Seeboden. A body painting installation at the World Bodypainting Festival in Pörtschach am Wörthersee
Body painting festivals happen annually across the world, bringing together professional body painters as well as keen amateurs. Body paintings can also typically be seen at football matches, at rave parties, and at certain festivals. The World Bodypainting Festival in Pörtschach (previously held in Seeboden) in Austria is the biggest art event in the bodypainting theme and thousands of visitors admire the wonderful work of the participants.
Body painting festivals that take place in North America include the North American Body Painting Championship, Face and Body Art International Convention in Orlando, Florida, Bodygras Body Painting Competition in Nanaimo, BC and the Face Painting and Body Art Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Australia also has a number of body painting festivals, most notably the annual Australian Body Art Festival in Eumundi, Queensland, and the Australian Body Art Awards
“Phoenix Rising” (2015) – Bodypaint by Syl Verberk, photography by Karl Hammer.
The 1960s supermodel Veruschka is a much appreciated muze for bodypaint artists. Images of her in the book Transfigurations by photographer Holger Trulzsch have frequently been emulated. Other well-known works include Serge Diakonoff’s books A Fleur de Peau and Diakonoff and Joanne Gair’s Paint a licious. More recently Dutch art photographer Karl Hammer has taken center stage with his combinations of body painting and narrative art (fantastic realism)
Following the already established trend in Western-Europe, body painting has become more widely accepted in the United States since the early 1990s. In 2006 the first gallery dedicated exclusively to fine art body painting was opened in New Orleans by World Bodypainting Festival Champion and Judge, Craig Tracy. The Painted Alive Gallery is on Royal Street in the French Quarter. In 2009, a popular late night talk show Last Call with Carson Daly on NBC network, featured a New York-based artist Danny Setiawan who creates reproductions of masterpieces by famous artists such as Salvador Dalí, Vincent van Gogh, and Gustav Klimt on human bodies aiming to make fine art appealing for his contemporaries who normally would not consider themselves as art enthusiasts.