Body art has always fascinated me — the idea of using human skin as a canvas. Unlike painting on a canvas, body art provides a unique experience for both the painter and the subject. The history of body art is rich and dates back to indigenous tribes, who painted their bodies to portray their spiritual beliefs or in a ritualistic fashion. Today, the art form has evolved with many contemporary visual artists picking up this art form. One of the most interesting aspects of it is the post-painting transformation of the subject’s body, where they become a living-breathing painting. They also become the subjects of stunning photographs.
The artist that we are going to be looking at today is unique because he is not only a visual artist but also a sitar player. In a candid interview with Homegrown, he shares how his instrument was a big influence going into body art, details about his current art project, his artistic journey, and his inspirations:
Tell us about your project.
It is part of a larger ongoing project that involves body painting from a queer perspective that has been running for the past 7 years. This particular project delves into the idea of 'sin' and 'penance', exploring the grey areas between what is considered moral and immoral, about things that we can seek forgiveness for, on how religion as an entire entity influences societal norms and behaviors and how religion in itself is a living and breathing figure. The priest or 'father' in this context symbolizes all that limits and contains us and our behavior, and the idea of seeking forgiveness is indicative of the immortal temptation that resides in all of us, momentarily suspending moral restraint in favor of gratification. The writing that accompanies the project is reflective of the documentary nature of my body painting work as a whole, taking a neutral stance that lets viewers and readers decide what they want to take away from the work instead of taking a heavily biased stand towards either light or dark themes.
What are some things you learned while putting this project together?
A project can focus on extremely esoteric concepts and still connect with a larger audience- it is how you package the project that decides how it will be perceived by a mass of people, as opposed to engineering something for the masses from the ground up. This learning stands in stark contrast to what the current social media landscape demands from artists, urging them to be content creators instead of artists.
What is a project you wish you were a part of?
Anything done by the Irregulars Alliance.
Describe your creative process and the purpose with which you create.
Each project has its own particular process, but as a wireframe, once a subject approaches and is comfortable with the idea of being painted on, I talk to them at length about them, learning as much as I can about who they are as a person. This conversation in itself becomes the work of art on them, their subconscious guiding and interacting with my subconscious to produce a work of art that is unique to them. I don't believe in setting a mood board for the shoot, nor is a concept or painting ever locked in before meeting the person as all work that is already in my head can be executed on inanimate material rather than a person. There is zero use of focused lighting, makeup, and vanity editing in my images. The body art is documented rather than creatively captured.
Who are some of your biggest influences as an artist?
Artists like Edmund Thomas Clint who created huge bodies of work, being able to put aside everything to devote their lives to art, Hindustani classical music maestros such as Ustaad Ali Akbar Khan who achieved immense purity in their art and made sure it will last forever, and my mentor, artist Shobha Broota who showed me how to be an artist, have all been my biggest inspirations across my career.
How did you begin your creative journey?
My tryst with sitar and the tutelage under my guru, Pandit Madan Shankar Mishra, who imparted to me the pure and ancient knowledge of Indian classical music has heavily influenced my art in recent years. Finding a flow in things and drawing from it has helped in broadening my horizons as an artist. Body painting in itself has helped me tremendously, as artists tend to hold their work too close to the heart and resist change in a way. With body painting you learn to let go of your art, each painting being inevitably removed at the end of the project, no matter how much sense it makes.
Who are some artists who are currently on your radar?
Pep Carrio (for the brilliant amalgamation of space, composition, and subject matter in their illustrations), Tarini Sethi (for the balance of entrepreneurial spirit and artistic expression), and Shailee Mehta (incredibly clear thought process when it comes to executing her ideas in the form of paintings).
You can find out more about Aditya Verma and his art here.