Soul painting really is what it’s about. I just do my best to get out of my own way and let the soul emerge. The recipients of my brush strokes often find that they receive an almost overwhelming amount of loving attention from everyone they meet. They get “love bombed” all day. No doubt about it, the body painting has proven to be a definite hit. One of my greatest moments ever was at the closing ceremony of my first-ever Naturist Convention. I had painted my ass off for days and now every one was gathered and saying their farewells as a community. My name was called and every person present – about 400 participants – enthusiastically gave me a standing round of applause. I had never received greater acclaim for anything I’ve ever done in my life. It was amazing.
Still, the transcendent, Promethean effects of the body painting experience turned out to be far greater than I ever could have anticipated. It’s commanding alchemical intensity caught me entirely off guard. I had no clue that it would have such intoxicating, healing magick— such potential for service to the soul. One young woman said to me, “You may be surprised to find this out, but I used to be very obese. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of being naked in front of people, much less done anything like this before”. I painted over her scars with the likeness of her namesake, the tiger lily, and she told me later that it had been a day that had utterly changed her life. She had always had a very negative body image and fought hard against it. Now she reveled in the glory and radiance of her body and was given the gift of being seen as beautiful, striking, and magnificent by everyone she met. It felt humbling and deeply gratifying to hear her story. Time after time I’ve heard such accounts and I am always thankful and blessed to hear the often-surprising tales of how transformative this experience can be. It seems we live in an age where the body is berated constantly though our media and culture. It has been my honored gift to illuminate our incredible interior beauty in a way in which it can be seen and celebrated by all.
It’s true, there’s something happening here that is really powerful. The brush transforms the person into a being of undeniable amplitude and charismatic radiance. Perhaps it is a bit like going from being a 60-watt bulb to carrying the kind of electrical current necessary to light a stadium. It’s a charge intense enough to surprise a lot of people— I’ll have a little heart to heart chat with them as the painting is nearing completion, “It’s going to feel like being a rock star. You will be this golden and glorious incarnation of the Great Goddess. Don’t be surprised if that is how people react to you. You’re used to seeing the world out of the same eyes, but when people see you, they’ll be seeing the giant, holy, wild, and angelic tornado that lives inside you. Just imagine your white-hot aura beaming out 30 feet in all directions, light flying from your fingertips at every gesture. Let the skies ahead wheel around your perfect, electric and outrageous center, laughing in uproarious delight. Every man and woman, every element in Nature and Earth that is brought into your incandescent orbit will want to lay down their adoration before you.” On several occasions I had people that came to me later saying. “Wow, you told me what would happen, but I had just had NO IDEA. It was just unbelievable!”
Perhaps the best way to impart what this is like is to quote the words of a dear friend who let me paint her at Burning Man. She shared with me a section from her journal, which reads:
All the body loathing that I normally feel was absolutely gone. I was totally unaware at some point of whether I was too fat or too old (although I have to say I thought my boobs were looking pretty fine!) but instead I was the art. The art was my soul and somehow, someone saw me that beautiful (that would be you) and gave me a voice. It makes me cry to think of it. How could I possibly be that beautiful? How could a friend really see that? And then speak it for me? How can I ever thank you?
(Later–riding home in the dust filled RV:)
With each mile the dust that had settled on my skin felt a little grittier– the paint slowly flaking– my body gradually returning to a middle aged woman. Back in the real world the beauty of this art was not evoking love. The reaction I was getting was one of fear. Could hardly get service in a restaurant and hotel clerks were less than friendly. I think the contrast that I feel as I get nearer to my other world is the brightest insight of all. Fortified with the most love and adoration I have felt in my life, I find their reactions funny. The worst thing to be is invisible. Don’t let me disappear.
As for me, it’s a Zen practice in listening to the soul-story that wants to express itself. I have to really feel into it at a deep level and this can be almost excruciating. Of course, sometimes it’s light and breezy, too. God-making can be great fun. Dancing with somebody’s magnificent soul-self is amazing. It so desperately wants to leap out and play and express itself in all it’s magnanimity and beauty. It is not unlike trying to ride a wild horse. There’s a sense of unbridled eagerness and playfulness. And if I’m doing my job right, I’ll be listening deeply and clearly enough so that the art reflects a clear representation of my subject’s vast interior landscape, rather than a lot of squiggles that merely come from my backlog of old ideas. I’m at my best when I’m still enough to stay out of my own way and let the inspiration flow.
I find myself working with the chakra system a lot (the energy centers located at various places in the body). Often it will seem appropriate to place certain magickal symbols over these centers and it’s always different for each person. Again and again, I have been amazed to see what comes out. Often the art will speak powerfully of some aspect of life that has been left unlived, some repressed or underdeveloped contour of experience. For many people, this is often their dark side. Vital, seething, smoldering and irrepressibly strong, this aspect is always engaging to play with, and I am happy to bring people some face-time with this archetype when it is called for. For others it can be tribal, sanguine, fiery, animalistic, elemental or any number of things (including humorous). I almost never know beforehand what will arise.
Two examples of painting the life unlived: On one occasion, I can remember sitting down with a very lovely and sweet-natured archeologist before a session. When I tuned in to ascertain what might be right for her, I was surprised to find myself guided to paint this fierce Kali image on her chest— with wild hair, black skin and long tongue extended. Large, open eyes went on both her nipples, and on her back I painted a giant vulva with a diamond eye at the clitoris. Whoa! In contrast, I met another woman that same day, a dominatrix decked out in full regalia including the riding crop. I thought to myself, “Devil-girl for sure!!” But when I tuned in, the guidance I was given directed me towards a very soft and feminine scene of pastoral beauty, with two white cranes arcing over a lily pond. Clearly she was already fully expressed in her more exotic passions and what her soul craved was to show forth a quiescent tranquility. Quan Yin for a day! Kali for a day! And it all comes off with soap and water!
One of the many notable things about this art form is that it is so very transient! It lasts the lifespan of a mayfly, but the magic seems to linger. I’m reminded on the sand paintings carefully constructed by the Native People’s of the American Southwest. Or the fantastic sculptures fashioned by Tibetan Buddhist monks out of brightly colored Yak butter that I saw when on a trip to the monasteries of Katmandu. As a monument to the profound impermanence of all things, there is a certain poetic balance there that appeals to my aesthetic nature. In keeping with many of the artworks displayed during the Burning Man festival, which are lovingly created, only to be consumed in fire at the event’s close, I offer my living, moving, breathing sculptures up to the sun for their brief moth-flight before kissing the flame.
There’s something marvelous in it.
~ Scott Fray