Looking at these bright and bold images, you could be forgiven for thinking some mysterious new species has been discovered or that aliens have finally touched down on Earth. After all, these colorful creatures certainly look like they’re out of this world.
Mind you, we’re talking in the extraordinary, and not the planetary, sense here. Because, despite appearances, there are most definitely humans hiding behind these amazingly intricate costumes. Welcome, then, to the wacky and wonderful world of body painting.
Of course, body painting with clay and other pigments has long been associated with tribal cultures and indigenous populations. Within modern Western society, though, the practice first rose to attention in the art world during the 1960s. Since then, this highly specialized art form has grown in popularity.
And nowhere is this highly skilled craft celebrated more than at the World Bodypainting Festival, which is where all these decorated models you see before you were. In fact, the 2016 event attracted no less than 300 artists from 45 countries.
Taking place over the course of three days in July, the fascinating festival is the perfect showcase for body painting. Indeed, visitors have the chance to indulge their artistic talents, check out exhibitions and enjoy a party or three in an Alpine oasis. After all, it takes place on the banks of southern Austria’s beautiful Lake Wörthersee.
But the event isn’t just for artistic professionals. No, thousands of people from around the globe attend to check out the wicked designs and electric atmosphere. In 2016, for instance, those intrigued by body painting could find out how it’s done at various workshops and showcases.
Body-painting virgins could also have the brushes turned on themselves, with a marketplace offering designs and temporary airbrush tattoos. And, of course, kids love to get messy too, so there was a special area for children to get creative.
But there’s more to the event than visual art. After all, this is a festival, so music plays an integral part in proceedings. The 2016 event was even named “Bodies & Beats,” leaving attendees in no doubt about the importance of the musical element. In fact, visitors were treated to a diverse line-up of around 50 local and international bands across four different stages as well as DJ sets.
Reggae, trance, house, jazz, indie… pretty much every taste is catered for at the festival. And after partying the night away, what better way to recharge the next day with some delicious street food and a swim in the lake? Or even, perhaps, a spot of yoga?
However, it isn’t all about hedonism at the festival. In fact, the event offers the chance for artists to have their work recognized globally – in the shape of a contest. With ten different awards up for grabs and top body decorators from around the world descending on the festival, the competition is just as fierce as the looks that the models often display.
The creators of the living works of art are judged in five main categories for the World Awards section. These are brush/sponge body painting, airbrush body painting, special effects body painting, face painting and ultraviolet effects. There are also a few awards to battle it out for in the Amateur section.
The competition is hotly contested by around 30 to 40 contestants in each category. The prize on offer is a coveted body-painting statue in either bronze, silver or gold.
Of course, the real reward is not the statue but the recognition of the winner’s artistry by their peers. Indeed, well-deserving winners of a World Bodypainting Festival award can use the kudos attached to it to help build their names in the industry and further their careers.
And, in fact, more and more people seem to be making a living through this art form. For example, body painters can find employment within theater, special-effects departments, on the festival circuit and at private parties. Some even make extra money by posting videos of their human works of art on YouTube.
In fact, the art form now even boasts its own reality show – Skin Wars. In each episode artists must complete a different body-painting challenge before being judged. Eliminated contestants are then sent home and told, “It’s time to wash off your canvas.” The Game Show Network series also spawned a spin-off, Fresh Paint, hosted by drag legend RuPaul.
Meanwhile, 2017 will see the World Bodypainting Festival celebrate its 20th year. And what began in 1998 as a local event has now turned into a global phenomenon.
Interestingly, the organizers originally devised the event to attract holiday-makers to the skiing region during the summer. Since then, the festival – the first of its kind anywhere – has grown steadily in popularity and now attracts thousands.
The spectacular Body Circus, which features on the program, does the event’s pulling power no harm either. Taking place at Schloss Leonstain, a chateau dating back to 1492, this bizarre ball is one of the weekend’s highlights. Revelers dance the night away in the company of burlesque dancers, fire-breathers and – of course – painted party people.
Perhaps what’s most special about the World Bodypainting Festival, though, is simply how it showcases the desire people have to come together and celebrate the joy of art and creativity. Yes, participants from many different countries, religions and backgrounds converge here and develop a real sense of community.
And although 2016’s attendees have long since washed their painted bodies clean, the organizers are currently gearing up for next year’s 20-year jubilee event. We’ve got the feeling they’re going to be planning something magical.