With eight brushes in her left hand and one in her right, Lynn Hetherington Becker went to work on her canvas.
Shortly after starting, she asked her “canvas” to move a bit closer. Then, she wondered aloud if the temperature in the room was OK. Could she pluck a hair?
On that recent Sunday, Gwen AP (that’s her artist name) was Becker’s canvas.
As Becker coated Gwen’s abdomen in turquoise and cobalt blues and swirled around her breasts in a beautiful metallic gold, the two women chatted about motherhood, fashion and their lives as artists.
“I always start with the torso,” said Becker, circling her model’s navel with her brush. “I want to give you liberty with your arms and legs as long as possible.”
Soon, Gwen AP would be covered head to toe in colorful body paint as Becker, inspired by an intricate Indian mandala-like design, transformed her into something magical in the middle of Becker’s living room in Dublin.
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Just an hour into what would be roughly an eight-hour process, which also involved a wig installation, costume pieces and a photo shoot with a local photographer, Gwen AP could already sense Becker’s extraordinary talent.
“I can feel how symmetrical you are — it’s insane,” Gwen AP said. “It’s so smooth.”
‘Freak Show: Delightfully Twisted Body Art’ on display
The photos of the woman covered in bright paint will be part of Becker’s first solo art exhibition titled “Freak Show: Delightfully Twisted Body Art,” which opened Friday at the Vanderelli Room in Franklinton.
Dozens of photographs of her body paint, which she’s worked on since January 2021, are on display.
Becker isn’t your typical artist and not just because of her unique chosen medium.
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Business by day, art by night
A 44-year-old suburban single mother of three children, including an adult daughter and two teenage sons, Becker runs a small daycare out of her home five days a week.
At nights and on the weekends, Becker creates her art, whether that be making costumes (she won the grand prize at HighBall Halloween) or drawing on bare chests, legs and other areas of models.
“Most people are naked,” Becker said about her models from the show, who range in age from early 20s to 50s. And though most are cisgender women, they also include one man and one transgender woman. “I don’t even see it any more, I’ve painted so many naked bodies.”
For her, though, flesh is an ideal place to showcase her artistic talents.
“I really think it’s fun and exciting and challenging to draw on a moving canvas with contours and each person is different,” she said. “They move, sneeze, breathe, have to go to the bathroom and it’s ephemeral — temporary — which is bittersweet, as it won’t be there long.”
Though she’d always created art, especially using acrylic paints, since she was a child, she didn’t start her journey into body painting until 2014, when she was looking for some additional income after her divorce.
This led her to face painting at events — a business that took off. Then, she transitioned to henna and finally, to full body paint.
Over time, she had a few paintings exhibited in group shows, but she made it a goal to have her own show.
And she wanted the event to highlight her body painting and give the medium a platform.
“Body painting is not really recognized as an art form here,” Becker said. “Sure, some people do it for Halloween, but in other parts of the country, it is a real form of art and not just during certain times of the year.”
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AJ Vanderelli is thrilled to be highlighting this different medium in her gallery during the month of April.
“I like how she expresses herself through body paint,” Vanderelli said. “It’s a form of expression and even though some would not consider it fine art, I believe it is.”
The opening reception will be immersive and offer some “pizazz,” Vanderelli said.
Lex Neuenschwander, 31, will be in some of the photographs for the show. She was painted twice by Becker and modeled one of Becker’s HighBall winning pieces, which will also be on display throughout “Freak Show.”
Seeing herself painted as a robot and a neon-pink cheetah with spots all over her was beyond what Neuenschwander ever expected.
“I’m in awe of how realistic she’s able to make things,” Neuenschwander said. “With body paint, it can be cartoony or you can definitely tell there’s paint on the body, but hers makes you do a double-take.”
Becker said it took her a while to figure out how to work with body paint because it’s very different than the fast-drying acrylics she uses when painting a wall, canvas or other inanimate object.
Body paint has to go on wet, she continued, and has to be able to be removed easily using water.
“It’s a different consistency,” Becker said. “If it’s too runny, it dribbles. If it’s too dry, you can’t get it on. And the shading is different.”
Plus, she often has to take body types and skin color — she always tries to use a diverse group of models — into consideration for designs.
Neuenschwander said that Becker nailed the robot character she painted her as. The model felt fierce and like a character straight out of a Marvel movie.
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The whole experience, she continued, was moving.
“It’s the most intimate thing — being this intimate with an artist and intimate with yourself,” Neuenschwander said. “You’re a walking canvas for someone. You can be someone completely different for a while.”
That’s one of the biggest appeals for Becker: the bond she creates with those she paints and how she can empower people, especially women, through body paint.
“It’s always really special for anyone I’m painting,” Becker said. “It makes me really happy to see them happy.”