[Herald Interview] Body painter Emma Hack creates illusion in camouflage body art

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Aug 11, 2016 - 16:49
  • Updated : Aug 11, 2016 - 16:57

Australian artist Emma Hack paints on a model’s body until it perfectly aligns with the intricate, colorful patterns of the wallpaper behind the model.

In other work, she perfectly adjusts the contours of her models to match the detailed patterns of flowers and animals.

The artist’s work -- captured in photographs -- have been exhibited in major cities around the world, including New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. She is holding her first solo exhibition in Korea at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul until Oct. 30.

Hack rose to international fame in 2011, when she collaborated with Belgian musician Gotye on his music video “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The music video, which has amassed more than 803 million views, features Gotye body-painted by Hack to match the color block patterns of the background wall. 

“Vreeland's Cockatoo - Birds of a Feather” by Emma Hack (Savina Museum of Contemporary Art)

For the opening of her Seoul show, Hack conducted a seven-hour live performance during which she recreated a lotus painting by the 18th century Korean painter Kim Hong-do with a Korean contemporary dancer on July 22 at the museum.

“The painting I created with artist Kim Hong-do was an honor to recreate. The result was beautiful and my model was perfect as the lotus,” the artist said in an email interview.

Former makeup artist Hack took her makeup skills to a new level when she won a body painting championship in 2001. Inspired by a German model and artist called Veruschka, who depicted herself body-painted against a series of rustic wall settings, Hack began painting on bodies based on wallpaper designs by the late Australian interior designer Florence Broadhurst.

“I love the oriental and Australian designs of Florence Broadhurst. I feel connected to this style of painting and find oriental mythology very interesting. I have traveled throughout Asia and love the motifs and designs,” said Hack.

The Savina exhibition features a total of 49 photographs by Hack that represent major series by the artist from 2005 to 2010. In the “Wallpaper” series from 2005, Hack made her models stand out visually by leaving a few parts of their bodies unpainted, which had the effect of resembling fashion photos. She began to hide her models by completely blending them into the wallpaper backdrops in the following series. 

Emma Hack draws on a model during a live performance that recreates a painting by the 18th-century genre painter Kim Hong-do on July 22 at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art. (Savina Museum of Contemporary Art)

In her “Birds of a Feather” series, the contours of her models are difficult to make out against the strong, bright flower-patterned backdrops. Upon closer inspection, the models can be seen holding exotic birds such as peacocks, cockatoos and crows.

Hack frequently features birds in her series as an environmental statement that emphasizes harmony between life and nature. In her 2009 “Native Mandala” series, she featured Australia’s best-known animals, such as kangaroos, lizards and cockatoos, held by her models who are perfectly blended into the wallpaper.

Looking at the final images, it’s hard to estimate how many hours have been put into the body camouflage painting they depict. But the work process is very labor-intensive, and requires the artist and the models to stand from eight to 15 hours. It takes a lot of patience for a model to stand still for many hours while the artist applies paint with brushes and checks to see that each brushstroke matches the wallpaper through the camera lens. 

“Oriental Bouquet Cradled Finch - Utopia” by Emma Hack (Savina Museum of Contemporary Art)

“Fatigue from the models as well as myself and working with animals and birds always offers a challenge. I do enjoy challenging myself though, it’s important for growth as an artist,” she said.

Hack prefers to work with models she has worked with before, as they know what to expect from the long creative process. She has a few models in Australia she works with regularly.

“The first few hours pass then we break and chat. It helps to know the girls well. It’s a good catchup and they are keen to do a great job for me, so it’s never a boring time!” she said.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)