Body painting is a temporary form of body art that is painted onto the skin and lasts anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks. If the painting is only on the face it is then known as face painting. Small scale or intricate body painting is generally called a temporary tattoo. Many models and celebrities, such as Demi Moore as pictured above, have tried body painting as a form of art and expression.
Most tribalist cultures performed some sort of body painting using clay or natural pigments, usually during religious ceremonies. The indigenous people of the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa still use body painting as an important part of their traditional rituals and culture. Mehndi, a semi-permanent dye made of henna had been used for centuries in the Middle East and India and is still practiced today, especially on brides. In South America, huito, annatto, or wet charcoal is used to decorate their indigenous people’s faces and bodies.
In Western society there has been a revival of body painting since the 1960’s, coinciding with the sexual revolution and a more liberal view of nudity. As body painting gained popularity, it sparked a debate over its legitimacy as an art form. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a small alternative art movement involved painting a model’s nude body with one or more colours and then having the model roll on or touch a canvas to transfer the paint. The form and curves of the model, especially when females were used, were then transferred to the canvas. With his series “Anthropometries”, French artist Yves Klein is perhaps the most famous example of this movement. Body painting has become an artistic and interesting way for many magazines and ad campaigns to create interest and skirt around any nudity clauses they might have. Leading body paint artist Joanne Gair has painted many models and had her work shown on the covers of Vanity Fair and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Gair’s work with actress Demi Moore in 1992 with a trompe-d`oeil business suit on garnered much attention and turned Gair into a pop culture icon. Body painting can also be used as a political protest, such as PETA`s campaign against Burberry and the use of fur in their collections. Television and film employs many artists who work as body painters, especially in the science fiction genre.
Both amateurs and professional body painters gather around the world at different body painting festivals. The World Bodypainting Festival in Seeboden, Austria is the largest of its kind and draws thousands of visitors each year. Sporting events, such as football games, and raves are also examples of body painting used in modern life.
Face painting is a very popular form of body painting, where a cosmetic paint is applied to a person`s face. Many paints, such as acrylic and tempera, are not acceptable for use on the skin and special water-based paints have been created for face painting. It is very important to inquire about what paint the artist is using before allowing it to be applied, as a variety of issues can arise when using products not intended for the skin. Both body and face paints follow stringent guidelines, being non-toxic, non-allergenic and water soluble. Methods of application can range from hands, sea sponges and paintbrushes to using an airbrush gun.
Face painting has been used from ancient times for religious, hunting and military reasons. Many people are familiar with the camouflage paint used by the army to help them escape notice and blend in with their surroundings. It was also popular with young women during the hippie movement, many of whom painted their faces with peace symbols and flowers while protesting. Face painting is also very popular with children, often being found at county fairs, parties and theme parks. Popular designs for face painting include dogs, cats, tigers, butterflies and rainbows.
Whether using it to support a sports team, make a birthday party memorable or as an artistic endeavour, body painting is a fun and temporary way to express yourself.