By John D. Adams
Let’s address the obvious first. The words “body painting” don’t immediately conjure images of gala art shows and gallery openings. Chances are your first thoughts were of a child’s birthday party, or a carnival, or maybe Mardi Gras. The stunning work of fine art body painter Craig Tracy will change that first impression forever. He is the most famous fine art body painter in the world; and is the artist/owner of “The Craig Tracy Gallery” in New Orleans, the first fine art gallery devoted to body painting.
The dimension of preconception
Look closely. Tracy’s work consists of a painted human body juxtaposed against a painted canvas or other surface. The image becomes a whole and is then photographed and put on canvas. “It’s insane,” remarks Tracy. “I’m never working on a flat surface. I’m painting a three-dimensional image on a three-dimensional surface. I always must keep in mind what the viewer is going to see…what the final result is going to be. Doing that on a curved human body is often ludicrous.”
Standing before Tracy’s work is a transformative experience. His deft hand removes any stigma of appreciation for the curves and angles – the architecture – of the body. One’s eyes can unabashedly sweep across the human form. And that’s the point. This is not a recital. “You can be overwhelmed by the three-dimensional human body in front of you with paint on it,” says Tracy. “Your brain is saying: ‘show me-show, show me…’ but that impulse has no relevance to my work.” Tracy’s artwork allows the brain to relax and concentrate solely on the final piece as a fully integrated image with something to say. “That’s all that matters,” he says.
Intention over tricks
But how does he do it? Using a mélange of techniques – airbrushing [not as much as you might expect], brush painting and finger painting – to achieve a desired effect, Tracy firmly declares it is not as much about the “tools” as it is the intention. “Eighty percent of my work is about the camera’s view,” says Tracy. “It doesn’t matter if the subject matter is three-dimensional on a three- dimensional surface; it’s all about the relevance to the camera’s perspective. You have to go to where the camera is and see it from that point of view. It is ultimately the camera that is going to record and capture the three-dimension reality of my work, two-dimensionally.”
Tracy is quick to emphasize that his are not “performance pieces.” The movement of the human canvas is a distraction, a knee-jerk reaction by the brain to understand how the illusion is created. Tracy’s intention is to express the beauty of integrating subjects, mediums and meanings, thereby revealing a symbiosis between the human and everything else in the universe. “I get it. I’m painting on a person. That’s cool. But it’s not about the paint, or which brush I use, it truly isn’t. My work isn’t about technique. My work is about the way I approach it intellectually. Of course, you must be technically competent, but that is secondary. Being overly technical is a flaw that can dehumanize. I like to engage the viewer with the humanity.”
Psychology of illusion While Tracy nimbly incorporates the person into a larger overall “landscape,” the artist never loses the humanity. And that’s the fascinating conundrum. How do you celebrate the integration of the human form without drawing attention to that form? “It’s all about trying to figure out the balance of the psychology of the viewer,” he says. “I try and make sure that the human form does not distract from the final intention… You have to step back to see the whole. In my case, it must be seen from that very specific point.”
Ultimately, Tracy’s pieces celebrate us, human beings, and perhaps send a greater message that we are, indeed, an integral part of everything around us. “In a world where there is so much available, there really isn’t that much that is different… While body painting has a long and fascinating history, I’m taking it to a different level. I’m really doing something new and exciting.”
Learn more about Craig Tracy’s gallery and work.
Visit: www.craigtracy.com “The Craig Tracy Gallery,”
827 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70116