The Art of Vanishing
One of my favorite covers of Opulence featured a stunning painting of what appeared to be the alluring face of a blue-eyed leopard. The uniquely textured cover turned heads like crazy. But what really surprised our readers was when we noted the image wasn’t a leopard at all – but rather an illusion painted on a naked woman by one of the world’s premiere body painters, Craig Tracy, who is legally blind.
In response to readers’ requests, it’s time for a follow-up story on a new trend in body painting: The Art of Making a Human Vanish. Here you’ll meet seven amazing artists from around the world.
Cecilia Paredes: Vanishing in Wallpaper
Peruvian-born Paredes studied fine arts at the Catholic University of Lima and at Cambridge Arts in the United Kingdom. She now works between Lima and Philadelphia. “I came to the United States for true love in 2004 – when I married opera composer Jay Reise.”
You might call Paredes a wallflower. She is best known for camouflaging herself into fancifully papered walls. “I wrap, cover or paint my body with the same pattern of the material and represent myself as part of that landscape. Through this act, I am working on the theme of building my own identification with the part of the world where I call home.”
Paredes combines themes in nature – origins, camouflage, transformation and her body – to acquire multiple identities with a blend of sculptural re-creations and photography. Each element reminds one that humans are but one element in nature, of which the body is pristine expression.
“The backgrounds in my photographs symbolize a place I have lived, some with flowers, some with patterns, related to a personal story,” said Paredes, who first paints the back side of a model, photographs it, and then has another artist re-paint it on her back for the final image.
“My mother would listen to Chopin while I was playing around her as a young girl and I think it influenced me since I was forming expressions at a tender age. In kindergarten, I was already looking at things in a different way and doing strange looking collages. Growing up in Peru, one is influenced by a visual wealth of history, art, crafts, tradition and religion, and that indents your subconscious and comes out when creating art.”
Curious, I asked Paredes why she doesn’t typically show her face. “The face is the protagonist and the character I interpret is usually expressing feelings with hands or movement and does not need more. I do leave a bit of skin when camouflaging, as an anchor to reality.”
For Paredes, whose work has been exhibited at museums worldwide, one situation was especially memorable. “We were preparing for an outdoor performance,” she said. “It was ready to snow. Everyone was bitterly cold and short of patience. It was 6 a.m. in the open forest. I was posing as a bird on a branch. Seconds before the shoot, a deer came into the scene. He looked at us, smelled me and peacefully left. We remained speechless. It was a gift, a reward, pure magic!”
To see more of Paredes’ artwork, go to www.ruizhealyart.com.
He grew up in the Alps in South Tyrol, Italy, as the oldest son of five children in an artistic and musical family. After high school he studied education and philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.
Johannes Stötter started experimenting with body art in the year 2000 and got slowly into this art form while painting on canvas, creating nature art / land art works and realizing various music projects. With the years he developed an individual style, which is deeply related to nature and to spiritual themes. His work includes various kinds of body painting (camouflage, fashion, anatomy, installation, fine art and more).
Today Johannes works as a professional body painter; his art is shown in commercials, fashion, workshops, music videos, film, theater, live performances and more. In 2009 he joined the international body painting scene with the 5th place at the world championship.
Johannes’ biggest successes were: the World champion title 2012, the Vice World champion title 2011, the Italian champion title 2011 and 2013 and the 1st place at “living art America” body painting contest 2013, Atlanta, USA.
2013 he was featured in worldwide press and TV and became famous through his artwork of a tropical frog consisting of five women.
Bella Volen: blending art, poetry & music
Bulgaria native Bella Volen is passionate about her craft (shown above). “Art is my life – my dreams, my hopes, my breath. It’s the only thing which can`t hurt me. I was born in Sofia, the capital, in 1982, a very hard time for intellectual people who didn’t want to be stuck in a communist society, where almost everything was forbidden,” Volen said. “The government was taking away people’s houses to make kindergartens. Two houses next to ours were taken, and they wanted our house, too. If a house had some kind of cultural heritage, the government couldn’t take it, so my smart mother painted the entire staircase of our three-floor house with murals – and saved
“Communist Bulgaria was a gray world. Daily hours without water or electricity and long lines for sugar or oil were normal. At home was a different world. We had a library with books in many languages. My mother taught me about different minorities and cultures. My father was a poet and writer. They gave me huge freedoms. All of the room walls were my canvas. I was allowed to paint on them with whatever I wanted. The lack of things can be the best food for inspiration…so was my family. My mother’s father was a documentary filmmaker, one of the few people allowed to leave the country. I thought if he could find a way out of the system, I would also travel the world. My grandmother and aunt were on the jury of ballet festivals. I played piano for 10 years, the language of my soul. My mother painted theatrical stages and costumes. They all influenced me.
“At age 20, I followed the adventure in my chest and moved to Vienna, Austria, to study painting,” Volen said. “My work is like a symphony played by an orchestra, or a tree in the fog creating sounds of an orchestra. It is complex. One of the most important goals in my art is the impact on the observer. I want every age group and origin to enjoy it. My painted canvases are colorful, my painted bodies are dressed in patterns, they are not naked. I cherish old traditions, new ideas, style and knowledge. In times of conflict, the world needs more beauty, more art, more music.”
To enjoy more of Bella Volen’s creativity, go to www.bella-volen.com.
“It is my intent to continue to explore and expand the perceptions and boundaries of this most ancient, alluring, and contemporary art form,” said iconic world-renown fine-art body painter Craig Tracy.
The pioneering artist is a native of New Orleans – the city host of Mardi Gras, the largest annual costumed celebration in the world and (incidentally) the location for this season’s “Skin Wars” (the body painting competition television show on GSN) for which Craig is a celebrity judge.
“I grew up in a family with a tradition of painting each other’s faces for Mardi Gras,” said Craig. “My hometown’s authentic and vibrant culture largely influenced my creativity and passion for body painting. Interestingly, I personally didn’t take body painting seriously for five or six years. The day that I finally asked myself ‘why,’ why I liked painting on people so much, that led me to… well, what if I take this passionate interest seriously? That one question and a quick Google search changed the course of my life.”
Considered a cornerstone in body painting’s progressive movement, today Craig focuses his art career entirely on body painting. He owns and operates the very first art gallery in the world dedicated to fine-art body painted images. The gallery allows even the most seasoned art collectors and novices to see and experience firsthand what body painting is ultimately capable of expressing.
With a passionate and pioneering spirit, Craig personally meets and educates hundreds of people each week in the gallery.
To see more of Craig’s extraordinary artwork, visit: craigtracy.com.
A recent winner of “Skin Wars,” Natalie Fletcher celebrated in a far more adventurous way than a trip to Disney World. She outfitted a van into a sleeper-studio and set out on a cross–country art project she called “100 Bodies Across America,“ during which she painted two people in each of the 50 states.
Then again, Natalie has always been venturesome. At age 5, she found drawing to be much more interesting than math class. Upon graduating high school in Texas, she journeyed to Oregon and enrolled in an intense four-year painting school in Ashland. In 2010, she thought, “Now what?” She created a pin-up girl calendar to raise money to move to Bend, Oregon, in search of a job. In the newspaper was an ad for a body painter, one of the few niches in painting for which Natalie had no experience.
“When they replied and requested images of my work, I thought, ‘Oh crud, I better paint some bodies!” So she did. In just a few days, she painted four bodies, including her own, and – with her finger crossed – sent off the pictures. “I got the job and I’ve been hooked ever since!” she said.
The image shown here of the person painted into the shelves of a wine store was one of the challenges that led to her “Skin Wars” championship. “It was the most difficult camo[flage] I have ever done,” Natalie said. “Paint for the body is different than other paint; blending and layering can be quite tricky. I actually had to paint the highlights and labels before the darks and shadows. NIGHTMARE! But despite my model having a cold, and the clock ticking, I was really pleased with the results.” And so were the judges.
In Natalie’s brief career as a fine-art body painter, she has painted more than 300 people. “I remember all of their names and love each and everyone of them.”
To see more of Natalie Fletcher’s fine-art body painting, go to www.artbynataliefletcher.com.
“I love a good challenge and body painting is certainly one of them,” said Avi Ram, an artist who also appeared on “Skin Wars,” where he created the outdoor nautical scene shown at left. “It’s amazing to see the audience’s reaction to a live canvas. It’s an art form that intrigues people, especially at events when they see the live transformation. Body painting has become very popular; it’s taking the art form to the next level.”
Originally a fine-art airbrush artist focusing on clothing, murals and caricatures, Avi affectionately became known among fans as the ‘Airbrush Hero.’ He branched into body painting in 2010 when he moved to Florida, where the warm-climate clientele brought frequent requests for face and body painting. “I found it very inspiring – I loved it!”
As with any artist venturing into a new art form, Avi faced some new challenges. “The most important challenge is to make sure that the live canvas (the model) is drinking and eating enough, and to make sure the model is comfortable all the time,” Avi noted. “Another challenge is that blending is from one point of view and it’s tricky to create matching lines on a person to match the background, especially if it’s outdoor blending because you’re fighting with the sun and the clock. When time changes, the colors change!”
To see more of Avi Ram’s body painting, visit www.airbrushhero.com.
Cheryl Ann Lipstreu
Cheryl Ann’s latest body painting endeavor – The Flag Series – will be an accumulative community project. “I will paint a camouflage body painting into each flag for every country in the world,” she said. “Currently there are 196 countries, along with a few select flags, such as my home state, that I will feature. The creative use of body painting utilized in this collection will become a meaningful inspiration of national pride for every country, every nation and every individual to witness the works. This type of work has never been done before, and as an artist, it is thrilling to create a project of this magnitude with such global influences. It’s a dream coming true with every painting!”
To follow along as Cheryl Ann completes her flag project, visit cherylannlipstreu.com.