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June 6th, 2007

TEMPORARY INSANITY: BODY OF ART

by Chip Maloney

boa1.jpgThe Body of Art creates masterpieces through the art of body painting, hairstyling, accessories and other make-up, and by fashioning surreal environments and atmospheres to display them in. Chief Art Director, Designer and Project Manager Danielle Fonseca’s services are highly sought after by professional photographers, event promoters, advertising agencies, fashion and publishing houses, music and theatre groups, and any other number of companies seeking to offer something exciting and different for their shows, events, advertising and promotional campaigns, and parties.

Fonseca started The Body of Art in January 2004, and has since gone on to create stunning and unforgettable productions for clients as diverse as Mercedes Benz, Stolichnaya Vodka, ESPN, Virgin Mobile, The Latin Grammy’s and House of Fields. Her work has also been featured in countless magazines and television shows, and for the past 13 years, she has also served as Art Director at the Harvey Cavalier Camp for fine and performing arts in Katonah, New York, where she teaches painting and make-up to children ages 6-16.

Danielle received a BFA in Painting and a BS in Art Education at the State University of New York at New Paltz where she worked under artists Spencer Tunic, The Art Guys, and Tim Rollins, among others.

31.jpgSJ: Did your background in theatre, fine arts and make-up naturally lead you to start The Body ofArt, or was there a eureka moment that inspired you? Maybe something you saw, or some project you worked on?

DF: When I was in college, I had my feet in a couple of different pools. I was not only getting a BFA in Contemporary Painting, I also did sets for theatre productions. I was inspired by things like Cirque du Soleil and theatrical make-up. When it came time to choose a career, I started teaching art in schools. As much as I love teaching, I felt stifled in the public school system and felt trapped there, so I decided to take a really weird, arbitrary leap and took a job with MAC. My parents asked, “What are you doing?” because, you know, all parents always have an issue when you want to be an artist in the first place, and now, I was going to take a position doing something I didn’t even study in school. Anyway, I started at MAC, and somehow, I guess because of my loves and wants, and how I did my paintings– which were all installation based–everything sort of just came back around to the same spot.When I did body art photo shoots, I started integrating sets into the background, and murals, and then I brought in hair people and all the other production elements I loved so much in the theatre, and I just began encompassing this whole environment into my pieces.When you look at my work, you’ll see things like murals in the background and props. I try to do all of my loves, and that’s what I built this company on, so, it’s not just about the body painting. It’s the environment that also creates the space and the story.

SJ: How did you figure out that you could build a business out of it?

DF: I just looked at what was around, and I wanted to continue to paint…somehow…and when I worked at MAC, they had created this deck of cards using models painted as the various cards, and then they came out with a line of body paint. I began looking into body painting, who was doing it, what they were doing with it, and I felt like there was something more that I could contribute and do with it. Most body painters are either artistically bound, but have no background in make-up, so their work looks very painterly, or they are make-up artists who do body painting, and their work tends to be more beauty bound and lacks the illustrative effect. I thought I could bring the two together and do something amazing that people had never seen before. Looking into what could be done with body painting, I found that it could be used for many things, ranging from having a personal experience – like helping people to get rid of the weird feelings they have about their bodies, to having a cool way to promote products and ideas. Why not have some sexy model all painted up walk over to you at an event and flirt with you, or hand you some product?

SJ: Your business is now three years old; how is it going?

DF: It’s climbing at a rapid pace. As I grow and learn, the business grows. I started out with no income, and left a steady job. Now, everything I do is by word of mouth. I’ve gone from doing promo events with four models to doing projects for clients like Marc Jacobs where I’ve got to do 45 models in like four hours. I’m still learning, but it’s come a really long way.

SJ: Your work has a unique look, and isn’t derivative of anything else. What are your influences and inspirations? Do they come from literature and paintings, or do they come from the sheer genius of your imagination?

DF: Artists like Matthew Barney who do installations have always influenced me, artists who surround you with their art through makeup, lighting, and other elements. To me, it’s important to make one feel like they are surrounded in your idea to the point that’s it almost overwhelming. I also draw from films with amazing production values, like Ridley Scott movies, Legend, Blade Runner, anything before CGI came along and they had to come up with these lush, lavish sets and make-up. I’d like to eventually do work on feature films like that.

SJ: How do you actualize a concept from an idea?

DF: Every one of them is different. Some clients have specific ideas, so we just work together until they are pleased. Others are just inspired by what I love. I love Alice in Wonderland, I love circus freaks, the twenties, the pin-ups of the forties… mixing beauty and gore. That’s one of my favorite things, mixing disgusting things with things of beauty. I start with research, of course, and then I have a paper template of a naked body that I’ll design and sketch out. I’ll then send it to the client for approval and go from there.

SJ: What’s the process involved in painting a body? What kind of paint do you use, what tools, how long does it take?

DF: The paint is a sort of hybrid of pigment and emollients you mix with water. It dries very quickly to almost a powdery consistency. I use regular brushes, airbrush, and other things. My first model took seven hours to paint, and I quickly learned that I needed to hire an assistant. Some, like the “Alice in Wonderland” shoot, can take up to 12 hours.

SJ: How does a model stand still for that long?

22.jpgDF: Well, there are breaks, and the first thing I tell the models is to come with comfortable slippers, a robe, and proper nourishment like protein bars and water. Standing still for long periods really takes it out of you. I won’t paint a model that won’t eat because I’ve had models faint on me, and that’s really scary. I also tell them to shave everything off the night before and not to use any moisturizers or the paint won’t stick. They also have to be clean– or I will wipe them down with alcohol–and that’s never a pleasant experience. We kind of have it down to an assembly line now. There’s hair, other make-up, accessory attachment or costuming, so there are a lot of things going on to help break up the painting.

SJ: As Principal Designer, Art Director and Manager, are you also the principal painter?

15.jpgDF: Not as much anymore. I tend to do the fine detailing and things like that, but I’m fortunate enough to have a great group of amazing artists to work with.

SJ: You’ve done so many fantastic productions. Which are your personal favorites?

DF: I love the “Unfortunate Mishap of Lieutenant. A.” Everyone also raves about “Animal Divas.” The Peacock Lady in that project was seen in a million different places, even in a book called Pixel Surgeons about digitally manipulated photos. That was not manipulated digitally in any way. It was all make-up and accessories. Really, anything where there’s a huge, encompassing set and a lot of creativity involved.

SJ: The Body of Art also offers other services like Video Murals, Lighting Installations and Bridal Make-up. Talk about those a little bit.

DF: Those things are an extension of the other things I love. Like I said, I’m a fan of artistic installations, and if I, say, want to create an event that I would like to be a part of, the video and lighting has to be a part of that. I’m getting into producing events now, and in May, I’m getting the chance to give back to the community through my art by creating an event to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s going to be at Club Sol, and it’s going to be overwhelming. There’s going to be huge sets, props, models swinging from the ceiling. The theme is going to be “Red Hot Ice,” and at the beginning, it’s going to be an icy, sort of abominable snowman’s cave setting, snowy and frosty, but mid-way through, it’s going to melt and turn into this sort of Mardi Gras, spicy, Spring. The whole idea is that we’ve gone through this weird Winter, but it’s going to turn into a beautiful Spring and at the same time, celebrate the culture of what was knocked down in the storm and its eventual re-birth.

SJ: That sounds very trippy, but it also seems like a monumental undertaking.

DF: It absolutely will be, but all the money we raise is going to benefit others, and that makes all the work worth it.

SJ: It seems you’ve achieved all of your goals, but is there anything left you would like to do?

DF: I’m never done! I want to publish some coffee table photography type books, and some children’s books. I mentioned the films and special make-up and effects, and I also love to teach. I want to keep doing that as well. I would also maybe like to start a school at some point, something I can bring all of my friends into. I also want to keep painting, building props, and maybe even open a studio. I’m not the type of person who sleeps in.

SJ: Does it break your heart to know that the works you’ve created are going to eventually be washed off in the shower?

14.jpgDF: It’s very interesting you asked that, and because of my background in contemporary art, I have become accustomed to that. When I was painting in school, they kind of taught that the clenching and the closeness of holding on to that art you’ve created really limits you, so sometimes I’d paint these amazingly detailed things, and then just turn the brush and scratch it out. It’s sort of a spiritual thing too, like, ‘I’ve done it, let it go. It is what it is, and done what it’s done.’As long as I’ve got the photographs, had fun doing it, and the people enjoyed it, that’s all I need. Usually, it’s the models that get upset about it.

Learn more at: www.thebodyofart.com

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