I went to NYC Bodypaint Day with the obliged sense of a dutiful fan but I came away with a sense of a movement and its importance.
NYCBPD began in 2014 when artist Andy Golub organized 25 likeminded artists who painted more than 50 models in the Columbus Circle corner of Central Park. This was followed by a raucous parade to Times Square then a bus ride around the city then a party. This year it was bigger but more tightly organized. There were 50 artists and 100 models, but the painting took place in a controlled area near the U.N. There was a brief march to the U.N., where after some photo ops, they models and painters boarded a bus for a tour of the city where they were photographed around various NYC landmarks. It felt less like a party and more like an event.
I became a big fan of Golub’s in 2012 work when I saw photographs of his painting of Randi Robinson in Times Square. I fell in love with the photo of her atop a taxicab, looking far less like cheesecake than like a wild primal beast, who no longer acknowledged routine propriety. It was then I realized that in Golub I had an ally in my conception of nudity (even though it should be acknowledged that Robinson was wearing a thong in those photos). I’m a big believer that we need to lose the reflexive association between nudity and sex. First of all, for me, being nude is far more likely to be a prelude to taking a shower than it is prelude to sexual intercourse, and I suspect that I’m like most people in that regard. Secondly if we lose the reflex that binds nudity to intercourse then a much richer and realistic set of interpretations become available. For me, it’s a route to a more primal and responsive state that particularly when outdoors makes us far more receptive to nature and the world around us. And, it is a triumph over inhibition and self doubt, something that should be practiced and celebrated, not shunned and shamed. In the photos and some writing associated with Golub, I began to sense that he shared at least the first part of my point of view.
In 2013 I attended three of Golub’s events, each giving me a greater admiration of his art and the poise of his models. In the first, Dylan Spellman Hall, an artist who frequently models for Golub, was painted near The Highline and I was as mesmerized by her ability to withstand the scrutiny and keep her boyfriend engaged as I was by the intricate design of Golub’s work. I felt similarly about a model named Lilith who showcased extraordinary athleticism in a painting event in front of the Guggenheim Museum a few days later. I was particularly impressed by how involved she became in the process, evaluating angles against the Frank Lloyd Wright structure, and I loved that upon completing the photography, she simply gathered her belongings and piled into Golub’s car for the ride home. In other words her nudity wasn’t part of a job, but part of who she was that day. The third event was a precursor for the Bodypaint days. Golub painted more than a dozen models across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater (yes, the Letterman show was being filmed inside). Afterward, the models paraded to Times Square for more photography.
For these Bodypaint Days (and NYC is only the beginning, there will be one next month in Amsterdam), Golub partnered with Young Naturists and Nudists, who helped craft the messages that countered conventional body shaming tactics that are somewhat reinforced by the TV body paint shows, Naked Vegas and Skin Wars. Instead, in 2014, there was a banner that read “All Bodies are Good Bodies.” I think this year’s banner read “All Bodies are Works of Art,” and as was the case last year, the models were a diverse group in nearly every way, body type, age, gender, and probably several others.
I simply sat outside the paint compound, taking in the cathartic energy from the painting, but two things made me realize the importance of Golub’s work. For one, a friend texted me and when he found out I was at Bodypaint Day, he asked if the eye candy was good. For another a group, two men and a woman, passed by where I was sitting after spending an hour or so taking in the paintings in progress. As they walked one of the guys walked up behind his female companion and tried to pull her dress up. It left me wanting to lecture my friend and the guy. If a woman is naked in public or in a dress or in shorts, running shoes and a t shirt, or in a police woman’s uniform, or whatever, she deserves the same level of respect, the utmost. I don’t grasp the sense of male entitlement to female bodies, but I do grasp that recontextualizing how we view the body is an increasingly urgent bit of cultural work. And with each new event, Andy Golub, YN&N and his allies have rolled up their sleeves to do projects of great significance.