New Orleans has been a wild, cultural mecca of food, music, and art for generations, and the soul of that vibrant city is passed from locals to visitors as well as parents to children. For Craig Tracy, who tackled the Big Easy as an artist at only 16, Mardi Gras face-painting and free-flowing creativity (and hedonism) led him into the world of alternative art and visual adventure. From a young age, there was never any doubt that he would be an artist, but no one could have predicted the amazing body painting direction his art would take, not even the voodoo fortune tellers down on Bourbon Street.
After working for a time as a freelance illustrator, Tracy realized that he didn't like the tedium or predictability of industrial design, and longed for his younger days of unlimited creativity, painting "anything on anything". From this desire to get back to his roots, he painted a face, and if we consider art as a drug of sorts, Tracy needed a stronger hit. The complexities of the human face were nothing compared to the entire body, especially with a completely unique, breathing canvas that was different for every artwork.
To the general public, bodypainting is often seen as something done on the faces of children at state fairs, or as a way to avoid a ticket for public indecency at Spring Break on the "painted body" technicality. In truth, there is an entire subculture of fine art bodypainters that spend their years making the canvas of the human body come alive, so to speak.
In some of Tracy's works, the seamless transition of color and texture between the subject of the piece and the model it is painted on makes it difficult to pick out where the model starts and stops, like in "Shelter" (seen above). In others, the model's clear humanity adds to the effect of the piece instead of being intentionally camouflaged by contortion.The smallest fluctuations in the pose, like a decision to keep the model's eyes open or closed, can impact the overall aesthetic of the painting.
Tracy like to continually challenge himself as well, never using the same model twice for a full-body piece, unless he adds a second person to the composition. Besides the difficulty of finding a model to pose for up to a day, topless, with a lion on her bum, Tracy must study dozens of unique "canvases" for their smallest variations, nooks, and crannies. (On second thought, that may not be such an unpleasant part of the job). As mentioned, he doesn't restrict himself to only one model in a single work, and in the piece seen below, the face of the tiger is actually composed of three different models, intertwined and practically inseparable to the eye.
Last South China Tiger (3 Models)
When people see the canvas prints of these posed models, or the photographs in a magazine or gallery, their gut instinct tells them that something must have been altered somehow, especially in this digital age where authenticity is basically an opinion. However, there is no manipulation in the images, and the background which often flows perfectly into the painting on the model's body is actually a hand-painted or airbrushed backdrop also done by the artist, and placed in precise relation to the mobile model. Tracy divides his medium into 80% hand-painting and 20% airbrushing (for the larger monochromatic spaces) but technological tricks and toys have no part in his work.
When it comes to subject matter, the natural world is certainly a favorite, because of the interesting ideas and symbolism it may suggest to viewers about sustainability, co-habitation, and environmental awareness, but Tracy dabbles in other styles as well. His interest is in the creative act, the inherent challenges, and the reaction of viewers more than it is about the underlying symbolism or intent of the subject matter.
Tracy found other like-minded individuals that share his passion for bodypainting at the World Bodypainting Festival in southern Australia. Tracy actually received first place honors in 2005 with his good friend Jeral Tidwell as a bodypainting team. Since then, he has participated or judged in the competition every year, and traveling "down under" to see what the rest of the world's artists have to offer is always a highlight of his summer.
Although he still paints as often as he can, he also devotes a lot of his time to educating people in his gallery in New Orleans. There is still a lot of false beliefs or stereotypes about body painting that he seeks to dispel by showing his intricate process and the stunning results that he comes up with. Hundreds of people each week leave his gallery with a new appreciation for his art, and Tracy hopes that the trend will continue in this style that he loves so much. The human form is a work of art in itself; Tracy just wants to draw the artistic power of humanity from within, so it can be seen right on the surface.
If you want to see all of Craig Tracy's spectacular creations or add some of his work to your own collection, visit his Painted Alive website.
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All images are subject to copyright by the artist.