“If God had meant for us to be naked, we’d have been born that way.” –Mark Twain. When it comes to nudity and censorship we don’t think anyone could have said it better. What’s the point of clothes anyway? The human body is a work of art that should be on display, especially if it’s undergone some kick-ass body painting!
As opposed to the term body art, which is usually associated with tattooing, body painting is the temporary version and has been around since the dawn of man. At the moment cavemen learned to paint on walls, they learned to paint on themselves too (just go rent Encino Man…buuuuddy). Body painting has been one of our defining behaviors as a species, whether it be to camouflage, intimidate, distinguish, celebrate, or entertain.
Back in the day we didn’t have much, just sticks, dirt, and stones, so most body painting was done with natural pigments like clay and charcoal. In fact some tribes around the world still use these natural elements in their body painting rituals. Today of course we have dyes, paints, and other synthetics for dramatic other-worldly effects, things our ancestors would’ve never dreamed of.
Aside from Halloween, why do people paint themselves today? For some it’s cultural tradition. In India brides-to-be get intricate patters of henna dye painted on their hands and body to signify the special occasion, a practice known as Mehndi.
For others it’s a way of getting attention. Many political protest groups such as PETA picket in the nude with various animal-like characteristics painted on their skin to capture people’s attention and send the message that animals are people too.
Alternatively for some it’s a way of showing devotion. After all how many times have you turned on the Super Bowl to see passionately painted fans enduring bitterly cold temperatures just to support the team of their choice?
Today body painting is even used for personal aesthetics to enhance certain features of the body, or even completely add features that are absent. I mean isn’t spray tanning a form of body painting also (painted on abs! yay!)?
Probably a primary reason for modern body painting is for the sake of art itself. Whether it be in commercials, magazines, billboards, movies, television shows, or even art galleries, advances in technology have allowed body painting to reach unprecedented levels and permeate every aspect of the artistic dimension.
The cover of the August 1992 issue of Vanity Fair, featuring a nude yet fully painted Demi Moore, is considered by many to be the introduction of the new age of body painting. Artist Joanne Gair who was responsible for the suit scene on Moore’s post-childbirth recently toned G.I. Jane body, instantly became a pop culture icon, joining the ranks of her colleague on the project, famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, with whom Moore had worked with a year prior for her More Demi Moore nude and pregnant controversial cover of the same magazine.
In the motion picture industry body painting has become especially popular in the genres of science fiction and fantasy such as 2000’s X-Men, which featured actress Rebecca Romijn as the shape-shifting mutant “Mystique,” whose blue-skinned appearance took over nine hours to apply, with 110 prostheses covering 60% of her body, and latex paint covering nearly her entire body. Romijn was even instructed by makeup artists not to drink or use lotions before filming for fear of affecting her body chemistry and making the prostheses fall off. However on the last day of filming she brought a bottle of tequila to the set to celebrate with the cast and crew, only to culminate in throwing up blue vomit by the end of the night.
Body painting has even taken hold of live performance art, with popular acts such as the Blue Man Group performing dozens of shows worldwide. The Blue Man show consists of a trio of curious and clueless mimes who experiment musically and comically with various industrial equipment turned makeshift instruments (e.g. PVC pipes). All three performers are coated in the same shade of blue latex paint and wear the same all-black ensemble, remaining completely mute throughout the entire performance.
In the U.S., water-based body paints must go through strict testing to ensure safety before hitting the market, meaning most body paints are non-toxic and non-allergenic. However since everyone reacts differently to paints, it’s always best to test a small area out and remove immediately if any signs of allergic reaction become apparent. Body paints are best applied with sponges, brushes, hands, or airbrush, and usually wash off fairly easily.
Latex paints differ significantly in their content, application, and effect. Latex paints have the consistency of normal house paint and are typically made up of 1/3 latex, 2/3 water, and a dash of ammonia for preservation. Due to the ammonia, latex paints should not be applied near the eyes. However latex itself is all natural, coming from the sap of the rubber tree and naturally clear in its liquid form. Since latex allergy is quite common among the population, latex paints should be tested out just as other paints before full application. Popular latex paint brands on the market include Maximum Impact and Liquid Latex.
Unlike regular paint, latex dries slightly rubbery and shrinks about 3% when completely dry. This is what gives latex paint that tightened and thick appearance, almost like a piece of tight clothing. Once dry latex paint becomes very tacky, meaning it will stick to anything it touches, especially if it comes into contact with other latex-painted skin. Due to this tackiness, some people like to affix extra accoutrement to the paint that will be held in place once completely dried. But to avoid tears and rips most people apply slick sprays on top of the paint to get rid of the stick and allow normal body movement. Common sprays on the market include STP Son of a Gun, Black Beauty, and Liquid Latex Ultra-Shine. Powders can also be used for metallic or glittery effects (such as Deviant Liquid Latex Stardust Powder).
Liquid latex body paint is often used to cover nude parts of the body, either to create the illusion of clothing or for an entirely different effect altogether. It is best applied with foam brushes, with single continual strokes producing the most homogeneous results, as opposed to short little strokes. Application should not be excessive or runny, but multiple coats will create the best effect, with proper drying time between coats. Additionally each coat should be painted in a different direction for a durable and smooth finish.
Since liquid latex does inhibit perspiration, it’s crucial to be careful of dehydration and overheating. During application the paint feels cold and wet, but once dry it feels warm and tight against the skin.
Latex paint is removed by peeling not washing, meaning one should be mindful of hairs when applying because the removal process can act much as a salon waxing, pulling hairs out by the root. Long thick hairs should be shaved or removed prior to application to avoid the pain of removal when peeling. Also a very thin layer of body lotion can be applied to the hair prior to painting to prevent hair-pulling.
From caveman to Blue Man it’s evident that body painting has come a long way, evolving from simple markings to completely alien skin appearances. Whether you’re looking for a troupe of animalistic contortionists, acrobatic pixies, or stilt-walking Martians, Zen Arts body painting artists have the skills you need to match any theme. For inquiries on body painting please call 855-ZEN-ARTS or email to [email protected].