It’s cold and I’m naked except for a space blanket and layers of carefully applied bodypaint. I’m outside the studio of world-class bodypaint artist Victoria Gugenheim, smoking and preparing for the final part of my transformation.
Victoria and I had only had one conversation about the ‘Baphomet concept’ – the idea of Baphomet as the life force of the universe, the Devil-God of the material realm, and the self-awareness that emerges from it. But Victoria had really grokked what I was on about. So when I arrived in her studio, and saw the headpiece she’s created for the artwork, I knew this was going to be an extraordinary event.
What I confess I didn’t think through was the ordeal aspect of this process.
First stage was to completely depilate my body. Out of practice with shaving my legs I managed to lacerate myself pretty well in a couple of places. Luckily this didn’t hamper the artwork. I also didn’t fully consider just how long the painting would take. The make up took some 12 hours to apply, layer after layer. Victoria and I took breaks and she made a point of ensuring that I was as comfortable as possible during my transformation. At the end of each stage I’d be sprayed with chilling fixative, but still tried to move around gently, ensuring that I didn’t erase any of Victoria’s hard graft.
I could practice my standing chi gong style meditation. I got to watch a couple of cool movies while Victoria worked away on my skin (of which Zoolander, stands out as the most memorable and apposite). Finally my balls were painted green, the inner surface of my ears and even my nostrils. Then it was lights, camera, action and the photoshoot began. Over one hour and 800+ images later we were done.
In the small hours of the morning, warm water carried the beautifully painted image of Baphomet that had adorned my skin down into the sewers of London. But of course, withVictoria’s work, the painting is only part of it. I, my skin, my form, remains – re-emerges from the image painted upon it. Then I can consider that the style in which I was painted was defined collaboratively by our conversation – in a sense Victoria was helping me express, in colour and line, something about myself, my beliefs. Then there are the images, skilfully shot photographs, that capture at least part of what, for me, was a powerful ritual. You can follow the link below to see some of the images and purchase prints via Victoria’s presence on Deviant Art:
After this Work I wanted to find out more about Victoria’s art and so sent here a few questions which she was kind enough to answer:
JV: So, as someone who does body art may I ask how you think about your Work? Do you see it as a development of behaviours we observe in other species or does it represent a radical discontinuity with non-human animals? Or something else?
VG: I believe there is no such thing as artifice when it comes to us, because artifice is part of our evolution. Everything from body modification to plastic surgery is merely an extension of the self, something we have strived for since the dawn of our own awareness in the prehistoric era. One could however see art itself as a way of concomitantly being instinctive and transcending “nature”. We are the only species in the world to create art (by this I don’t just mean something pretty, but something that we can view as art in itself, take a step back from and criticise constructively, something no other species does. Birds can make beautiful nests or collect trinkets to adorn them with, but this is part of a primal mating ritual and not done for the beauty of the object in and of itself, which is where the distinction lies).
I am an extremely harsh critic. It is never accurate or detailed enough, and this pushes me to go further. I see it as a positive thing, although other’s unfortunately don’t.
I see myself in some ways as a sculptor (I also used to sculpt prolifically) People have personae and wishes underneath their skin and I carve it out with the paint instead of bringing it out of a piece of wood or clay. The relationship of me, the artist with the model also varies in accordance with the particular piece I’m creating. Sometimes people are very happy to be blank canvasses (although they always have their own personalities that make them far from it, which is a good thing), and others have a particular idea or wish they want fulfilled, whether personal or commercial.
I also take the role of a counselor sometimes, as painting someone for hours can create a strong bond between the both of you and a lot of healing can be done this way.
JV: I also wonder how you feel the self is (re)created by changing our surface? I’d be fascinated to learn where you see the future of body art (in all its forms) going? Not just in terms of the market but more broadly in cultural or even philosophical terms?
VG: Body art allows many things to happen. Depending on the context, it can assist the development of a new personae and create body confidence by literally creating something better, bolder and brighter than a regular human being. It also helps you connect with your body as you’re being painted. Every neuron in your body will fire off as it’s being touched with the brush, and this enables your brain to realise that you are an entire person. This is a great tool for treating people who are depressed and so disconnected with theirselves. Another side effect is that because of this and realising your volume/presence in the world, you become more visually spatially aware. I’ve seen real transformations with this, from shy people who become roaring dragons, to people who thought they were ungainly but could pose and dance after the paint is applied. It allows us to get in touch with our primitive roots and concomitantly evolve as individuals and groups.
As for body art’s future; Body art will trisect at a minimum into commercial, erotic and high art. They will all integrate with each other in some form or another. Outside of that intentional Venn diagram, there will be people creating it just because it is natural to them. Most people will probably experiment with it if it gets enough mainstream coverage as this is how ideas spread.
Body art is at a cultural tipping point and it’ll only take a nudge for it to reach critical mass. You just need to scrape below the surface and you’ll see it’s been featured on everywhere from GMTV to The Evening Standard, along with being increasingly integrated into mixed media art exhibitions.
In the future it will also become something far greater than itself, it’s applications become more sophisticated, elegant and complex, and it will be viewed increasingly as an extension of the body and the self. It will also become increasingly integrated with other visual disciplines.
JV: And finally I wonder how you understand your own art as desire? I was impressed by how early you got into it and it reminded me of the fact that I got into magick (which is my art I guess) at a young age. How would you describe your drive to do it?
VG: My imagination has been dangerously fertile from a young age. I was the type of child who would get night terrors, full blown hallucinations and waking dreams. What this gave me over all my other peers was an intense imagination and an increased visual spatial awareness. The teachers refused to believe my parents didn’t do the artwork for me. I ended up getting in front of the class and showing them that it was me by creating some work in front of them (some origami and some drawing), but they still refused to believe it. It’s also completely natural to me to want to experiment with the body as an art form. I’ve always done it. Some people need permission in some psychological way in order to be an artist, and thankfully I’ve never needed that. I’ve always known that I am one.
I see my art as both compulsion and inspiration. It’s not an outside force that governs me to do it, but the impulse is so strong it may as well be, as I feel completely taken over when it happens. The term inspiration means “To breathe life into”, and so makes suggestions etymologically that it’s an outside force governing you to create. The drive can be intense. At my most prolific I created 14 sculptures in under a month. I still to this day feel like I’m not living up to my potential.
The emotions within it are complex, and sometimes my mental state of flow goes to conclusions and pieces of art that I’d prefer not to be creating but are very logical and apparent to me, but if I ignore these then the rest of my art suffers. It’s a very curious phenomenon. I want to practice more stringent control with regards to my creation, but this discipline comes with practice, practice practice. This control may also prove counterproductive, but I will experiment with this and see what happens.
Ultimately in terms of “desire”, I am compulsively driven to create as many awe inspiring, jaw dropping works of art before I die as I possibly can. I want to be more than human. I want to be a legacy and an idea. I want to transcend the primitive and become art itself. ◊
So thank you Victoria Guggenheim for providing me with an opportunity, in partnership with you, to ‘become art itself’.