Painting over the Inner Critic

In the same moment I am captivated by applying paint to the face of one of my models, I am feeling aware of trying to draw away from traditional face painting. When asked by my youngest model whether I could paint her to look like a dog or a butterfly, I explained that she was going to be a ‘painting’ instead. Glad to be experimented on, she did not argue, but there was a sense of disappointment that I was not about to transform her into…something recognizably ‘other’.

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Dr H and Family. EBD

I am also in no doubt that I follow a long line of artists who have worked ON and with the body and paint. Yves Klein’s body prints, Keith Haring’s artwork on models and on his own skin, Alexa Mead’s painting on people, and every drag queen, theatrical artist or, in fact, human being. After all, body decoration is effectively part of every culture in some form or another. African tribal designs impregnated into the skin of my mate down the market. Why not?

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(L)Keith Haring, (R)Yves Klein

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(L)Keith Haring painting Grace Jones, (R)Fabian Bolanos painting model

Using the body as a canvas is nothing new. It is, after all, pretty widely available; interesting to manipulate and alter, effective in transmitting emotion, dynamic to capture, and there is a timescale involved: the process needs to be done and completed in time for the model to continue to function in their normal life – less a blanket of paint. Therefore the process is finite. It is immediate. And it is personal. Each brush stroke literally strokes the skin. One model described them as ‘hundreds of fluttery touches’, another as ‘being caressed’, another as ‘unbearably ticklish’. Mead goes further by bathing some of her models in milk, allowing the paint to disperse, simultaneously hiding and exposing.

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Alexa Mead

I am left considering what it is I am actually doing. What is the point? What is my aim? Haven’t I decided what the goal is?At least three different people have asked “What has this got to do with your MA?” as though painting someone’s face is just a bit of childish fun on the way to developing something academically rigorous. There is some suggestion that I am worryingly close to channeling my creativity through a bit of Millie Brown style vomit painting or that I will be dancing around with a painted face as they cart me off to the asylum. Is this paranoia? Yet, the novelty of working very much in the moment, and with the human canvas that also creates restrictions (I’m happy for you to paint down to my shoulder, or, please don’t get paint in my hair etc) is exciting. The movement of paint across the skin is powerful, intense and just occasionally it becomes like weaving a blanket around the model.

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Top L: Dr H, Top R: H in Pink,  BottomTwins    all EBD

The work of Vera Lehndorf and Holger Trulzsch is really intriguing and is leading me to think about whether the painted faces are just a starting point from which I can develop.

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Lehndorf and Trulzsch

Painting and placing models into scenarios adds a new direction. I had been contemplating using various sites and painting models prior to using them in particular spaces. Finding artists who have already done something similar is both frustrating and reassuring. My subjects are very much carrying my work on their skin; emblazoned across them; the opposite of a blank canvas. The paint is emotional; it can appear as bruising, tearing, burns, tears, scars, decoration, make-up, pattern, or a combination of all of these. It can also be deeply symbolic depending on my relationship with and knowledge of the model – including the self portraits.

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Self Portrait EBD

But the artists I have been looking at confirm my belief that this is more than ‘just painting faces’, and silence my inner critic who occasionally shouts loudly and obnoxiously: get on with the ‘proper art’, Emma.

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