Body Paint Illusions Turn Models Into Animals

Body Paint Illusions Turn Models Into Animals
Arts & Culture

Artist Gesine Marwedel paints mammals and birds on contorted human canvases.

Francis Bea
  • 21 march 2013

25-year-old surrealistic and realistic German artist Gesine Marwedel has a gift for shape shifting human bodies into elaborate animals with her brushstrokes.

Paintings are commonly associated with canvas paintings, but thinking outside of the box Marwedel contributes to the revival of the ancient art of body painting called Henna. It just so happens that Henna art is growing more popular in contemporary times, particularly as tattoos.

Images of flamingos, swans, and dolphins are painted onto the bodies of Marwedel’s canvases, who are performance artists themselves. These living canvases contort their bodies to capture the shape and likeness of the animals that Marwedel has painted on them. Marwedel explains her theory of the body and its relationship to the animals she paints on them and writes,

Body painting is not just paint on a living canvas, it is picking up the body shapes in the subject and the painting on the body. It is the transformation of a human being into a breathing, moving, living work of art.


She uses body-safe paint to highlight the beauty of the human body, but she doesn’t completely hide the parts of the bodies that might distract viewers. For instance the canvas’ faces or other body parts may be painted white to match the color of the background for photography purposes, but these parts in most cases are clearly visible. This effort draws the eyes toward the animals depicted, but at the same time reminds viewers that a human being is acting out the part of the animal.

alexa meade painting

Marwedel isn’t the only youthful artist who has become a poster girl for body painting. 26 year-old painter Alexa Meade (above) has been internationally recognized for her acute ability to paint in a style that tricks eyes. Three dimensional bodies are painted on to look like two dimensional surrealist paintings that really aren’t paintings at all. Meade surprisingly hasn’t attended art school nor was she formally trained as a painter.

Likewise, Marwedel isn’t a painter by trade. Her exploration with body art began in India where she provided therapy for disabled and autistic children through speech and music and soon after encountered Henna art. Her college studies in fact have nothing to do with art. Professionally she’s a speech therapist in Dortmund, and graduated in 2008 from the University of Dortmund with a degree in Rehabilitation Education.

Marwedel’s body paintings have been shown everywhere from the Netherlands to Thailand, and her next stop will be in Bergen, Norway on March 23. Or fans can catch her at the World Body Painting Festival in July 2013.

Gesine Marwedel


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