Scott and Madelyn speak on Body Art
April 20, 2017
photography: John Walsh
model: Amanda Lewis-Evans, Amber Michael
Our TEDx Talk Script
SCOTT – I had come to a crossroads. I felt I needed to rediscover myself. It happened on a warm summer afternoon during a festival. People were getting glittery and costumed and a friend asked me to paint a few decorative touches on her arms. I didn’t know it then, but this would completely change my world.
I soon found myself painting… on people. The response was beyond anything I could have anticipated. Bodypainting seemed to communicate a shockwave of pure electrical current through a crowd. I felt like a conduit for a powerful, catalyzing force. Transforming ordinary people into a riot of living color. A moving Monet. Or a sunlit garden, covered from head to toe in painted flowers.
I remember one such painted garden looking up at me with big brown eyes, so beautiful that I could barely think to breathe, much less paint. Today, she stands beside me. She is my companion in life and art, and central to all of it has been the special magic of bodypainting.
MADELYN – Bodypainting has been pivotal in my life. It has helped me discover not only the love of my life, but love for myself as well.
My 6th grade existence was swallowed in the shame of having a body that just did not develop like the other girls. An onslaught of media images taunted me with the certainty that I was damaged goods and would never be valued as feminine or beautiful. I went to extraordinary lengths to hide my imperfections. I gave up hoping to be normal and yearned to be invisible.
As an adult, I realized I couldn’t live inside an escalating hate-hate relationship with my own body. I needed to make peace within my skin. I didn’t know it, but my life was about to change forever. At a festival, a woman in full bodypaint caught my eye. Her art was so exceptional and exquisite that it took my breath away. I had seen bodpainting before, but this was a masterpiece. I had to have this experience— the ultimate affirmation of my own physical journey.
I resolved to connect with this amazing artist in hopes of becoming his canvas. Beneath his brushes and before my eyes, I morphed into a garden of flowers. In that moment, I fell in love with bodypainting and also with the man whom I still consider to be its most gifted creator!
SCOTT – I am sometimes asked, “Why did you choose bodypainting?” The answer is that bodypainting clearly chose me. I have explored many artistic tools and techniques but none elicit the incredible, explosive response to that of painting on a living human being.
I approach most paintings with a kind of Zen emptiness. I offer myself at the altar of the moment and try to be as clear and receptive as possible. It’s as if there is already an amazing story that is seeking to be told, if I can just get out of my own way and let it flow.
MADELYN – From Papua, New Guinea to the African savannas, from the Yannomami of the Amazonian rain forests, to the Australian aborigines— bodypainting is a universal human phenomenon, central to the origins of every society on the planet.
SCOTT- Every group of people from every culture, from every point on the globe has developed this art form independently of one another. It was essential to rituals of birth, death and initiation. Bodypainting revealed one’s accomplishments or status in society. It helped prepare warriors for war, women for childbirth, brides for marriage, and the dead for the afterlife. Magical ceremonies relied on bodypainting to bridge the distance between this world and the next. Without it, one was believed to be invisible to the gods.
MADELYN – Archeological excavations at the Twin Rivers Cave in Zambia uncovered evidence of bodypainting from as far back as four-hundred-thousand years. Neolithic tools were used to gather a sophisticated range of mineral-sourced pigments— browns, reds, yellow, pink, purple and blue. – Bodypainting is an essential part of the long human story.
SCOTT – During the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, Max Factor debuted his new Hollywood makeup by bodypainting burlesque dancer Sally Rand. She was arrested four times that day. Today, bodypainting can be seen in many facets of of art and culture, all around the world.
MADELYN – We are continuously astonished at the way it makes people feel— elated, free, powerful and alive, The experience can literally be overwhelming. Sometimes strong enough to create real and lasting change.
SCOTT – On one occasion, a woman we painted at a festival sought us out. As she told us her story, her face became a curtain of grateful tears. As a teenager, she nearly died in a debilitating car accident. In her own mind, she perceived her life as a devastating ruin. The scars mostly healed over time, but her core self-perception remained an open wound. But on the day we bodypainted her, hundreds of people gloried in her radiant presence. She looked down at her painted form and had an epiphany. No one could see those old scars— all they could see was a dazzling embodiment of living art! This worked like a giant reset button, breaking down all those old emotions. It made all the difference in the world.
MADELYN – When I witness joy, an incredulous smile, or tears of disbelief welling in a model’s eyes, my heart expands on the spot. Our journeys may be different, but our desire for the gift of self-acceptance is shared by all. I believe it has played such a pivotal role my life so that I might be instrumental in bringing it to others.
Bodypainting empowers and uplifts human beings in a way I’ve not encountered in any other art form. It evokes a spirit of playfulness and permission to be expressive. It challenges the notion that a person must identify with their perceived flaws. For example, meet Rachelle, an EXCELLENT bodypaint model who is paralyzed from the chest down. But anyone can embody a work of art. It is an opportunity to redefine our outward appearance, as colored by our interior landscape— the beauty of the soul.
SCOTT – We are proud to paint individuals of all shapes and sizes. Everything we experience in life comes through our bodies. Yet we’re constantly bombarded by media messages that shame us into thinking that we’re just not good enough. Millions hate their own bodies. We say, “love the skin you’re in”. Bodypainting lets us celebrate our inner beauty by displaying it on the outside for a day. We like to think of it as painting soul on skin. And in spite of the fact that we paint nudes, our work is not sexually provocative. It reflects the view that the human form is whole, healthy and beautiful, in all its diversity.
MADELYN – We went on to achieve a Guinness World Record for “most bodies painted”. We’ll never forget the huge cheer of hundreds that erupted at the moment we broke the record. All smiling from ear- to-ear, it was a color tribe of folks from eight to eighty. Together we covered he landscape with a massive mandala of red, blue, and green bodies.
SCOTT – Even at this stage, our wild ambitions were mostly carried out in isolation. We had no idea we were actually riding the crest of a great wave. It’s almost as if some kind of cosmic memo issued forth the command, “start painting on people”. We soon discovered there was a global phenomenon taking place— artists from all over the world were passionately embracing this medium— not as a trendy gimmick, but as the central focus of their life’s work.
MADELYN – We learned we were not alone. Europe, Australia, South America, and Asia all had competitions.
SCOTT – Inspired, we decided to take things to the next level and compete at the World Bodypainting Festival in Austria. I sketched a drawing of us as champions and taped it on a kitchen cabinet. We practiced for months, squeezing everything we had into a single gamble for glory. Did we dare to test our skills against pros from over forty countries? We felt deeply honored and humbled just to paint alongside them.
MADELYN – A week prior to travel, I fell gravely ill and was hospitalized. The morning of our flight, Scott had to rush to the dentist for emergency surgery. We nearly missed the plane, fumbled a connection and barely made it there at all. I was so weak, I left our hotel room only for the competition days. Though any one of these things could have been enough to derail our confidence, Scott and I locked eyes with each other in every instance. We knew in our hearts that we had to hold true to our highest vision of victory.
SCOTT – Bodypainting at the competition level is fast-paced and intense. It is more like a knock-down drag-out sporting event than an art gallery opening. The human body averages 22 square feet of surface area. That’s a lot of painting! Each design has never existed before and will never again be repeated. And it’s all meant to last for just a moment in time.
MADELYN – The competition theme “Inner Fears, Battling the Invisible” invited us to create from an authentic and vulnerable place and we dug deep. Our piece “Metamorphosis” depicted the dark struggle from addiction to recovery and highlighted my own personal story as a recovering alcoholic. Coincidentally, we presented this work on my sobriety anniversary. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I delivered an emotional presentation before the jury.
SCOTT – Scoring 4th place after the preliminaries, we knew we had to regroup for our finals effort with pure, positive focus. When our piece entitled “The Firebird” took the stage, we were astonished to see some members of the audience actually moved to tears!
MADELYN – We believed in our creation, but would it be enough? We huddled backstage with our model Kim, squeezing tightly together. The emcee announced there had been an unheard-of number of changes in the final placements and called out third, then second place. We dared not breathe! It was all or nothing. Our hearts dashed madly between hope and fear!
SCOTT – Were we delusional? Naive? But then we heard the screams of the crowd as we were named the new World Champions!
MADELYN – Scott’s drawing had become reality. We made such a drawing every year we competed, and every year we returned with a new first-place trophy. It was beyond miraculous! Every competition we encountered seemingly insurmountable challenges. It was a master class in maintaining the highest vision despite adversity.
SCOTT – Ultimately, we became the only bodypaint artists in history to win all five World Awards, in five distinctly different categories. And we achieved it all in just four years’ time. We also won first-place titles in Asia and in the USA. And after all this, we wanted to create a way to showcase the talents of others, and bring the beauty of bodypainting back home to America.
MADELYN – We dreamed of developing a world-class bodypainting event right here in the US. Partnering with a couple of dear friends who shared the vision, we founded Living Art America, The North American Bodypainting Championship. This has become the premier international fine-art bodypainting event in the USA – and the entire Western Hemisphere.
SCOTT – Living Art America celebrates the very best of the best, but we applaud engagement at every level. We are proud to mentor new artists, because that is how we grow.
MADELYN – During the competition at Living Art America, a film crew asked us, “Why do you do it?” “That’s easy, ” We said. “Love.” “Love for the art. We love the way it touches people so powerfully. We love that it invites collaboration between diverse talents, across art forms. We love the atmosphere of generosity and support among the global bodypainting community. And we love the opportunity to share this amazing, transformative, deeply human art with the world.
SCOTT – Bodypainting invites us to envision ourselves as a new kind of creature. It explores humanity as radically redefined— beyond race, gender identity, class, and culture.
The most finely-rendered Renaissance fresco cannot converse with you. The most provocative Picasso cannot pull itself off the wall and dance with you. “The Kiss” cannot kiss you back.
Throughout all of our history, paintings and sculpture REPRESENTING the human form have been the central focus of art. Bodypainting turns that completely around! It is not art that REPLICATES the figure, but art that ELEVATES the figure.
This is not a new way for humans to MAKE art, This is a way to BECOME art!
MADELYN – This art is alive! Made of the moment, for the moment. Fleeting, temporary and ephemeral. Like a Tibetan sand painting, it is a demonstration of the impermanence of all things, and all the more precious because of it.
SCOTT – Bodypainting is a viable art movement. It has evolved for tens of thousands of years and will continue to thrive. We are proud to contribute towards the creative momentum of bodypainting‘s NEXT 10,000 years.
MADELYN – Love is indeed the reason. Love is how we began our bodypaint journey together. And love brought us back to the main stage of the World Bodypainting Festival recently, where we said our marriage vows in front of our community, a bodypaint family of many nations. Love can heal the centuries of hatred we’ve directed towards our bodies. Love is the reason we put our heart and soul into our work, and why we want to share it with you.