Adventures as Living Art
Alison Kenyon invited me to be part of a big Living Art project.
"Oh, sure, I can take photos," I said.
"No, I need you as a model. You would wear a dress and we would paint your hands and face to match a painting."
Oh? And it was in Monterey, California. Of course, since I love adventure and art, I said yes. Let's do this.
I met with her for wardrobe fitting. She painted in a warehouse to fit all the backdrops, wardrobe, headpieces, and props. The scale of the project was daunting. She even had a piece with two models in a mirror, so she figured out how to create half of the scene on a backdrop, then an extended frame for the mirror where one model could be inside the mirror, and one outside the mirror.
My artwork was "The Garden Wall" by John Singer Sargent. I would be the lady in black.
We met the night before at the venue site to figure out our precise placing inside the scene. The event was in an airplane hanger, where each scene had its own stage. The backdrops needed to have the scale and perspective to show people at the current size, an incredible feat.
The next day, we met at the hotel ballroom where the floor was covered with tarps. We wondered how Alison would paint so many models in a day. Seeing her friends from past seasons of Skin Wars answered that question. Of course they could bring the vision of 6 living art scenes together with fifteen models! The painters included Alison Kenyon (season 3 finalist), Natalie Fletcher (season 1 winner), Lana Chromium (season 2 winner), and Rachel Deboer (season 2). Each group had an artwork. Natalie painted us. She affectionately called us the Crusty Ladies since our artwork was impressionist with big brush strokes and and blocky chunks of color.
The quest to paint 15 actors, and a troupe of ballerinas began. The ballerinas were painted in the spirit of a Degas dancer. They would stand on pedestals and switch from pose to pose as guests arrived. I didn't get to see them in their final poses, which would have been awesome. The painting was impressive enough even in a hotel ballroom!
As the day went on, art came together. For the ballerinas, especially, we could see art coming alive. For some of us, our painting looked a little random. The painters used reference art pieces as they worked, which you see them holding in many photos. Away from the art, some of us (me) looked like I'd given my kids paint and let them go to town.
The interactions around the hotel were amazing. Because we had a break, and we ate lunch, we would walk from room to room. Guests and workers would double-take and we could almost hear them thinking, "What is happening?" We would laugh and say we were part of a Living Art project. Many of them wanted to come see the finished results, but it was a private event. How fun if we could have invited them!
My partner, Libby Woods, had a headpiece and wore white so she looked like a cool version of Princess Leia, which led to the the story that I was a Sith Lord, in black off in the shadows, with my book and my scowl :)
We did create an entire novel-worthy story about our two ladies by the wall in the painting. The woman in white held a napkin with splotches of red, like roses, and Libby noted that, in those times, many time handkerchiefs would have rose embroidery to hide symptoms of consumption. The Woman in White was the young, scandalous one with her low neckline and easy smile. I was the elder, stern mother, or aunt, with my scriptures or morally appropriate writings, giving the Woman in White a look judging those wild youths and the decline of virtuous life. Of course, once we added the heartbreak that the younger woman had consumption, then the story had a turn towards emotional turmoil and sadness, even while the older woman judged, she also mourned... Would be a fascinating story to write!
As the painting-time came to an end, we looked like quite a crew. Since the entire event was about creating the paintings, we mostly had partial paintings. Since I was 3/4 view, I had my face covered, but actors where were profiles only had half of their face painted. My roommate had her back painted since that was the side facing the audience. We looked like a ragamuffin group.
With a few exceptions. The Fridas faced the audience, and their painting was a complete look. They even had eyes painted on their lids so they could keep their eyes closed onstage and match the original artwork. In this photo, the model has her eyes closed. Amazing. Alison painted these looks. We all laughed when we were startled backstage whenever the actors looked at their phones, because the illusion of a side-eye was so good :)
We drove to the site for last touch ups. And there, the paints became a masterclass in skilled painters. This is why professional body painters are incredible artists. Because, once the actors joined the scene, all the seemingly haphazard lines and colors fit right into the backdrop. We posed with our scene and became living art. Libby and I were the first group to be in front of the audience. It took awhile for viewers to realize that we were real people. It was surreal because we kept our eyes closed.
What an experience! It's incredible to join a team where everyone came together for a common goal of creating art. What memories :)
And now I can add paid model to my resume, right?
Enjoy the backstage peek at Living Art for Entire Productions.