Body by Svec, 80/35
July 6-7, 2012
Painted Ladies and Gents of Body by Svec working the crowd on stage
July 5th, 2012
When I returned to the Des Moines area after 14 years away in Chicago and San Francisco, something had changed: the city had taken on a cosmopolitan character that it had not previously possessed. Entrepreneurialism was prevalent, fine cuisine was available in abundance, and live music could be enjoyed multiple nights of the week. It was at a gallery opening that I learned that my hometown now had its own body painter, Emily Svec, and knew that the art scene was also coming into its own.
The metro area has enjoyed numerous events featuring the Painted Ladies and Gents of Body by Svec. Last week I sat down with the talent behind the paint to chat about her passion and and her philosophy about beauty and the human form.
Alissa Sheldon: Body painting is such an unusual career to have. How did you get started on this path?
Emily Svec: I come from a very artistic family. My parents had this body paint book by Veruschka, who was a very well known model in the seventies, and I remember when I was about seven or eight, we talked a lot about yes, she was naked, but her body is a work of art. A light went on, and from that point on, I was always the little girl who would decorate her arms with gel pens. I also drew a lot - usually female figures like mermaids and fairies. My life has been an ongoing doodle.
My parents were very supportive of my art and gave me lots of training and classes. So when I went to college, I decided rather than study art, I would study communications. I felt like I knew how to create art, I needed to learn how to sell it.
I was always the artsy person in the dorm. I had tons of projects all over my walls and would paint my friends’ jeans for them. One night we were snowed in, and I was supposed to paint this girl’s pants, but instead I wound up painting her stomach: a flower with her hand blending into the design. Other girls started wandering in, and I painted them. We posted photos on MySpace which was all the rage at the time, and it blew up. I started getting contacted for shows.
The Inkblot Series, Photo by Robin Svec Photography. Hair by Amber Hathaway. Make-up by Lindsey Ritland. Model: Rachel Glaza. Art Director: Emily Svec
AS: So, Des Moines was ready for a body painter?
ES: Well, what’s cool about Des Moines is that I don’t think Des Moines knew it needed a body painter until I started doing it. So I’ve found all of these different avenues that body painting can take: maybe you want to get painted for your birthday. If you’re a band in town and want to get people talking, if you put painted ladies and gents on your stage, you’re going to get people talking.
There is still a very small market for it here. What market there is, I’ve had to create. I’ve tried to integrate this body art, this appreciation for the human figure, into such things as a brew fest. I love doing it. The outcome for me is so rewarding, it’s worth the challenge of trying to find a place for it.
AS: So, of all these outlets for your work - photography, live art, concerts, film, dance - which is your favorite?
ES: I love working a big event where we’re treated well, but I also love photography. The thrill and the adrenaline rush of doing something like 80/35, where you have six models and a limited amount of time to get them ready and out there, but you’re treated so well - they find you a space, put you in the VIP section - is fantastic. Being shown that kind of respect for my art form is really important to me. On the other hand, with a photo shoot I can take my own sweet time. We can hang out, there is no set allotted time, and people are really willing to go the extra mile to be a part of the art piece. I love the energy that comes from collaboration with other artists that is possible with a photography shoot.
AS: What’s involved in preparing for an event like 80/35?
ES: It started over two months ago, with trying to line up the models. Since it’s an annual event, I try to stagger my models who have done it before so it is a different mix each year. It can take weeks to put the roster together. Next I line up my assistants, crew, and body guards. I have six models to paint each day, so I really need the extra help. Then we start brainstorming and conceptualizing, bouncing things off my hair stylist and my makeup artist. Finally we get into the logistics: do we have water bottles and umbrellas for the models? Where will we work? At whose sets will we appear?
AS: Who are some of your favorite artists? Whom do you draw on for inspiration?
ES: Joanne Gair is a makeup artist/body painter whose stuff is totally wild and fantastic. She’s collaborated with Pamela Andersen, Demi Moore, Madonna, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, and more. I love Brian Froud’s art. His fairies and gnomes are beautiful. Locally, I am a big fan of BONES (Matt Welbourne), who has a show starting at The Eye next week. His work is so detailed and clever. It’s very intricate.
AS:You’ve had problems more than once with being censored by Facebook. Why do you think people have that reaction to your art?
ES: I feel that these are the same people who resist change, even if it’s for the better. They see something like my art, and they view it as improper. They don’t view it as an art form, they view it as obscene.
My models are totally comfortable in themselves - any part of them that they aren’t comfortable with, when they get painted and made up, with their hair done, all of a sudden they recognize themselves as the pieces of art that they are. I watch them transform. They become very elegant.
I don’t know how the people who report my photos view their own bodies, but I assume it is not in a positive light, and certainly not as an art form. I’ve been fighting for a very long time to try to reach out to those people, and I think that some people are just set in their beliefs. So I’ve kind of given up - I’m not disregarding them, I review my projects very sensitively before making them public - but I don’t put a lot of time into trying to change their minds anymore. There are a lot of people who love and appreciate my art. I’d like to focus my energy on them.
AS: What sorts of private commission projects have you been doing recently?
ES: Something I’m really excited about lately, I’m doing belly painting of pregnant women. I don’t plan on having my own children, so I feel this is my chance to lend something to this huge job of motherhood. I’ve never done the same thing twice - it’s very personalized. Sometimes the babies will move, and it is so beautiful. The paint we use is paraben free, organic, and hand painted so there’s no chance of inhaling anything. I’m a big believer in the idea that when a baby is in the womb, everything that the mother does affects the baby - whether it’s what she ingests, or what she listens too, or how she feels. And if she happens to feel beautiful and unique, then I think that can only be good.
Commissioned belly painting by Body by Svec
AS: What are your hopes for the future of Body by Svec?
ES: A lot of people in my family are entrepreneurs. It very much runs in our blood. It’s a difficult economy in which to make a living and live well with an independent business right now, but my ultimate hope is to travel, take the business on the road so that Body by Svec is known in other cities by name, and sustain myself with this business that I love. It’s a lofty goal, but with the amazing assistants, models, and collaborating artists I work with everyday, I think it can happen.