A few weeks ago, I planned to stop by Industria Superstudio on my way home from ODD. New York to check out MAC’s Pro-to-Pro event (produced by MAO PR), but what I walked in to kept me there until the very end: Naked models painted from head-to-toe in a variety of bold colors and geometric patterns, ranging from art-deco to art-noveau.
While having a minor meltdown of excitement over the display, I met Michelle Clark, one of the artists responsible. The New York based Senior Artist has a resume that reads like an issue of Rolling Stone: Elle King, Steven Tyler, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Iris Apfel have all come under her brush, as have models for Kenzo, Moschino and Vivienne Westwood.
Despite her busy schedule that includes keeping up with her aforementioned clients and traveling around the globe with the MAC Pro-to-Pro exhibit, Michelle was kind enough to keep in touch to reveal her history as a makeup artist and just how in-depth the body-painting process was:
Where are you from, what drove you to your profession and what do you love about it?
I’m from Massachusetts, Cape Cod to be exact, and I moved to NY because it’s the land of dreams!! Haha. I admired my grandmother who never left the house without red lipstick, brows and blush. I have always loved creating art, painting, drawing and sewing, so I combined the two and became a makeup artist. Painting faces.
What does your typical week on the job look like?
I would say I travel 40-50% of my year, I getting really used to flying all the time. I think of planes as buses, and yes I’m working on getting Platinum Status. It makes air travel so much better!
The best part about my job is that every day is different, and I LOVE that!! I enjoy being overwhelmingly busy, it motivates me. I work and travel a lot with singer songwriter Elle King and have enjoyed immensely creating her signature look. When I’m not traveling teaching Masterclasses for MAC or painting Elle's face, I try to work on creative shoots keeping those muscles flexing.
Typically, make-up artistry is thought by many to be limited to the face. Whose came up with the idea to paint the whole body and what is the intention behind it?
I’m not totally sure who and when in MAC it was decided to start body painting and hold exhibitions with them as art, but I can say this: we have always leaned on the unconventional side, we stay ahead of the curve, innovate the mundane and love a little controversy. We keep people on their toes, and in this case covered in paint.
I noticed about eight different geometric patterns painted on to both male and female models. What inspired the geometric theme?
It all started with these 60's style paisley patterns found in textiles from that ear that one of my peers Louise Zizzo (MAC Senior Artist, San Francisco) came up with. From there it moved to our creative department where they started the process of deciding what type of patterns we were going to begin testing on bodies.
You mentioned the Mac Pro team began with about 80+ patterns, and narrowed them down to the final eight exhibited at the Pro-to-Pro event. How long did that selection process take and were all of these patterns painted on to models before being cut?
Yes, there were about 70-80 patterns being discussed and sourced as potentials in the very beginning. They were then narrowed down to about 40 that were actually tested across the country in order to come up with the final 8. They were being tested in San Francisco, LA, New York and Miami. This is where we have strong body painting teams to help execute the patterns quickly. They would then be photographed and shared with our creative department. Then the final 8 were selected. This entire process took one year.
What were some of the other patterns that didn't make the cut and why were the final eight selected?
There were many that didn't make the cut, most were due to not fitting the body well. It’s quite difficult to make lines or geometric movement look right on a form that has curves and angles. So this lengthens the process, sometimes you don't know until you try, then you try again.
The final 8 were selected because as a whole they told the story well, through color, shapes, lines and intensity. They tied a few different genres of pattern together, spanning from art deco, art nouveau and pop art while putting our own modern twist.
I was able to get so close to the painted models that I could practically touch them, and they looked flawless. How were these body paintings so precise? Were templates used to get those straight edges and perfect circles? Or were they all painted freely by hand?
That’s the scariest part for us!!! There is nowhere to hide mistakes, so they are painted very carefully. Some of the designs required a bit of math, we had rulers, protractors, tape and sweat trying to get each line perfect. As I said earlier it is hard to draw a straight line on a curved surface, never mind make a pattern out of it. Each body painting had 3-6 people on it helping to create the final product. The painting process for most of the designs took from 8 to 10 hours to complete.
The painted models were standing on and under warm lights. How were they not sweating the paint off? What kind of paint was used that was so long-lasting? How often did the Mac Pro artists have to touch them up?
The paint is waterproof, sweat-proof and super long-wearing. It’s done with a combination of MAC PRO Products - acrylic, chromacake and airbrush. Its also done in many layers, so it’s difficult for it to come off.
What is the paint removal process and how long does it take?
The removal is a process for sure, first of all you take your shoes off make sure you are wearing clothes you don't care about and get ready to make a mess an oily colorful mess! The first thing you do is take lots of MAC Cleanse Off Oil. Start by pouring an obscene amount into your hands and then slather. The oil needs to get massaged into the skin, the longer you work it in the faster it will break down the paint. Then do it again and again, using dry paper towels to pull off the paint in between each application of oil. Eventually you start to see skin, and you scream with delight!!! The whole process takes about 45-1 hour to fully remove it all.
You mentioned this exhibit will be touring. Where to next an how many stops will you make?
The tour is actually global. We are headed to London next week then Barcelona and Milan over the summer. The dates are still to be determined, but I’m sure there will be more cities on the list to come. A world tour!
The models were completely naked at the Pro-to-Pro event and every inch of the models were covered in body paint. That's not at all uncommon in New York, but not every city is as open-minded as NYC. Will this exhibit to be as bold in every city it visits?
Yes, this is the exhibit in full and will be shown the same way in each city it goes to.
MICHELLE CLARK | MAC Senior Artist, NYC