Paint the body perfect

Body painting, burlesque dancing and the ultimate Tokyo party

Paint the body perfect

This weekend sees the latest in a series of art parties organised by expat artist, Ponzi, and occasional Time Out Tokyo photographer, Shane Wadleigh. If you're imagining smartly dressed rich folk supping champagne and flexing their wallets at expensive paintings, you're some way off. Over the last 11 years, Ponzi has made a name for himself using the bodies of female Tokyoites as his canvases, with both the process and results documented in vivid colour by Wadleigh. Together, they're currently hosting a collection of their work at the The Pink Cow in Shibuya, but they'll be live and unleashed on June 11, splashing paint over their latest and greatest muse, burlesque dancer Lady Nana. Time Out caught up with them earlier this week to discuss painting techniques, inhibition and, er, the fall of Rome.

How do you get into something like body painting? Do you just approach someone sexy and say, 'Hey, I've got an idea…'?
Shane: A friend and I met Lady Nana and our first model at The Pink Cow, and we just asked them, 'How do you feel about an artist painting you?'
Ponzi: When I met Nana, she seemed like a decent chick, and the first painting we did seemed to get people's interest. It goes really well with rock'n'roll parties. People seem to dig it, although painting a canvas is obviously a lot more lucrative.

Is what you paint onto someone's body similar to what you put onto canvas?
P: It's different in as much as I can erase on a body, but I can't work in as many textures as I can on canvas. It's pretty limited in that way. But I still paint representatively. I don't do full on abstraction. I think that's kind of a cop out.

When you go into a session, do you have ideas for what you plan to do beforehand?
P: Generally. As far as the body painting goes, she is moving around so I'm not going to get precision. I just try to make it look cool. I'll have the main idea and then I'll let it blossom from that. I don't plan the whole body, because I don't know what she'll be wearing or what she'll take off. I once painted a canvas and made it into a helmet. She'd spent an hour doing her hair, and I put this helmet on her head. Shane thought she seemed a bit displeased with that.
S: I wouldn't say displeased. What she said wouldn't be appropriate here…

Is there a limit to what you're allowed to do when you paint somebody? Does she set rules?
S: It depends how lucky you get with the model.
P: Yeah. Our first model was a bit more reserved, but Lady Nana is, er, really giving to the audience [laughs].
S: I don't think any kind of limit really exists with Nana.
P: I'd definitely give her a plug for craziness!
S: To be fair, the other girl wasn't really a professional model, whereas Lady Nana is a professional burlesque dancer. She's kind of…used to it.

It seems like an interesting format, like having a canvas that wants to have some input, too. Or is she completely passive in that respect?
P: I'll ask her to do a pose and she'll do it, but the minute I step away, it's like she's uncaged. She'll do her own thing.

Is 'her own thing' based on her burlesque background? What is it that she does exactly?
P: I'm trying to pinpoint that, too, because she doesn't really do the full on burlesque dance at our shows – she's standing still, getting painted. But then she writhes around like a wild baboon! She does this amazing thing with a fan…

What are you hoping to do with the event this weekend?
P: I want it to be like a circus…out of control...really entertain people. Something really over the top.

What do you class as over the top?
P: Just really rowdy. Not drunk, necessarily, but really into it. Like the fall of Rome, or as close as we can get!

The body painting party takes place at The Pink Cow, Shibuya, June 11, 8.30pm until very late. For a taste of things to come, see Shane's gallery, or take a look at his website

Interview by Jon Wilks
Photo by Shane Wadleigh
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.



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