Friday, February 8, 2008

From Oppenheim to Akiyo: 7 Unusual Skin Artists

From Oppenheim to Akiyo: 7 Unusual Skin Artists

It is our largest organ. It covers every inch of our body, protecting it from hit and illness. Sometimes it inflates pain and agony, other times it can be the source of great pleasure. Skin has been playing a major roll in the history of human culture. People go to war to keep their skin color more popular than others. Skin both reflects and affects our emotions. Obsessed with age-related changes in their skin, we pay billions to have every last one of our wrinkles vanished with plastic surgeries.

Skin decorations such as partial or full body tattoos, body piercing and body painting have been means of self-expression long before we adopted them as pop-culture items. Modern interpretations of body art involve the exploration of skin as a living canvas with its own unique physical dimensions, attributes and limits. The following is a brief review of 7 unusual contemporaneity body artists focusing on the human skin.

1. Dennis Oppenheim: Reading Position for Second Degree Burn

One of the first and most well known modern artists to explore the human skin is Dennis Oppenheim, an American conceptual, performance artist, sculptor and photographer. In his 1970 work Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, Oppenheim lay in the sun for five hours bare-chested except for an open book on his chest. According to Oppenheim the roots of this particular creation can be found in "a notion of color change... I allowed myself to be painted, my skin became pigment."

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2. Youri Messen-Jaschin: Mad Lausanne

Youri Messen-Jaschin is an artist of Latvian origin living and creating in Lausanne, Switzerland. Amongst other forms of art, Messen-Jaschin is also known as an avid messenger and specialist in the art of body painting. Messen-Jaschin's works are often exhibited in clubs where UV lamps are in use.

He is known for his tendency towards psychedelic colors and according to Wikipedia avoids skin damage by using special biologic paint. Other than his fine art activities Messen-Jaschin is also an avid photoblogger. The above photos (by are titled Mad Lausanne. They were taken in Switzerland December 2, 2006 during an event dedicated to Aids awareness.

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3. Kim Joon: Billboard Postures and a La Mode Attitude

Born 1966 in Seoul, Korea, Kim Joon has been of the most prominent body paint artists of the 21st centaury. With an MA degree in Painting from Hongik University, Joon's creations were exhibited in solo shows across the world. His recent works include "Duet" (2006, Canvas International Art Gallery, Amsterdam), "Stay" (2007, Space 355, Tokyo) and "Party" (2007, Touch art, Heiri)

"Each Party body is a centrifugal magnet of contemporary fashion design, billboard postures, and a la mode attitude, spinning through magazines and youtube. But amidst the excitement there is pixilation and jaundice skin. Among each conflation of pattern and tattoo, flesh appears deformed and ruined, so each body-surface becomes a multi-layered fact of nature's being written by culture and science; and vice versa […] is this flesh on tattoo and pattern, or vice versa?" (Christopher Jones, Seoul, 2007)
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4. Ariana Page Russell: Immune System Poetry

Ariana Page's skin frequently blushes and swells due to dermatographia, a condition in which one’s immune system exhibits hypersensitivity via his or her skin, causing capillaries to dilate and welts to appear when the skin’s surface is lightly scratched. The welts last about thirty minutes but that is more than enough for Page to painlessly draw those spectacular patterns and words on her skin. And then she taker their pictures and share them with us.

Her patterns range from adaptations of Greek and Etruscan vases, Medieval wall coverings and Renaissance pottery to contemporary clothing and wallpaper found in domestic spaces. In her own words:

"Each body becomes an index of passing time. Bones shift, muscles loosen, freckles and wrinkles form, bruises appear; skin is the forum for these transitions. It may also evidence sensitivity, embarrassment, discomfort, fear, excitement, infection, health, attraction, and energy expended - reflecting vulnerability and conditions we’ve inhabited."

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5. Yasmina Alaoui: Koranic illustration and Islamic Architecture

The One Thousand and One Dreams is a mixed media project by Yasmina Alaoui and Marco Guerra. Alaoui is a multimedia artist of French and Moroccan descent and thus her skin art patterns are strongly influenced by Koranic illustration and Islamic architecture.

Chilean born Guerra is a New York City based fashion photographer whose work is inspired by Pablo Neruda's sultry poetry. Their collaborative project resulted with mysteriously beautiful body art mixing modern and classic images in a most unique manner.

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6. Joanne Gair: At the Pinnacle of the Body Art Genre

If you were already an adult in 1992 chances are you bumped into Joanne Gair's work in the August issue of Vanity Fair. Featuring Demi Moore wearing nothing but a suit of body paint this spectacular cover put Gair at the pinnacle of the body art genre. Her major breakthrough as an artists came in 2001 after 50 of her most famous creations were presented in the Vodafone Body Art Exhibition at the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.

Gair had worked with almost every top photographer, director, super model or "A Class" celebrity you can think of including Cindy Crawford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kim Basinger, Christina Aguilera and Sophia Loren. Her work with Madonna spanned over a decade including some of Madonna's top rated music videos such as Express Yourself, Vogue, Fever, Rain and Frozen.

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7. Akiyo: Henna Designs as Art of Body Embellishment

Henna also known as Mehndi decoration is an ancient form of body art that became fashionable in the West in the late 1990s. Unlike tattoos Henna decorations only involve pigmenting the surface of the human skin and are temporary. With over 10 years of experience with professional textile design, Akiyo transforms common Henna designs into a new art of body embellishment. Her art spans from contemporary designs to traditional Indian, Moroccan and Arabic patterns including spectacular hands and feet designs.

Akiyo practices Henna art in parties, bridal and baby showers and bridal mehndi, yet her respectful client list includes names as HBO, Bloomingdales, Camel and NYU. Akiyo is one of the contributors of henna design book “Henna Tribe Hot 100” put together by Henna Tribe and currently working on a first design book to be published on Henna Tribe. For those who are interested - a long list of other Henna / Mehndi artists can be found on

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