Embodiment - An orgasm of the human spirit

Published: 04 September, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 184, April, 2010

I'm sweating, everywhere. Have I smeared my makeup? Will the crowds notice my slightly uncontrollable nervous shaking? Or can I pull it together in time to knock their fucking socks off? 'Cause it's go time.

And this whole freak-out thing needs to stop. And I can't tell if my knees are trembling from the eight hours of standing still as a canvas, or if it's the five-inch platform heels I reluctantly pulled out of storage. Or the adrenaline. I do love adrenaline. 'Cause it's all here. And you should see these gorgeous specimens I'm surrounded by – some of them completely covered in body paint. If I weren't trying to be conscious of my lipstick, I'd probably be drooling too. It's damn hot in this kitchen. And they're screaming out there. Hundreds of them. The music is so immensely loud that it's drowning out the thumping in my chest. I'm trying, believe me; but for the sake of shit I cannot remember the last time I've been this nervous. Tonight, I model. I embody. I immerse myself in this madness.

They call this Embodiment. It's a four-week event in sleepy San Luis Obispo, California, that celebrates the human form as a canvas. Art that talks back. Art that breathes, dances, entertains, and seduces. To us tattooed folks, the concept of art interacting with skin isn't really bizarre at all, but the naked ones are really grabbing hold of this, and taking it to a whole new level. Inner exhibitionists are massaged into existence. Men and women from all walks of life strut the runways, covered head to toe with paint. And the whole thing is undeniably sexual, alluring, and brave.

“I do think there's a certain sexual tension that develops between some of the artists and their models. There's definitely a level of arousal involved...” commented Sean Faries, event creator and owner of Native, the night club where these fantastic orgasmic events have taken place on Thursday nights over the past four weeks. But is that the reason for the event? The sexual tension? Obviously not. It's more like a mostly fortunate side effect. Sean wanted to come up with a series of artistically bound big events that would unite and excite the local art community. And apparently Sean Faries doesn't fuck around. Because Embodiment rocked - and it rocked hard.

Crazy is as crazy does, and although I've never had any idea what the hell that means, it seems appropriate here. Why? Well, the week before this all began, the potential in this event became evident to me, and before I had processed any thoughts about it at all, I blurted out something to the effect of, “hey guys, sign me up!” “For all of it!” Uhh.... wait. Wait just a second... what just happened? Do I really want to prance around in front of hundreds of people, in my underwear? Uhh. Shit. Yeah, I guess I do. Luckily the underwear prancing was saved for the finale... so I had a full three weeks to mentally prepare for the meltdown. But I'm still not convinced that any amount of time would have helped, and I'm also not sure that one could technically call it a meltdown. I too have an exhibitionist inside of me, believe it or not, and she's quite sassy, and it's true that I do like to “dive right in” to my work, but holy shit – these models have balls. Big freaking balls. (For most of them I'm speaking hypothetically, of course) But really folks, this modelling stuff isn't easy.

If the energy in these Embodiment events could be bottled, we'd have ourselves an instant global sensation. Every single person I talked to was thrilled to be there – and you could feel it. And with Embodiment in only its second season of existence, Sean should be quite proud of this beautiful baby he's created. Local artists, local models, salons and other businesses, working together... a real sense of community was inherent in the events. Some of the artists painted at every one of the four shows, so I snagged one of them and asked him what it was about the event that made it so special. Charlie Clingman, co-owner of Forever Stoked, who, by the way, worked his ass off at all of these shows, said; “I think it's the combination of interesting things. Artwork is interesting on its own. And bodies are interesting. And especially on beautiful bodies. When you combine the two you get something much greater than the parts. Then you add the music and the show, and everything really comes alive. It's a transformation!”

A transformation, every Thursday night, for four weeks in a row. This is what my heaven will look like. Each week had a theme – first was Urban. Think bricks, and graffiti, and yummy loads of grungy goodness. Local artist Jeff Claassen told me a bit about his style and the process in general... “I like the element of the unexpected. Drips and smears are not mistakes – you just turn them into something else. There shouldn't be any rules in art, so why use a pencil first?” Then Week Two: Surf. We are in California after all. Surf Artist Charlie Clingman has a process entirely different than Jeff's. His work is meticulous, pre-planned and sketched out. “Each final piece was made up of a bunch of little paintings connected together. It was really challenging to come up with a good composition. It was all little compositions inside a big composition. And the body as a canvas was like many cylinders... it was fun and challenging.” Week Three was student night. And then the finale, sporting an enchanting theme of Black Magic. And every week the crowds came back for more. An avid show-goer described the experience to me as feeling almost like chapters in a story. Or like a drug. Always. Wanting. More.

So how did Sean pull off an event like this in a sleepy coastal town? (And can I say secretly, a town that can sometimes be kinda conservative). “This event has really gained momentum here locally in the arts. And the growth in the artistic tattoo community worldwide really paved the way and opened a door to even allow us to pull off an event like this. It seems that within the last decade, the growing acceptance of tattoos into mainstream society has made people more open to events like this.”

Let's talk some more technique. We have paint. And bodies. We have all day. And not a tattoo machine in sight. Is it more or less difficult to paint a human than it is to tattoo a human? I asked Jason Youth, a tattoo artist from Tried N' True in Arroyo Grande, California. He participated in the Urban night. “I think it's harder in a way because there's no stencil. But then again, the totally different style and the impermanence of it makes it easier.”

Harder? Really? Wow. Easier? Both? So of course I had to know. I grabbed my brushes and geared up for that whole “immersion journalism” thing that I do. Problem is, although I can ever so slightly call myself a painter, I am definitely NOT a tattoo artist. So, I guess this little experiment is a bit shit, really. I don't have the perspective Jason does, so I think we'll have to trust him. What I can tell you is that painting on a living canvas is a bizarre and magical experience. My brushstrokes caused goosebumps. Inner thighs twitched. Nervous giggles. Laughter. And soon those brushstrokes had formed a bond – not only between my model, and myself but also amongst everyone in the room. I smiled at my canvas. And my canvas smiled back. As an artist, I felt whole. Alive. Fulfilled. We all painted for nine hours straight in a brilliantly blurry marathon of a day. I'm guessing maybe the sensation I was feeling is similar to a successful day of tattooing. Only, tonight, my work would be gone – flushed down the shower drain in a forgotten little rainbow. But I digress... The people came out in huge numbers for the show – again – Surf night. Excitement. Lights. Music. Butterflies battling goosebumps in my tummy as my models walked the runway. I was proud. They were jellyfish. And in what seemed to be an instant, it was all over. By the time I hugged my models after the show, the paint had already started flaking off. Impermanence strikes again.

There's an interesting dynamic going on here with that impermanence. It seems to be working like a magnet. Jeff Claassen, who, like Charlie, painted every week, was attracted to the show for a lot of reasons. “Other than the beautiful ladies? (he chuckles) Well, the coming-together of local artists, the exposure, the networking, and the challenge and opportunity to paint on people. I like graffiti art, its anonymity, and temporary nature. One has to come to the show to enjoy it, and I really like that.”

And enjoy it they did. Jaws were dropping right and left. Drinks flying off the bar. And the place sold out. “We went from begging people to participate in last year's show... to the point where we are now placing them on a waiting list,” said Sean, “there's value in this event for everyone. That circle of value is key. And this event could not have happened if it weren't for some of the tattoo artists that participated in the first season. The very first Embodiment last year was all tattoo artists. We figured they had the most experience with the human body. And many artists are intimidated painting on the human form. It was difficult to convince people in the beginning that this was art.” What began as an event that only tattoo artists would take on has now grown to include artists from a plethora of disciplines – surf artists, folks from the liberal arts, urban and deconstruction artists, and even some high-end portrait artists. “We kept an open mind,” said Sean, “People surprise you. And when they are challenged, they really rise to the occasion.”

Participating artists included Jeff Claassen, Charlie Clingman and Chris Pederson of Forever Stoked, Joshua Jesse, Eric Soderquist, Tiffany Fabricius, Neal Breton, Jay Castro, Perter Antonio, Jason Youth, Brian Christopher, April Worley, Peter Ryan Worley, and so many others that the list would go on and on and exhaust you to eternity.

So who's running the show, anyway? 'Cause this show is running damn smooth. And after participating from every angle possible (except for maybe mixing drinks at the bar, which no one wants me doing) I am duly impressed. Model castings on Mondays. Shows on Thursdays. Upwards of thirty artists and forty models in the finale alone. 10 o'clock paint start time. Lunch and dinner provided. Live DJs. Packed house. Smooth as a cucumber. No pun intended. (I think). Anyhow – give it up to Natalie Magana, executive producer extraordinaire, Brandie Coffman and her incomparable model-wrangling skills, Johnny Kenny and his stealth-bomber artist-recruitment, and Tyrone Galgano, master of logistics. According to Sean, this is the A-team, “one of the best teams I've ever had the opportunity to work with.” And 1800 Tequila – the event's major sponsor – provided extra incentive to the artists by opening up a competition for a new custom bottle design for their “Essential Artists Series” - using one photo, of one piece of body art, from the Finale Show.

Yeah. Okay. I know. There's a lot of thanking going on. But this community is tight – everyone says so. And this show worked because of it. Energy was flying off the walls, and all over everyone. It was unavoidable. Each show was like a massive orgasm after nine hours of torturous foreplay. Each piece, an integral part of a beautiful puzzle. And at the core of it all... beautiful bodies... as canvases. There are few things in life that bring me more joy.

This whole experience is one not to be forgotten. It's infecting people, like a virus. “It's something to add to my book of life”, said Jarred, who modelled at the finale. And the lovely Gabrielle explained, “The energy is contagious. It's a unique experience of the union of art and the human body.”

So do we give Embodiment a big freaking thumbs up? You bet we do. If you'd like to stay up to date with future shows, you can find Sean Faries and his A-team at www.NativeLounge.com

Peace, Love, and Body Art.


Text & Images: Brittany App, AppsPhotography.com