5 Artists That Use The Human Body As Their Canvas To Push The Limits Of Reality

“What I do in my art is I skip the canvas altogether and if I want to paint your portrait, I’m painting it on you. Physically on you.”

Need a little awe-inspiring pick-me-up? 

The emotional connection to art gets taken to a whole new level with these artists who have mastered body painting to create illusions that pique curiosity. 

By using the human form as a canvas to complement beautiful landscapes, wallpaper, and even as a way to counter ailments, this group of artists understands how to make viewers feel more than simply seeing.

1. Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade's fantastical pieces are sure to turn heads and stun onlookers with her uncanny ability to flawlessly camouflage human subjects into the surrounding scenes. By painting directly onto their skin, the 30-year-old Washington, D.C.-based artist makes her models appear two-dimensional when photographed. 

"What I do in my art is I skip the canvas altogether and if I want to paint your portrait, I'm painting it on you. Physically on you," Meade said during her 2013 TED Talk "Your Body Is My Canvas." 

She added, "… and in this way, I'm able to take a three-dimensional scene and make it look like a two-dimensional painting," which she shows in collaborations with fashion brands such as Desigual.   

2. Hikaru Cho

Lucky for us, Hikaru Cho ran out of paper.

"I wanted to paint something at home but I ran out of paper and was too lazy to go get it," the body painter and designer previously told A Plus. "So I drew on my hand." 

But it's no run-of-the-mill stick figure drawn on skin with a pencil. Cho creates illusions that are both fascinating and disturbing.

After finding satisfaction in drawing on skin as opposed to paper, the Japanese artist ditched the traditional canvas for the human body. The process only takes three to five hours to complete, but the impression left behind could last a lifetime. 

It's been nearly five years since Cho first put pencil to skin, and she continues to leave viewers stunned by playing tricks on their minds.

3. Emma Hack

The beauty in this realm of artistic expression is not easily or immediately captured. It takes time and the most delicate attention to detail in order to arrive at the illusion perfectly. 

Emma Hack, like Meade, also paints directly onto her subjects while also painting on a canvas and utilizing studio-based photography. After nearly 40 hours of work, what transpires is a stunning experience that takes viewers to a dreamlike state. It's really quite amazing how Hack is able to perfectly align the model's body with the colorful patterns of the wallpaper behind them as seen in Collage, the collection she recently showcased at the Stirling Arts Festival.

"I've always loved the fantasy side of makeup and the illusion you can create," the Australian artist explained in a video on her website. "I wanted to escape the confines of the body shape, and that's why I left a bit of the body exposed." 

Hack credits 1960s German model-actress-artist Vera Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort, better known as Veruschka, as inspiration for her body art work.

4. Brad Lawrence

After being diagnosed with chronic tendonitis, which prevented him from drawing or sculpting, artist Brad Lawrence found a new path to his creative expression. No ailment was going to stop him from doing what he loves, so Lawrence created BLVisuals (Black Light Visuals) as a way to turn his work into art therapy for himself and others. 

By utilizing hydrodynamics (or the branch of science concerned with forces acting on or exerted by fluids), Lawrence is able to transform skin and apparel into glowing works of art. 

"We soak our arms in salt water, which helps to lock in the paint upon contact without permanence, so once we dip our arms into the painting on the surface of the water, we are left with a painting that washes off easily with soap and water, while still allowing the pores of our skin to breathe," BLVisuals told A Plus in a previous interview. 

In 2013, Lawrence debut the Arm Dip Body Marbling at the Electric Forest Festival along with his good friend and the one who motivated him to start the project, Purple Heart Marine Michael Zach. Now, the pair travels all over the world sharing their artistic journey to rehabilitation. 

5. Natalie Fletcher

A need to breathe some fresh air out of the confines of her studio inspired Natalie Fletcher to take her artistic eye to nature. 

"I was a canvas painter who got bored with being in my studio by myself," she previously told A Plus. 

The result? Fletcher seamlessly incorporates the human body into her landscape art. 

Her journey kicked off with a cross-country road trip where she found locals to paint in their surroundings, and the outcome is beyond amazing.