Your Body is a Work of Art

Paper is so passé, darlings. There’s a new canvas in town: the naked body. We speak to professional bodypainter, Cynthia Fleischmann about this emerging art form…

Bodypainting is the latest art trend on the block, and a profession in its own right. You only need to look up the World Bodypainting Festival, currently taking place in Austria, for some concrete (and truly colorful) proof of that. 

To get a deeper insight into this unusual art form, we speak with American-based bodypainter and photographer, Cynthia Fleischmann, who has recently closed her Bodypaintography exhibition in Miami. 

You coined the term ‘Bodypaintography’ – can you explain what it is? 

I create a visual dialogue between a person and space, by incorporating them into the environment, and then documenting it through a photograph!

How did your career start?

I am originally an artist/painter, receiving my Bachelor of Arts from the University of Miami in 2010. In 2009 I started experimenting with painting on the body and also enrolled myself in photography classes to better my skills. I was then invited to return with a full scholarship and, within the three-year masters program, my 'bodypaintography’ developed into my current style.

What other Paintographers have inspired you? 

Verushka’s camouflage bodypainting; the simplicity, elegance and silence of person and place are all intriguing to me as well as the use of the naked body. In 2009 I was in Australia where I studied Aboriginals and their use of pigments on the body, which was also a huge inspiration. Before Australia, I was introduced to a book from Chile, Cuerpos Pintados by Roberto Edwards, which was my initial inspiration. I loved the use of the body as a canvas for abstract expressionism but disliked the used of studio lighting and background for the photoshoots, so started experimenting with person and place. 

What is the biggest challenge when it comes to bodypaintography?

Time and lighting; I always use natural lighting, so if I’m outside working with sunlight I have to base my pace and colors on the changing sunlight or other natural elements. I also work in risky places where nudity is not accepted, and in those scenarios I have to work fast

What do you think about bodypainting festivals?

I attended the World Bodypainting Festival in 2011 in Austria and it was a great experience. The parties and atmosphere were so lively. I loved how the body was free and full of expression. A lot of imagination goes into the bodypainting based on the theme of the year. I would love to attend the festival again to see how it has changed over the years. I‘d be intrigued and happy to compete one year as a fun challenge, too!

What do you think these types of festivals can do for your artform?

The festival has definitely brought much attention to the art form, as well as the TV show, Skin Wars. It’s nice to see the body used as a canvas to help reveal the human form in a non-sexualized way – it is overwhelming and sad to see the body shown as such a sexualized object for advertisements and sales around the world. When I started bodypaintography in 2009, there wasn’t as much hype around bodypainting as there is today. This makes my art form just one of many by now, but I will hold true to my original style because my message I feel is stronger than, and different to, the shows and festivals attracting everyone’s attention.

What is your message, or signature style?

Red hands. They represent life, love, passion, death and destruction, all of which we are capable of using our hands. They remind me of our human existence; of caves filled with drawings of animals and red handprints. Becoming one with our environment is greatly tied to primitive cultures using pigments on the naked body as a form of transformation, camouflage, beauty and connection to nature. Animals fascinate me by their use of camouflage in nature to hide from predators, or to become better predators themselves. 

If you could collaborate with anybody in the world, who would it be and why?

There are many activist artists whom I would want to collaborate with including Banksy, Liu Bolin, Chris Jordan, Shirin Neshat – the list goes on. But I have always wanted to work with National Geographic, and by incorporating a person into scenes that are hard to stomach such as poaching, pollution, deforestation, trafficking etc. I believe people would look at a disturbing photograph for longer to connect to the person painted within the scene and inevitably connect to the situation. In this way I would hope for people to realize that the problem is not as distant as it may seem, for we are all connected to the issues. 

If you could choose one person to model for you, who would it be and why.

I can imagine Queen Latifah or Oprah being powerful role models in regards to the beauty of the body. They could speak greatly to both the environment they are painted into as well as well as to body stereotypes and issues. I would also like to paint more male models and help the naked male figure become as visually accepted as the female body is in society. I really don’t care about targeting famous individuals – any person who can see their own naked body as a work of art is an amazing model – but messages do spread faster if a well-known individual is involved.

How do you prepare someone to feel comfortable naked? 

By showing them the transformation. Something as simple as painting a nipple can turn it into a leotard, so it’s like wearing clothes again. It’s quite amazing to see how quickly the model relaxes.

In which types of environments would you like to carry out your work?

A vivid scene in my mind is a group bodypaintography in Brazil where a large section of forest has been cut down. I imagine hundreds of naked people painted as brown as the tree bark – some flopped over the stumps, some standing, some in the foetal position, but everyone with red hands. This would be a powerful image, and I hope to achieve it one day. Recently, in Peru, I wanted to connect to the history there by painting someone into the incredible structures that are so perfectly assembled, such as Saqsaywaman, but my time was too limited and it is a historical site in which I’d need permission. Junk yards, trash piles and recycling stations are also great environments. 

How do you come up with your ideas? 

Gosh, I don’t know if I can tell you. They’re always dwelling…


Check out Cynthia’s incredible work by visiting her website.