I was a disaster at school and got the cane a lot. I left at the earliest legal time with no qualifications. I was told I would be very lucky if I could get a job as a dustman. My teachers were very pleased when I left. So was I, I hated school and teachers. Well, with one exception, there was a science teacher who was interesting. He caught me for life.
Since then I have been many things: Office junior, spectacle frame maker, salvage worker, engineering fitter, RAF pilot, company director (only a little company!) science teacher, university lecturer (psychology). I could never get that dustman job!
I am not a spectator. I don’t watch sport. I like to do things for myself – However badly! I have fought fires (three houses, two cars, one motorbike) and dug people out of the wreckage (one dead, one alive). I do DIY, plumbing, electric wiring, and have designed and built a conservatory, shower room, and toilet and converted a loft. I ski and have done hang gliding, scuba, white water canoeing, and rafting, rock climbing, firewalking, caving, sailing, etc.
Now I am having a go at bodypainting!
So you see, I am a jack of all trades – master of none so don’t expect too much of my ‘art’ which I only started about three years ago. I have been body painting for less than two years at this time I am a highly ethical atheist, a logical person with no respect for tradition or for nonsensical taboos such as most of those related to nudity or sex. I am an egalitarian, anti-racist, gender respecting, tending towards being ‘PC’ I have the greatest respect for my models and see them as equal partners
The Hopi Indians do magic paintings with colored sand. These paintings, because they have magical powers must be destroyed by the end of the day Bodypaintings are almost equally ephemeral. They have to be completed in a few hours. Then they are washed off. Leaving only their ‘shadow’ in the form of a picture. To me, they have something of the same magical power. Their very existence destroys some sacred irrational taboos about the body. There are paintings, where the body is made to look dressed when it is nude, or to appear transparent or invisible, by painting the front of the model to fit in with the background.
These magic paintings can render a person invisible and clothe the naked. Several models have told me that this effect is real in that once they are painted they feel as if they are dressed and are quite happy walking around completely nude, feeling dressed. ‘Here I am walking around totally naked with people looking at me who think I am dressed.’ Or, ‘Here I stand naked, but against this background, people can’t see me, I am transparent, invisible.’ Magic ephemeral paintings.
However, the paintings that I like best are those, which like fashion design in women’s dress, attempt to respond to and, dare I say, enhance the beauty of the body. These are generally my style. I do see it as a little bit like fashion design (for the poor!) Here ‘ordinary’ people can be dressed extraordinarily. There is room, demand even, for the painter to be creative within the wonderful constraints of the (usually) female body. The model can wear real fantasy ‘dresses which are not there’. These, which otherwise the model would never be able to wear, maybe completely covering, yet totally and daringly revealing. Coy but blatant. Naked but fantastically dressed. More magic!
One model explained to me that though she wouldn’t be photographed nude, she was very happy to be photographed painted (nude). ‘People will be looking at the painting not at me.’ She explained. I am not so sure she, such a beautiful young lady, was totally right here. The same painting on canvas would in no way attracted much attention. Yet her belief was the magic that allowed her such freedom. This is similar to the ‘magic’ of firewalking. You only have to believe you can do it, and you can do it. (I have done it.) Equally, people who would feel uncomfortable looking at that model nude, find it much easier to enjoy the sight of her body when it is painted.
There is a therapeutic possibility of being painted. Firstly, some people find the gentle ‘massage’ of the sponges or brushes brings about relaxation. (But sometimes it tickles and laughter is good for you). Also, simply the greatly concentrated attention of another person, for quite a long time on one’s body can be very flattering. This is like the bonding effect of grooming. Another possible contribution to this relaxation is the feeling of complete surrender of the body to another person who you must trust (otherwise why are you doing it?)
This is a trust exercise similar to trust exercises in some psychological therapy systems. Such a voluntary ‘surrender’ may only reward those who are ‘liberated’ enough to ‘give’ freely in this way. Others may feel tension, especially initially. Hopefully, the first, possibly tense experience, allows them to learn to relax and feel free to trust in a later session.
For first-timers, there may well be an ‘adrenaline rush’ with its consequent following pleasure. Unlike parachuting you can’t get killed.
‘Going nude’, especially for the first time is well known for the accompanying feeling of elation and freedom that almost inevitably results. Somehow being painted ‘allows’ you to be nude.
Those painted maybe ‘nude but dressed’, or in a fantasy design, covered in flowers, leaves, vines, branches, or just abstract patterns, such as they would never have dreamed of wearing (well, perhaps only dreamed of wearing) previously.
You don’t have to be a glamour model Women without ‘standard Hollywood style’ youth and/or beauty may find their body image vastly enhanced, or just plain demonstrated or declared by being painted and photographed. ‘Look here I am, proud to declare myself.’ I have painted several such ladies. Two of these, both over 50, with surgical scarring, which vanished under the paint, declared their self-esteem greatly enhanced. Others in the same age range have clearly enjoyed the experience and expressed the desire to repeat it.
I usually include in any shown collection of my paintings some women in ‘this category’. Nobody seems to notice! Two of them were selected unknowingly, by another artist for inclusion in a display in preference to young models. I wonder if bodypainting could be used with this therapeutic intention with people who have negative body images, for instance, those suffering from wounds, scars, or Bulimia. I would be interested in experimenting in this area with both men and women.
The action of painting on the body of totally nude models, with no taboo areas, is, to say the least, an unusual and beautiful experience. The relationship between painter and model is an exercise in trust, and cooperation constrained by respect for the individual. This freedom from the usual taboos, is in my eyes a wonderful thing, calming and relaxing.
However, this assumes that the model is happy about all parts of the body being suitable for painting. I find this easy to accept because I feel the same way about my own body. There are no areas of my body that I consider prohibited from viewing (or painting) by anybody at all. I have been painted all over several times and enjoy the relaxation, (one time I fell asleep).
I really have absolute and total respect for models. I would never want to do anything that was not mutually acceptable. It is only by showing this that one can hope to earn models’ trust and permission. While it is wonderful to work with someone who is really happy and calm about their body, it is equally so to work with someone who is struggling to overcome long-standing negative body inhibitions. In such a case I always feel very special respect and admiration and try to give whatever help seems appropriate.
Q? It would be stupidly dishonest to pretend that there are no sexual connotations to bodypainting. Why else do I normally paint women in preference to men?
Answer: I find the female body beautiful. I don’t feel the same about the male. That is by definition, a connection with sex. (I think it is something to do with the evolution and survival of the species!)
Everyone involved in the art of bodypainting should be aware of this potential eroticism. This I believe, has for centuries been a strong motivation in much art. Because we are civilized and self-controlled we can trust the other party to be equally so. Only because of our confidence in this, in both the painter and the model, can we like the rock climber and partner, risk such exposure and reliance on another.
I don’t want to make bodypainting look too serious and rigidly proper. The atmosphere is normally very light-hearted and fun centered. Often there is a lot of giggling when a ‘tickly bit’ is painted. Some paintings are intentionally jokey rather than serious. Even a model or painter new to the situation is normally soon brought to a relaxed and laughing state. If a painting goes wrong or turns out to have been too ambitious it can usually be rescued by having fun smudging it all over and adding blobs of color to make an ‘abstract’. Some of these turn out to be very attractive paintings.
Bodypainting is ‘magic’
People have been decorating their bodies with paints, tattoos, scars jewelry, fabrics, since prehistoric times. This, to frighten enemies or evil spirits, to celebrate, to make magic, to empower, to immunize, to hide behind, to disguise, to identify, to beautify, and for innumerable other functions. Recently there has been a great resurgence of bodypainting as an art form as well as in advertising and publicity. I invite you to look at my efforts and perhaps you will want to join this resurgence.
I really welcome questions and/or contrary views from anyone interested in serious discussion and investigation of concepts such as pornography, eroticism, nudity, feminism, exploitation, ethics, art, etc. in the context of bodypainting. Through such discussions, I refine my own philosophy and will heartily thank anyone for such critical appraisals.