i have come In that age when dignity should rule. As an elder, I should be a model of wisdom and restraint rather than a naked model for a body painter. Anyway with me?
Adventure sports were the main attraction. How does it feel to let my body be the canvas? Artists – complete strangers – to be naked for a couple of hours? Do something completely new?
Love was also a reason. My husband and I were going to paint together. Artist Andy Golub will combine the two of us into one unit. For a few hours, Mark and I would be naked against each other in the same position while Golub covered us with paint. It seemed like a good way to celebrate our closeness. This will be the first after 22 years of marriage!
I must admit, I was hoping to impress (perhaps scam) my friends and acquaintances. I’m not physically brave, but I try to be brave otherwise. Due to aging, I often gravitate towards things that are unnecessary for my age, like the red cowboy boots I wear.
So when the opportunity came to model for the man who more or less invented body painting as an art form (as opposed to body painting as a ceremony and ritual), I didn’t think twice. Mark, although more conservative than I, also agreed without hesitation – as a triathlete, he has very little body fat! Me, older and less athletic, is a bit more so, but I’m fine with my old body and am happy with the possibility that it can be both inspiration and actual material for art.
On Sunday afternoon, Andy Golub arrived at our house with his dropcloth and rants and set up in my study, which gets good natural light. Now 55, he has been an artist since he was a teenager, but it wasn’t until he started doing body art in his 40s that he found his calling. Although he paints on walls, canvases, and even automobiles, Andy is best known for his public body-painting shows, where he and his collaborators paint hundreds of naked people in places like New York’s Times Square. He has also organized group shows in San Francisco, Zurich and Amsterdam. This year’s New York event will take place on July 24 in Union Square.
I’m not brave enough to paint in public, but at home with my husband, with heat up to 78, I was within my physical and mental comfort zone. Mark and I signed the release and then went to our bedroom to undress. Slowly, shyly, we returned to the study. Andy didn’t look up – he was putting out his paints and brushes. He said he uses dramatic makeup, which is healthy and comes off more easily than the actual color.
Andy looked around the room and placed the dropcloth on the couch. “Why don’t you join in?” He suggested. I leaned into it like Madame Recamier in a Jacques-Louis David painting, and Marc himself joined me by leaning back. It was a relaxing and relatively modest pose for both of us. I stopped feeling self-conscious.
Andy looked at us from many angles. He walked around the room. She sat on a stool and looked down at us. Then he got down and started painting a long green stripe on Mark’s left leg. He made a wide pink stripe along the green. The pink continued down Mark’s body, up his neck and down to my stomach. He painted a dark green band around Mark’s right thigh. Sometimes Andy would pick up “orange” or “blue” before moving on to his colors. Sometimes his lids fall off because he surveys us before deciding on a color.
“Are your eyes really closed?” I asked.
“I’m channeling,” he replied.
He opened his eyes and chose purple, and stroked our bodies with the brush. It felt light and smooth. An hour passed. He applied white paint on my mouth and green paint on my forehead. He made little spots in gray on our bodies, “notes” to ourselves so that we would assume the same position after the next break. Then we got up and stretched. He took a few photos of us holding hands in the classic John and Yoko pose with colorful patches and stripes all over our bodies. We seem very pleased with ourselves, although, of course, we have done nothing.
We returned to the sofa, aligned ourselves with each other via the little brown marks, and now the magic began. Using black paint and a thin brush, Andy began painting designs in blobs and swatches of color covering our faces and bodies. Mark got two eyes on his pecs and ripples on his shoulders. I had a turtle on my belly and a diamond on my thigh. Narrow black lines continued from Mark’s hands to my feet, merging our bodies into one colorful image. It was all very relaxing. After a while, Mark actually fell asleep.
Andy funds his work through contributions to his foundation, Human Connection Arts, but I see a way he could monetize it more directly.
“Why not offer to paint the young people as a wedding package?” I asked him. “They’ll have a lasting memory of them in their prime, connected to each other through your art! It’ll be so original! I bet they’ll pay you thousands.”
“I’m not really interested in it,” he said. “I see my art as connected to social activism. Performance art like body painting is about bringing people together. I want to connect with my ‘canvas’ and inspire people to think in new ways.
Andy has painted and photographed people of all ages and types, including those with physical disabilities. All body types are beautiful.
He finished the painting for us and took some photos. Although still naked, I was at ease: the paint was a layer to hide my skin. He didn’t exactly look like he was photographing us; Instead, it was like documenting a whole new entity – me and Mark and mixing colors and designs. Mark and I looked at each other in surprise. Our bodies have become amazing.
After Andy left, Mark and I scrubbed each other in the shower. It’s sad to see the colors run down the drain, but otherwise they end up on our clothes, furniture and sheets. Body painting is a temporary art, recorded by photography.
I selected two photos Andy shared with us and did a little judicious cropping. In the days to come, I proudly showed them to my family and friends, who, I think, were relieved that the images were so colorful, so beautiful and so… unerotic. It wasn’t nudity to arouse desire: our bodies were just the background. For our faces, the color worked like a thick foundation to make us both look younger. No wonder I was showing photos to almost everyone I encountered!
I was reminded once again that I am more than a fanatic. I told a friend about my body paint, and she actually wrinkled her nose. And there are people I’ll never tell—people for whom nudity at any age is abhorrent. Besides, the artist didn’t just paint us, he was painting in We, his brush against our skin. No, I’ll leave it to those people to mention this particular artistic encounter.
But my three sons are a different matter. They know me well, have been upset about my work in the past, and are somewhat unconventional themselves. So they weren’t surprised to learn that I took off my clothes to remember the moment and be a part of a talented artist’s vision. They just admired the pictures.
Long-term couples are sometimes asked to bring excitement to their married life by doing something novel and exciting and challenging. Getting our bodies painted was like that for us: a wonderful new experience that felt a little overwhelming.
Afterwards, we looked at each other with new eyes. For a brief, shining moment, we were art.
Catherine Hiller’s sixth novel, “Cybil Unbound,” about the sexual adventures of an elderly woman, will be published on February 14, 2023. He is also the author of the short story collection “Skin” (“Good, Brave, and Joyful. Story” – John Updike) and the controversial “Just Say Ho: A Marijuana Memoir.” Short pieces have appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review, AARP Magazine, Ms. Girlfriend, NextTribe, Westchester Review and Antioch Review. He is the co-producer of the documentary film “Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider”.
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